Tracing Islamic heritage in Tbilisi

Updated 18 October 2012

Tracing Islamic heritage in Tbilisi

Perched on both sides of the Kura River is Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Today, the country is predominantly Christian. Once upon a time, as the center of the Emirate of Tbilisi, Muslims ruled here.
Though Georgia first came under Muslim rule in 645, during the reign of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the Emirate of Tbilisi was not established before 736. Its center, Tbilisi, grew into a prosperous city thriving on commerce. Arabs were the first Muslims to rule over much of Georgia and the greater Caucasus, until the balance of power shifted toward the Turks. Muslim rule over the Emirate of Tbilisi came to an end in 1122, when a year earlier Turks lost a battle to the Georgian king David IV.
The heydays of the Emirate of Tbilisi are long gone, but there are still traces of Islamic heritage in the city today.
Old buildings or monuments from that period have all been razed to the ground, as the country came under numerous waves of conquest. Nevertheless, if we dig deep into the city’s layers we are bound to find a lot of Islamic heritage.
King Vakhtang Gorgasali of Kartli founded Tbilisi in the 5th century. The city got its name from the Georgian word tbili, which means warm. That is courtesy of the natural springs found in the city. These springs, often referred to as sulphuric baths due to the high concentration of minerals its water contains, attract hordes of tourists who come to enjoy the alleged rejuvenating qualities. The Orbeliani Baths are located at close proximity from Tbilisi’s Old Town. The baths are gender segregated and there are private ones as well. In many ways the baths resemble Turkish hammams, offering a reviving and pampering experience that will leave you feeling fresh and relaxed. You can’t miss Orbeliani Baths as they will grab your attention with their distinct domes and façade. The blue tiled façade comes adorned with geometrical patterns typical of Central Asian Turkish architecture: a hint of Islamic heritage right in the heart of the Georgian capital.
A stone’s throw away from Orbeliani Baths is Tbilisi’s sole functioning mosque. Dating back to 1895 the mosque miraculously survived the communist era with all its notorious purges. The mosque comes with a brick-made exterior, which gives it its distinctive red color, and a white minaret tip. The interiors, however, blend different Islamic architecture styles, mixing subtly decorated sidewalls with a mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of Makkah) that is heavily decorated with blue-toned calligraphy and floral designs.
Tbilisi’s Old Town is perched on a mountain overlooking the modern city. Taking your way up you will pass many cobbled alleyways lined with old buildings and various religious houses. At the very top a 20-meter aluminum statue known as Kartlis Deda, Mother Georgia, will greet you. The female statue holds a sword in one hand and a cup of wine in the other. It is the best example of the Georgian character; the generous people will greet their friends with the best they have, but will fiercely defend their land if approached by enemies.
A short stroll from Kartlis Deda is Narikala Fortress. The city’s most famous defensive structure dates back to the 4th century. The Persians built its foundations, while the walls were constructed during the 8th century when Arabs ruled the city. At that time, the Emir’s palace was actually inside the fortress. Narikala offers superb panoramic views of Tbilisi.

How to get there?
Flyduabi connects the Georgian capital Tbilisi with various cities on the Arabian Peninsula (via Dubai), three times a week.

Where to stay?
The Marriott Tbilisi is one of the best hotels in town.
Tel: +95 (32) 277 9200

E-mail: [email protected]

The deluxe delights of Mandarin Oriental Jumeira

The hotel is located on Jumeirah Beach Road across from Mercato shopping mall. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2019

The deluxe delights of Mandarin Oriental Jumeira

  • New arrival justifies its place in Dubai’s already packed luxury hotel roster

DUBAI: Does Dubai really need another luxury hotel? If you had to pause to think about it, then you’re not Dubai. Four Seasons? We’ll take two, please. One&Only? Go on, give us two more. Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria? Oh why not, we’ll take two each. 

And yet, until earlier this year, one might say there was a gap in Dubai’s collection for a Mandarin Oriental, a hotel for all great hotel cities. 

It’s here now, located on Jumeirah Beach Road across from Mercato shopping mall and beside a drive-through Starbucks. It’s easy to miss the modern low-rise building perched just off the sidewalk because of its subtle (possibly a new addition to Dubai’s dictionary) daytime presence.

The seafront suite at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai is one of a kind. (Supplied)

It is only after dark that it becomes more remarkable, when a forest of crystal trees lights up its lobby, and it sparkles like a jewel box through the glass from the sidewalk right through to the beach. 

There are further design delights in my deluxe sea-view room, which has a balcony overlooking the pool area. The centerpiece is the soaker tub in its expansive marble bathroom — which is almost the size of the sleeping area that it opens onto — complete with handily placed heated towel rack. My enthusiasm for the bath is momentarily dulled when sand-colored water gushes from the tap, but this is fixed by a few technicians who respond immediately when I call.

The hotel has luxurious bathrooms and interior. (Supplied)

Although I’m not usually impressed by hotel-room technology — too often fancy light switches only complicate a simple matter — this room has a few stand-out features. The curtains open and close automatically not only with a bedside button, but also when I go to part them; the lights in the walk-in closet turn on automatically upon entering; and even the blow dryer is touch-activated. 

It’s not just the technology that demonstrates attention to detail. The closet contains a yoga mat and beach bag. On the desk, there’s a small stack of books, including Peter Frankopan’s  “The New Silk Roads.” There’s also a box of coffee-table-sized books that turns out to be four hefty room-service menus: Middle Eastern, Asian, International and Healthy. All of which meant there was little reason to leave the room, if it wasn’t for a dinner reservation at Netsu, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant.

The curtains open and close automatically not only with a bedside button, but also when you go to part them. (Supplied)

An event in itself, Netsu is equipped with a glass-walled warayaki cooking theater, where chefs grill wagyu beef on a 900-degree fire. My friend and I are seated at a bar facing the glass, where we watch them stoking the fire with rice straw brought in from Japan. The tender meat is uniquely flavored, proving that it’s more than just a show for Instagram.

It would be hard to find more self-assured service than the kind shown to us by our waiter, Nick, who is definitive in his starter recommendations. “I won’t take no for an answer,” he tells us, and we’re pleased he didn’t. The Korean fried chicken, corn tempura and yellowtail tiradito are all worth their place on the signature tasting menu.

Netsu is equipped with a glass-walled warayaki cooking theater. (Supplied)

Breakfast in The Bay, the hotel’s brasserie-style restaurant facing the beach, makes less of an impression. While there was nothing wrong with the buffet, the staff seem oddly perplexed by my request to order à la carte. 

And while a peaceful day by the pool was threatened by a few loud teenagers throwing balls, the adult-only infinity pool on the rooftop, for hotel guests only, provided much-needed escape. At first it seemed odd that it was stationed outside the windows of Tasca, the Portuguese restaurant by Michelin-star chef José Avillez. But as the kitchen prepared for dinner, a waiter brought out small tasters, including avocado tempura, for the sunbathers to enjoy on our cushy daybeds with a vast view of the sunset over the Arabian Gulf.

So while Dubai might not need another luxury hotel, it can certainly use this one. To borrow the Mandarin Oriental’s slogan, I can definitely say: “I’m a fan.”