While it may be small, Georgia packs a real punch. Sandwiched between the Black Sea, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, the territory sits on the boundary between Asia and Europe. It’s a country of epic mountains, arid semi-deserts and sweeping woodlands, as well as a rich and fascinating history from Byzantium to the Bolsheviks. Some come for power white snow and a ski season all to themselves, others come to indulge in some of the world’s best food and wine – the appeals are endless. Interested in learning more about this pint-sized country? Here are some interesting facts about Georgia you probably didn’t already know.
Interesting Facts About Georgia
1. Georgia isn’t its only name
In fact, the world for Georgia locally is Sakartvelo. The root word, Kartvel, refers to the central region of the country, Kartli, while ‘sa-o’ means ‘the land where .. people live’. So there you have it. The earliest mention of the world Sakartvelo dates back to the eighth century, and for the following two centuries it was used to describe the whole Georgian kingdom.
No one really knows exactly where the English moniker comes from. Some say it comes from the old Persian name for the country, gurğ. Others claim that it has something to do with St George, the patron saint of England who famously slayed the dragon and saved the country. It could have derived from the Persian and Turkish versions of the name George, Gorj, which incidentally comes from the Russian word Gruzia.
2. It has an ancient history of winemaking
Georgia’s winemaking traditions date back over 8,000 years. Apparently, Georgians stumbled upon winemaking accidentally by pouring grape juice into large earthenware pots and burying it over winter. When archaeologists recently discovered ancient shards of that pottery dating back to 6,000 BCE, Georgia could comfortably claim the title of the world’s oldest wine producer. In fact, it’s widely believed that winemaking could date back even further, to the Stone Age – before the invention of the wheel. Unesco has even recognised the ancient Georgian tradition of Qvevri winemaking on their Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List.
Thanks to the balmy breezes from the Black Sea and a moderate climate, Georgia still produces excellent wine today. Wine aficionados usually hotfoot to the Kakheti Valley, which produces 70% of Georgia’s grapes. Many ancient monasteries produce wonderful wins too, using the ancient Qvevrimethod.
3. It’s home to one of the oldest cities in the world
Kutaisi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Located around 137 miles (221 kilometres) west of Tbilisi, it’s the capital of the western region of Imereti. Once upon a time, it was the capital of the Kingdom of the Colchis, then the Kingdom of Abkhazia and the Kingdom of Georgia, and later the Kingdom of Imereti too.
Briefly, between 2012 and 2018 it also served as the seat of the Parliament of Georgia in a bid to decentralise government. You can still see some impressively ancient sights, including the Bagrati Cathedral built by Bagrat III in the early 11 century and the Motsameta Monastery, one of Georgia’s most famous churches.
4. As well as one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities
The Republic of Georgia is an avowedly Georgian Orthodox country, but the Georgian Jewish community is actually one of the oldest in the country. It’s thought that the first Jews arrived in Western Georgia under the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century. From the Middle Ages through to the first half of the nineteenth century, Jews belonged to the serf class under the feudal system. This meant they were not forced to convert to Christianity like the rest of the population, However, when Georgia was annexed to the Russian Empire, the previously tolerant relations changed and the community experience persecution. Currently, a large number of Georgian Jews now reside in Israel.
There is a strong Muslim community too, with one out of every ten Georgian citizens identifying as Muslim.
5. The language is totally unique
The Georgian language is one of the oldest in the world. It’s also the only place in the world you’ll hear it. Only four million people speak Georgian as a first or second language. It has its own alphabet which consists of 33 letters with no capitals and a numeric system similar to French. Standard Georgian is based on the Kartvelian dialect, but there are three other languages – Mengrelian, Svan and Laz– and 18 dialects spoken in the country.
Fun fact – ‘Hello!’ in Georgian means ‘Victory’. The person also doesn’t have a gender.
6. Notable celebrities
Quite a few famous faces hail from Georgia. Singer-songwriter Katie Melua was born in Georgia, then moved to Northern Ireland at the age of eight. Aram Khachaturian, the Soviet poster boy composer was born in Tbilisi to an Armenian family. But perhaps the most famous former resident is Joesph Stalin himself. Born in 1878 in Gori, Stalin (or Ioseb Dzhugashvili as he was known then) stayed in Georgia until 1903.
While Georgia has deleted most traces of its turbulent Soviet history, you’ll still find statues and symbols relating to Stalin. In Gori, you can visit his preserved house and a dedicated Stalin Museum, which opened in the 1950s. In Tbilisi, you can also visit the Stalin Printing House Museum, where a young Stalin operated as a pro-communist agitator before the Bolshevik revolution.
7. It has one of the world’s most liberal visa policies
It may not be on everyone’s people’s bucket list (yet), but Georgia has one of the most generous visa requirements in the world. Currently, 98 countries can enter Georgia without a visa for a whole year. That means you can holiday, live, work or study in the country without a residence permit or tourist visa.
Georgia is fast becoming a popular destination for digital nomads too. As well as delicious food, rich culture and spectacular scenery, it boasts an affordable cost of living and high-speed internet. In a bid to recoup devastating losses on the tourism courtesy of Covid-19, the Georgian government launched a program in 2020 to appeal to high income foreign remote workers too. It was one of the first countries to accept fully vaccinated travellers too.