Getting to know Tbilisi

Metekhi Church and statue of King Vakhtang; copyright Keith Kenney, 2011.

This photo shows Metekhi Church and the equestrian statue of King Vakhtang on the cliffs above the Kura river, also known as the Mtkvari River. Metekhi Church was built by a Georgian king circa 1278–1284. Vakhtang was a king of Iberia, natively known as Kartli  (modern eastern Georgia) in the second half of the 5th and first quarter of the 6th century.He led his people, in an ill-fated alliance with the Eastern Roman Empire, into a lengthy struggle against Iranian hegemony, which ended in Vakhtang’s defeat and weakening of the kingdom of Iberia. Tradition also ascribes him reorganization of the Georgian church and foundation of Tbilisi, Georgia’s modern capital.

Over time, people added new homes and businesses further up the sides of the hills. Susanna and my apartment is near the top of Mt. Mtatsminda (Holy Mountain). In fact, we are directly below St. David’s Church (“Mamadaviti), where some of the most prominent writers, artists, scholars, and national heroes of Georgia are buried. From Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main street, we walk uphill for 15 minutes. If we do that twice a day, we’ve completed our exercise program, and we’ve saved the cost of a gym membership. Of course, we’re also rewarded with a beautiful view of the city.

Sergo Tbileli holding part of a mammoth tusk; copyright Keith Kenney, 2011.

During our walk around Old Tbilisi, we stopped at a few art galleries and talked with the artists. One man carves silhouette portraits out of shells and petrified mammoth tusk. He showed us a cross-section of what used to be, at least 30,000 years ago, a 2-meter-long tusk. Mammoth tusks are still found in Siberia, Canada, and Alaska, he said. This artist also looks for shells that are white on the inside and a different color, such as orange-brown, on the outside. Then he carves away some of the white shell parts so that a cameo appears against a colored background. I also liked Sergo Tbileli’s work. He covers the canvas with details—both relevant to his subject matter and also showing “hidden” objects—and by looking carefully,

observers can separate the figure from the ground. I’d buy one now except for the cost.

Georgians deserve their reputations for singing

“Where is that music coming from?”

“Is it live?”

“Let me go see.”

When I left our table and went to the other side of the restaurant, I found four young men singing, while one played an instrument (can someone tell me which instrument?) I captured one song (2 minutes) with my iPhone if you want to hear them.

What a wonderful surprise! We were eating dinner in a restaurant in Tbilisi when we heard four young men singing at a nearby table. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011.

Go here to see the video:


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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