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]

How to travel post-COVID-19

Updated 07 July 2020

How to travel post-COVID-19

  • As borders begin to re-open in the Middle East and around the world, here is how to deal with traveling in a post-pandemic world

DUBAI: When it comes to the Middle East, July seems to be a marker. From Bahrain to Egypt, Morocco to Dubai, borders are tentatively opening, with plans to jumpstart tourism a sign of better days to come. But still, a question hangs heavy. Even if we are now allowed to travel, will the experience ever really be the same again?

From where you can go to how much it will cost, what you can do there to a fear of going in the first place, the very essence of travel stands on the precipice, and we are all at risk of a lesser life experience because of it.

For Dubai-based, Euronews Travel TV presenter Sarah Hedley-Hymers, the biggest repercussion is the resulting knowledge hit. “Traveling makes me hyper-attentive,” she said. “The newness of places stimulates all the senses. I’m like Bradley Cooper in the movie ‘Limitless,’ absorbing different destinations like a sponge, expanding with the knowledge of it all, energized by the novelty. Not traveling feels like a protracted comedown.”

But while COVID-19 may have grounded the first half of 2020, the green shoots of recovery are slowly creeping through the cracks. Tentatively, travel is once more an option, but if you are planning post-pandemic travel, preparation is paramount.

Where can I travel to?
June saw much of Europe slowly re-open its doors, albeit with entry generally restricted to EU nationals or returning residents. In the Middle East, July 1 saw airports open in Egypt and Lebanon, along with tourism facilities in Turkey. Dubai will welcome visitors from July 7, Morocco from July 11, and Bahrain hopes to re-open the King Fahd Causeway — and its border with Saudi Arabia — by the end of the month.

Tourists from around the world stepped foot in the UAE for the first time in nearly four months on July 7. Shutterstock

The re-openings are fluid, with plans changing daily. Best advice? Check carefully ahead of any trip. There is a good chance that restrictions will still apply, both with the country you are heading to and the one you are departing from.

Will air travel be more expensive post-COVID-19?
As fleets have lay grounded for months, the big fear was that airlines would have to charge extortionate fares in order to recoup losses. Thankfully, the opposite might be true.

“With regards to the cost of travel, views currently vary and it’s difficult to accurately predict airline strategies,” said Ciarán Kelly, managing director of the Middle East & Africa Network at FCM Travel Solutions. “But some people expect fares to stay low as airlines struggle to get customers back on board.

“Whether it’s a free checked bag on your flight, discount vouchers — as we’ve seen already from Etihad — free wifi or other incentives, airlines are going to have to do everything they can to get people back into the skies.

“Of course on the flip side, faced with huge losses to make up and potentially emptier planes, they could go the other way and raise ticket prices. But even if that happens, it’s also likely they’ll adopt more lenient change and cancelation policies, as has been seen over the last few weeks.”

What if I am scared to travel?
A perhaps unexpected repercussion of COVID-19 on travel is a fear of staying safe. A recent poll by Mower, an independent marketing, advertising and public relations agency in the US, found that only 16 percent of Americans would be comfortable flying again once restrictions were eased. For Reem Shaheen, counseling psychologist at Dubai’s Be Psychology Center, the key to allaying fear is preparation.
“Apart from concerns over the virus, the overwhelming worry at the moment is access. Most people are struggling to not only figure out a travel destination with open borders, but also if they’re able to return to their country of residency,” she said.

Most people are struggling to not only figure out a travel destination with open borders, but also if they’re able to return to their country of residency. Shutterstock

“I believe that the fuel of this fear lies in the feeling of helplessness. The best way to manage that is by gathering as much information as possible. This could be by knowing where the hospitals are, preparing for a safe return to your country of residence, or simply learning the protocols on social distancing of the country that you’re heading to. Working to gain control over situations within your power will help reduce the fear and anxiety triggered by traveling during the pandemic.”

When should I travel again?
While open borders might signify an invitation to travel, the reality is that things might take a little longer before the world is comfortable in transit once more. But while your travel experience might now be a little different, you would hope that the opportunity to embrace new experiences will once again prove too good to resist.

Travel equates to more than the sum of its parts, not just the act of being there but the attributes it brings. Patience, acceptance, kindness and curiosity — those are the traits that you pick up on the road, and without the ability to move freely, we are all missing out. Plus, as Hedley-Hymers said: “If nothing else, it’s always nice to find a corner of the world that doesn’t have a McDonald’s on it.”