In honor of the nation’s plight for independence over the centuries – here are some interesting facts you may not know about Georgia from interesting archeological finds to extraterrestrial music.
Today is Georgian Independence Day. 102 years ago, Georgia declared independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of the Russian Revolution, and for the first time in 117 years, they were free. Only a few years later, they’d be invaded by the Red Army and absorbed into the Soviet Union by 1922. They’d continue to fight for independence for 70 more years until the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. It would be hard. It would be bloody. But they’d persist.
While today technically honors the 1918 Act of Independence from the Russian Empire – it really speaks to the Georgian’s fight for freedom overall. However small, the cozy Caucasus slice of heaven is a proud and spirited nation that has had more than its fair share of trouble over the past several hundred years. From the Georgian–Seljuk wars to the Kruschev Protests, forced annexations, and the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, Georgians have fought tooth and nail for centuries for the right to speak, live, and believe freely. They’ve sacrificed their lives, land, the right to worship, and at many times, the right to their own language. Today that sacrifice is honored and remembered.
The Language Is Very Special
Georgian is spoken by just 4.5 million people worldwide – it’s known for its neverending consonants, many cases, and beautiful script. More interestingly, the origins of it aren’t fully understood. It’s known that the original script was created as far back as 3rd century BC and most historians consider this the beginning of what would later evolve into three alphabets, but which alphabet it was based on and how long it was spoken before then is still somewhat of a mystery. Additionally, Georgians use a vigesimal counting system (like the French) meaning every number is essentially a math problem. To add to the pazzaz, the language boasts over 18 dialects not counting the county’s three other native languages – Mengrelian, Laz, and Svan. But more on those another time.
Fun Fact: “gamarjoba” or “hello” directly translates to “victory. “This speaks directly to the nation’s fighting spirit despite its long and bloody history.
Ushguli – Europe’s Highest Inhabited settlement
Ushguli is famous for its stunning landscape, ancient history, indigenous traditions, and regional food. This string of four mountain villages also happens to be the highest inhabited settlement on the European continent at over 2,000 meters. Virtually cut off from the rest of the nation due to its remote location – the region, Svaneti, in particular, seems to be frozen in time.
It Boasts One Of The World’s Oldest Jewish Communities
The Georgian Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world. Their migration into the Caucasus can be traced all the way back to Babylonian Exile in 6th century BC. Across the country, you’ll find many historical synagogues, sites, and even a Jewish history museum in Tbilisi.
The First Europeans Came From Georgia
Humans have been here for a while – around 1.8 million years, in fact. An archeological exploration in Dmanisi found remains of a Georgian couple known as Zezva and Mzia. These are the oldest remains found in Europe, rendering Georgia the birthplace of Europeans.
There’s A Georgian Folk Song In Space
In 1977, “Chakrulo” a three-part celebrational folk song about battle, was hurled into space on NASA’s Voyager. The song was part of NASA’s Music From Earth project, which carefully selected sounds and images from around the world to leave as a message for any intelligent life in the universe. Among Chakrulo, you’ll find Louis Armstrong’s “Melancholy Blues”, Navajo Indian chants, Japan’s “Tsuru No Sugomori,” and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You can hear Chakrulo here.
Cradle Of Winemaking
One of the first things you’ll hear when visiting Georgia is how great the wine is. And it’s no joke – the wine really is all that and a bag of chips (or grapes?). Georgia has been making wine for over 8,000 years – so they’ve had a lot of time to perfect their craft. It’s not hard to find homemade wine sold on the street, family vineyards are scattered across the countryside, and the first thing a Georgian will offer you in their home is always wine – and lots of it.
It’s One Of The World’s Most Ecologically Diverse Countries
Despite being just a smidge smaller than Scotland – Georgia is one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet. The nation is home to 12 (12!!!) different climate zones. I’m talking lush virgin woods, alpine meadows, semi-desert, and marshlands, and more. It doesn’t stop there, though, thanks to the diverse ecological landscape – the nation is also home to a whole host of wildlife such as jackals, lynxes, bears, and my personal favorite – wolves.
It’s Home To The World’s Deepest Cave
Tucked away in the Gagra Mountains of Russian occupied Abkhazia – you’ll find Krubera aka Veryovkina Cave. At 7,257 feet deep, it is the deepest cave on Earth and one of Georgia’s many natural wonders. Legend has it that it takes 25 some odd days to reach the bottom of the cave – however, in recent years, a skilled team of Russian scientists managed to trim it down to a week. While there, they discovered all sorts of strange new species like transparent fish and a new species of insects known as springtails.
It’s Not *Actually* Called Georgia
That’s right – “Georgia” is the western name for the nation. Georgians themselves call it “Sakartvelo” which means “a place for Kartvelians (Georgians)” Some say that the name “Georgia” came from the Persian name for the area – “Gurgan” which roughly means “land of the wolves.”
It Boasts One Of The World’s Most Diverse Cuisines
Will I ever stop ranting and raving about Georgian food? Maybe – well…no. Many assume Georgian food is just a cousin to Russian cuisine thanks to their complicated history with one another and close proximity – but they are tragically wrong. Georgian food carries a history that long predates the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Because of their unique location on the Silk Road, Georgians adopted a unique blend of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influence in their diet, making it one of the world’s most unique and diverse cuisines.
You’ll find that they love carbs, spiced meat, cheese and of course, wine. But more than that – they are creative. Take badrijani nigzvit, for example – an eggplant sliver smothered in garlicky walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds or how about khinkali, juicy meat-filled dumplings hailing from the mountains – then, of course, everyone’s favorite – Adjarian khachapuri – a buttery cheese boat with a fresh yolk on top.
Two Of Europe’s 16 Ancient Cities Are In Georgia
One of my favorite facts about Georgia is that it’s home to not one but two of Europe’s 16 ancient cities. The first of which is Kutaisi tucked out west. This relic of a city was the capital of the Kingdom of Colchis and has been inhabited since at least the second millennium BC. Mtskheta is next on the list and was founded around 3,000 years ago, where it was once the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia.
A Plethora Of UNESCO Sites
Thanks to its abundance of history, unique heritage, and prominent contribution to Caucasian culture – Georgia is home to its fair share UNESCO sites. From the nearly 1,000-year-old Gelati Monastery to the medieval villages of Svaneti – it’s not hard to see why the country is a hotbed for history buffs. Additionally, Georgia has received quite a bit of notoriety on UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage, such as the qvevri winemaking method and Georgian polyphony.