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In Georgia’s Imereti province, the Rioni River cuts a winding course through lush deciduous forests. Low, rolling green hills stretch out on all sides and snow-capped mountains form an extraordinary backdrop to Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city. As the regional capital of Georgia’s Imereti province and the historical capital of the ancient Kingdom of Georgia, this city has an important place in Georgia’s history, and in its present.
For nearly four millennia, Kutaisi has served as an important settlement and a cultural and political center. When the ancient Georgian Kingdom called Colchis rose to power, Kutaisi was its seat of government. Kutaisi was the capital of Georgia until 1122. That year the capital of Georgia was moved to Tbilisi. During this time, Kutaisi was the seat of power for two of Georgia’s greatest kings, Bagrat III and David the Builder. It was also the cultural and economic center of Georgia. In the 15th century, when Georgia was divided by invading armies, Kutaisi briefly resumed the role of capital city of Georgia’s entire western region.
Since the early 1900s, modern Kutaisi has grown into an important industrial center. Under Soviet rule, Kutaisi developed a thriving economy based on automobiles, electromechanical products, textiles, and a hydroelectric station on the Rioni River. Its population boomed during this era. Since Georgia’s independence, though, Kutaisi’s economy has undergone deep changes, and the city has seen a return to its former, more agricultural-based lifestyle and traditions. It still retains its importance to the Republic of Georgia, though. Beginning in May 2012, Kutaisi will be playing an increasingly important role in Georgia, politically as well as economically, when the Georgian Parliament will begin meeting in Kutaisi, rather than in Tbilisi.
Because of Kutaisi’s long history, the city is rich with culture and interesting places to see. Kutaisi retains the charm of its ancient heritage; cobbled streets, ancient monasteries and cathedrals, and a timeless village-like feel give Kutaisi’s Old Quarter the sense of a place frozen in time. In Kutaisi, the ruins of the Bagrati Cathedral stand next to the city’s ancient, crumbling stone wall. The Gelati Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the burial place of one of the greatest Georgian kings, overlooks the countryside from high up in the hills. In the nearby region of Imereti, the magnificent Sataplia Grotto spans nearly a kilometer of underground caves, while the tiny Chiatura Church towers above the countryside on the Katskhi pillar. There is no shortage of marvels, both natural and historical, in and around Kutaisi!
With its heritage spanning thousands of years, Kutaisi is the perfect place to see the history of Georgia, as well as the natural beauty that this country has to offer. With its new role in Georgian politics, it’s also at center stage in Georgia’s present and its future.
If you’re interested in seeing Kutaisi, or one of Georgia’s other cities, you might consider applying for one of our volunteer teaching positions in Georgia. These positions start year-round and include free room and board with a Georgian host family, a fully paid round-trip flight to Georgia, as well as a monthly stipend. Visit our Teach in Georgia page for more information on this incredible program and stunning country in Eastern Europe.