History of Georgia
In the 4th century Christianity spread to Georgia and became the country’s main religion. Georgia was conquered three centuries later by the Arabs and then in the 11th century by the Seljuk Turks. During that time Georgia had already begun the process of consolidating its feudal principalities and by the 12th century they were united under David the Builder into a single Georgian state. A united Georgia was strong enough to expel the Turks, regain independence and conquer large parts of neighboringArmenia. The birth of a newly independent Georgia inspired a resurgence of national spirit, which was reflected in the period’s burst of cultural development, especially in architecture. Georgia’s largest cathedrals were built during that time, including Bagrati Church in Kutaisi (1003), the temple of Sveti-Tskhoveli in Mskheta (1010-1029), Alaverdi temple (first quarter of the 11th century) and Samtavisi Church (1030). David the Builder also founded one of Georgia’s most influential monasteries, Gelati (1106-1125), near Kutaisi. The complex included a magnificent main temple and an academy building. In the 13th century Georgia was once again conquered, this time by the Mongols. Later, it fell under the reign of both the Persian and Ottoman Empires. It remained a colony until the mid-18th century when it once again declared itself a kingdom. In 1801 it became a protectorate of the Russian Empire. The following 200 years of Georgia’s history merges with Russia’s as it was turned into a province of the Tsar’s empire and then later into a Soviet republic. Georgia enjoyed a brief window of independence following the 1917 Revolution and the fall of the tsar. However, this was short lived and in 1922 the country fell into the hands of Soviet powers and, together with Armenia and Azerbaijan, became the Transcaucasia Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which joined the USSR in 1936. In 1991 Georgia declared independence from the USSR and a year later received UN membership.
Famous in Georgia are the medieval paintings preserved in Gelati Monastery, Aten Sion and the temples of Betania and Kintsivi. Contemporary Georgian art is distinct in its combining of local and European styles. In the 1920s Georgian artists Lado Gudiashvili and David Kakabadze gained entry into the Paris School of Art, taking Georgia’s art to the European stage. Today, many Georgian artists have achieved international status, amongst these: Niko Pirosmanishvili (Pirosmani), Gigo Gabashvili, David Kakabadze, Lado Gudiashvili, Corneliy Sanadze, Elena Akhvlediani, Sergey Kobuladze, Simon Virsaladze and Ekaterina Bagdavadze. Georgian sculptors Elgudzha Amashukeli, Irakli Ochiuaru and Zurab Tsereteli have also achieved worldwide recognition.
Georgian a Capella singing has a history of almost 3000 years and is unique in the history of music. Traditionally, Georgian songs are divided into three voices: soprano, contralto/tenor and bass. The contralto/tenor provides the melody, whilst the bass supports the harmony and slight changes in melody. The soprano is filled with various melodic variations and gives Georgian a Capella music its beautiful, ethereal qualities. Men and women traditionally sing in separate choirs. Men commonly sing in more resonant, thundering tones, whilst female choirs favor gentler healing songs. Recently, UNESCO recognised Georgian polyphony as one of the world’s intangible cultural heritages. Georgia’s national concert hall, the Tbilisi Conservatoire, is now a musical institution which trains prominent performers of classical music, including the pianists Aleksandra Toradze and Eliso Virsaladze, the violinist Leana Isakadze, the bassist Paata Burchuladze, the singer Nani Bregvadze and the violinists and music teachers Manana Doydzhashvili and Marina Iashvili. Georgia also has a National Symphonic Orchestra. The Georgian composer Zakhariy Paliashvili (1871-1933) compiled a unique collection of Georgian folk songs and used them to compose the operas Abesalom and Eteri and Daisi, based on Georgian folklore. Meliton Balanchivadze (1862-1973) was the author of the first great Georgian romances and also composed the first Georgian opera Sly Tamara. The composer, musicologist and ethnographer Dimitri Arakishvili (1873-1953) is considered one of the founding fathers of modern Georgian music, rising to fame with his opera Talking About Shota Rustaveli, which was staged in the Tbilisi Opera Theatre in 1919. Georgia’s most notable contemporary composer is Giva Kancheli, who composed Let There Be Music, as well as numerous symphonies, concerts and soundtracks for films and plays, including B. Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle and Shakespeare’s Richard III.
The Georgian alphabet is unique and is one of the modern world’s fourteen alphabets. It consists of 33 symbols (5 vowels and 28 consonants). The written language has remained so consistent throughout the centuries that medieval Georgian can be read by Georgians today without difficulty. The earliest known Georgian literary works date back to the 5th century A.D. Georgia’s most renowned literary masterpiece is the epic narrative poem The Knight in the Tiger Skin, written in the 12th century by Shota Rustaveli. Other notable writers include Sulkhan-Saby Orbeliani, who wrote the Georgian language dictionary in 1716, Ilia Chavchavadze, Aleksandr Kazbegi, Akakiy Tsereteli, Galaktion Tabidze, Konstantin Gamsakhurdia, Niko Lordkipanidze, Mikhail Dzhavakhishvili and, most recently, Ana Kalanadze. National written treasures include: Nikoloza Baratashvili’s Merani, the forty epic novels of Vazha Pshavela (amongst these The Guest and his Master and Dandy Marriage); Orbeliani’s Book of Wisdom and Lies, Titsian Tabidze’s poems The Moon of Mtatsminda and The Wind Blows, and the novels of Nodar Dumbadze. These works are internationally renowned and have been translated into several languages