The Silk Route caravans must have yearned to reach Georgia. From scorching deserts of Kyzylkum in Uzbekistan and the steppes of Azerbaijan, to finally arrive in the alpine plains, drink from its sweet spring water, bathe in its waterfalls and breathe its fresh, clean air must have reinvigorated a weary traveller. That and soaking in Tbilisi’s sulphur baths to relieve all the aches and pains from the long journey.
With Byzantine to its West, Persia to its South, Russia to its North and China, Indus and the rest of Asia to its East, Georgia was like the entrepôt. The Caucasus became the pathway that connected these lands. Even today, its roads ferry container trucks from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Uzbekistan carrying goods across borders.
It was also a land that was fought over many times as the neighbouring powers had vested interest in paving roads – almost like the Romans did – to march their army of soldiers or traders to take control of the land and its riches. These roads have been travelled and traded upon for centuries.
Justinian is known to have directed the caravans through the Caucasus straight to the Black Sea and even built fortifications to prevent the Persians to gain control of the Route.
The Persians (Safavids) continued their fight against Byzantine and later even the Ottomans, even though the two empires were both Islamic. Mongols and Russians came later.
To seek protection from the invaders, Georgia, that was formerly a part of the Byzantine Empire, chose to side with the “Christian West” over the “Islamic East”. In 1783, Georgia became Russian protectorate and the Russian troops travelled what is now called the Georgia Military Highway during the white regime of the Tsars as well as post October Revolution.
On 9 April, 1991, Georgia gained its independence. Following the demise of USSR, the country is reclaiming its identity by returning to its religious roots – something that was forbidden under the Soviet rule, (and which I have observed of many former Soviet bloc countries like Uzbekistan too).
Saint George, the patron saint of Georgia is venerated across Georgia. He known to have brought Christianity from Cappadocia, and probably the only patriarchal influence on the country which has since been primarily led by female saints and queens.
Saint Nino is revered for bringing the grapevine cross, a symbol of Georgian Orthodox Church to Mtskheta, the former capital of Georgia. Queen Tamar is an important figure in Georgia who ruled during its Golden Age and likened to Queen Elizabeth. Mother Mary is of course most revered as per the Orthodox Christian faith.
But well before the Silk Route which made this land rich it already was rich. In the lap of the Caucasus, the valleys were irrigated by its alpine lakes, glaciers and rivers that bring fresh water to ripen its impossibly sweet fruits like peaches, grapes, oranges, berries, watermelons, cherries, plums, figs, pomegranates and feijoas.
The most significant fruits in the fruit basket are the grapes. It is believed Georgia is the birthplace of wine. The combination of altitude, sweet glacial water and temperate climate gives its grapes the right flavour. Grapevines are just about everywhere in Georgia – almost growing like weed.
Wine is considered sacred by Georgians who regard it as the blood of Christ. And because the land was fought over so many times, the Georgians have also sanctified the blood of their ancestors on their flag through the red colour of the cross.
Life is too short to drink water; drink wine instead ~ a Georgian belief.
Georgian wine production in quevri is proprietary methodology and patented by the country which no other country can replicate. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus – the 3 major markets consume nearly 75% of Georgia’s wine, which means some of us have no choice but to travel to this magnificent land which I think is the land of blood and wine.