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With a population of just over 200,000, Kutaisi is the second largest city in the Republic of Georgia. It  is the country's legislative capital, the capital of the Imereti region and is located 221 km west of Tbilisi. Kutaisi sits on both sides of the Rioni River.

kutaisi georgia copyright robin whiting

Panoramic stitch of Kutaisi viewed from outside Bagrati Cathedral

Evidence suggests the city was the capital of the kingdom of Colchis as early as the 2nd millennium BC and throughout its history, Kutaisi has served as a capital city both on a regional and a state wide basis during different periods. Prior to Georgia's independence in 1991, Kutaisi was an industrial centre, but this soon declined after the country's economy took a sharp downturn. People moved out to work elsewhere or came to rely on small-scale trade and now increasingly, tourism. After the signing of a constitutional amendment in 2011, the Georgian Parliament was moved from Tbilisi and in 2012, it moved into a new (and controversial) building in Kutaisi. The effect of this should, in theory, boost the local economy.

The city has many sites to offer the visitor and is very pleasant to walk around. Attractive tree lined streets of 19th century houses may be found adjacent to the riverside. There is an array of parks, gardens, museums, churches, synagogues and cultural institutions. Not to be missed is the modern fountain on Agmashenebeli Square. It's countless spouts are set amongst various figures which are enlarged versions of tiny gold animals which were found at an archaeological dig at Vani, a city of the ancient kingdom of Colchis. Several photos of the fountain are shown below (number 49 onwards).

The city's landmark building is Bagrati Cathedral (Photos 1-24, below), built from the end of the 10th century to the early 11th century. It is named after Bagrat III, the first king of united Georgia. In 1691, the cathedral was partly destroyed by Ottoman troops, who had invaded the Kingdom of Imereti. The ruins stood for many years. Some limited archaeological studies and conservation work took place in the early 1950's. However, it wasn't until as recently as 2004-2012 when renewed detail archaeological research and subsequent reconstruction of the monument took place. More than 400 scattered stones from the remains were returned to their original place during the project. During excavations, a fragment of roofing was discovered which enabled the identification of the roofing material which was used - copper covered with a special patina finish, azure and emerald in colour. Here at Bagrati Cathedral is a classic case of restoration in favour of mere preservation.

Near Kutaisi is the Gelati Monastery complex(not featured here) which was founded in 1106. It is here the grave of King David Aghmashenebeli may be found (King David is very famous in Georgia and also known as David the Builder whom Kutaisi International Airport is named after). Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery complex have UNESCO World Heritage Site status (as a single listing).  [Text: August 2015]

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