We’ve traded in the Georgian interior for Georgia’s Black Sea coast, which forms part of the Caucasian Riviera. Specifically, we’re in Batumi, capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara which is a political-administrative region within Georgia. The city has close to 150,000 people and exhibits a distinctly different feel from the rest of Georgia. There are noticeable influences from its southern neighbour, Turkey and a much larger Muslim population, which is estimated to be approximately 30%.
Once the playground of high ranking apparatchiks, the Georgian seaside now plays host to a range of international tourists, where the scantily clad Russian hoi polloi can be seen rubbing shoulders with niqab-wearing Arabs. Tourism plays a massive part in the region and city’s economy, with visitors attracted as much by the opportunities for gambling (which is illegal in Turkey and other Muslim countries) as the warm sea waters.
For a seaside resort town, it rains a hell of a lot in Batumi. During summer, Batumi receives between 140-200mm of rain per month, which is more than what Auckland gets during winter! Annually, it receives more rain than Westport on New Zealand’s notoriously wet West Coast of the South Island. So we shouldn’t have been too surprised when our first couple of days threw out overcast conditions with rain. Still, there were enough breaks in the weather to occasionally get outside and survey the Boulevard which goes all the way from our accommodation into the main part of town 3km away.
Batumi is isn’t short of interesting architectural sights. Europe Square is a great place to start, where the Statue of Medea presides. In Greek mythology, Medea was the daughter of King Aieti, the king of Kolkheti in present day western Georgia, who helped Jason and his merry band of Argonauts steal the legendary Golden Fleece before going on to marry him.
In the myth the golden fleece was defended by bulls with brass hooves able breath fire and a never sleeping dragon/serpent with teeth which could become soldiers when planted in the ground. Using a magic potion, Medea put the dragon to sleep, allowing Jason to steal the golden fleece. As you walk around the statue, you notice that each side displays a scene from the overall myth of Jason and the Argonauts.
At the far corner of Europe Square is a beautiful building in its own right, that also houses the fascinating Astronomical Clock.
Made in Germany, the clock shows the placement of the sun and the moon, the moon phase, the meridian and the horizon and the actual time. Surely, that’s more astronomical data points than anybody has need for!
As mentioned, Batumi does not do ordinary architecture. This includes the outrageous Batumi Tower built in 2012 as the first skyscraper to include a Ferris Wheel built into the facade. While theoretically the Ferris Wheel was designed to accommodate 40 persons, to date it has never operated. Given where it is situated, even if it was working I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the first one to try.
What we did try, instead, was the fully operating “ordinary” Ferris Wheel at the end of the Boulevard, on a day when the sun decided to come out and play.
I don’t have a head for heights at all, so sitting on a creaking 30 metre tall Ferris Wheel was never going to be a pleasant experience. But brave it out I did, if you can call braving it out telling everyone to constantly sit still and not talk. Ferris Wheel Day was definitely a day when Dad went down in the estimation of his kids.
Situated beside the Ferris Wheel are another couple of well-known Batumi monuments. The Ali and Nino Statue is inspired by an Austrian novel in which an Azerbaijani Muslim, falls in love with a Georgian Christian princess on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1914. In true Romeo and Juliet fashion, the two lovers are destined to never be together and Ali is tragically killed during the war. Like in the story, the two figures in the sculpture move towards one other before passing between each other and never remaining together.
The other main monument at the end of the Boulevard is the Alphabet Tower. The 130 meter tower symbolizes the uniqueness of the Georgian alphabet by incorporating the design of DNA in its structure.
Located not 50 metres away from Europe Square and the Astronomical Clock, which we visited earlier in much less accommodating weather, is Theatre Square. Here, a statue of Neptune (the Roman god of the seas and oceans) stands that was built in 2010 after being modelled on a similar fountain and statue in Bologna, Italy.
Back on the Boulevard it was time to hire a four person bike and check out the kids’ driving skills. Despite more than a few hair-raising moments, I’m happy to report that we all safely made it back more or less in one piece. Their driving license applications are still being processed.
And of course, no visit to the Caucasian Riviera would be complete without a refreshing dip in the Black Sea. The shore shelves off quickly and with dumping waves on the hard pebble beach there is no real way to enter or exit the water gracefully, as we all found out. Still, it was all good fun and certainly warmer that what it looks.
Six days was probably a few too many for us in Batumi. However, like in a most places we’ve visited in Georgia, everywhere we went there was often interesting or quaint things to see and keep us entertained. Our main mistake was being located so far away from the “happening” part of town at the northern end of the Boulevard. We’ll know for next time, but for now it’s time to head back to Tbilisi to catch up with friends from the UAE.