Having seen both where Stalin was born and more importantly Fraggle Rock, we headed to Georgia’s third largest city, Kutaisi. Kutaisi has historically been the capital city of a number of Georgian Kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Colchis in the 5th to 6th century BC, Kingdom of Lazica from 1st century BC, Kingdom of Georgia in the Middle Ages and the Kingdom of Imereti shortly thereafter. Looking to recapture some of its past glory, it was even briefly made the seat of the Parliament of Georgia from 2012 to 2018 until this was returned back to Tbilisi in 2019. Nowadays, Kutaisi seems happy enough with simply being the capital of the western region of Imereti and content to watch the world go by from the banks of the Rioni River.
I’d consider Kutaisi to be a bit of a work in progress when it comes to catering for tourists. As a hub, there are plenty of things to do within its immediate environs and also further afield that can be done as a day trip. But when Veronica and I talked specifically about Kutuaisi, we thought it wasn’t a place that we’d visit for its own sake. Which isn’t to say that the city isn’t pleasant enough. It has a whole heap of statues and an ex-UNESCO World Heritage site (more on that on a later post) and a range of good cafes. However, there’s still a lot of construction being done, including on the main arterial road through the city, that gives it an overall feel of a place that will be better to visit in five or so years.
For those who like their Greek mythology, Kutaisi, as capital of the Kingdom of Colchis is considered to be the final destination of Jason and the Argonauts as they journeyed in search of the Golden Fleece. Where we were staying, on Jerusalem Street, was only a two minute walk to what is one of the “you can’t miss it sights” from Kutaisi, the Colchis Fountain. The fountain has 30 enlarged copies of famous Colchis jewelry pieces that were found in nearby Vani and that date back to the 8th to 3rd century BC. There’s no Golden Fleece, but obviously the town planners have a bit of a sense of humour, as sitting just behind the fountain are the golden arches of McDonalds.
There are close to 26,000 rivers in Georgia and one of the most spectacular, the River Rioni, doesn’t so much flow through Kutaisi, but rather rampages. Crossing its turbulent waters are a number of bridges, the most famous being the White Bridge, which was originally built in 1852 and rebuilt again in 1870 after being destroyed. The white stones below, as well as the whitewashed pedestrian bridge itself, provide its name and legend has it that boys looking to prove their love jump from the bridge into the river.
We didn't feel any need to jump into the raging river below and were quite satisfied with looking at the waters racing below us from the railings and beneath our feet as we walked over the glass floorings.
Just up the road from Kutaisi (10km to the north west) is the spa resort town Tskaltubo. Home to the “Waters of Immortality”, the town was especially popular during the Soviet period when up to 125,000 people would visit annually, including such dignitaries as Stalin, Yeltsin, Karpov and Kasparov (the last two were shown earlier in this post). These days, the spa receives only 700 visitors a year, although it seems to be trying to reinvent itself. Sadly, since 1993 many of the run-down sanotoriums have been used to house more than 9,000 refugees, who were displaced during the conflict between Russia and Georgia in Abkhazia.
Returning to Kutaisi, we were amazed with what a change in weather does to a place. With the sun out in force and the city bathed in the late afternoon/early evening sun it was easy to see what might’ve attracted Jason and his Argonauts to this fine city. While there was no chance of me finding the Golden Fleece, I still raised a bottle of Argo in their name more than content with the surrounding golden glow.