Gorgasali square & street
A good place to get your initial bearings is Gorgasalis moedani, now a rather bland, traffic-infested junction but once the setting
of Tbilisi’s bustling bazaar. From here the Metekhi Bridge crosses the river to the Metekhi Church, busy Gorgasalis qucha heads off southeast along the riverbank, and Leselidze and Sharden dive into the maze of streets to the north. Sharden and parallel Bambis rigi, along with Erekle II a little further north, are narrow pedestrian streets lined with fashionable galleries and cafes.
Known as far back as the 17th and 18th centuries as Maiden Square or Tsikhis Moedani, this square was the site of a bazaar that attracted traders from Russia and the Middle East.
Here camel caravans brought spices, fabrics, silk, and carpets from the East while Georgians sold their felt and woolen goods, papakhi (sheepskin hats), silver- work, weapons, and wine. If you're looking for one tangible spot where Europe and Asia meet in Georgia, you need go no farther than Gorgasali Square. The character of the square has changed dramatically since the construction of the embankment and the expansion of the Metekhi Bridge. Previously the area was a densely packed rabbit-warren of small stalls, where business was conducted in Georgian, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Armenian, and Russian. Take a moment to close your eyes, expunge the noise of traffic, and listen for the exotic mix of languages left hovering here from the days when the Sunday Bazaar meant minstrels, conjurors, bards, and the sights and sounds of every remote corner of the Caucasus and beyond.
Just above Gorgasalis moedani is the large Armenian Cathedral of St George, founded in 1251 (although the current structure dates mainly from the 18th century). Its interior is surprisingly small but it has interesting frescoes. King Erekle II’s Armenian court poet Sayat Nova was killed here during the Persian invasion of 1795 and his tomb is in front of the main door.
Gorgasali street. was called Vorontsov Street when it was opened in 1850, in honor of Count Mikhail Semenovich Vorontsov, the Tsars viceroy in the Caucasus. It was completed in 1851, replacing the maze of narrower streets that distinguished the Old Town. In the center of a lawn, approximately 85 meters (280 feet) from Gorgasali Square, is Elguja Amashukelis 1975 sculpture of the great Georgian primitive painter Niko Pirosmanashvili (1862-1918), known as Pirosmani. The artist is shown kneeling, holding a lamb in his arms. A sell-taught painter who combined a celebration of everyday Georgian life with immediate access to the spiritual world that lay behind it, Pirosmani is revered in Georgia as the artist who best expressed the national psyche. The statue stands at the entrance of the Ortachala Gardens, an area Pirosmani was known to haunt as he wandered from tavern (dukani) to wine cellar, offering to paint a mural or sell a canvas for a meal or a bottle of wine. He died in obscurity and poverty and was not recognized until many years after his death. The work of Pirosmani can be seen at the Museum of Georgian Art. Wonderful homages to Pirosmani also line the walls of the Daryal Restaurant at 22 Rustaveli Street and give an excellent idea of what his work must have been like in situ. Those interested in learning more about this great painter's life should see Giorgi Shengelaya's film Pirosmani, which is occasionally shown in art cinemas throughout Europe and the US.
Continuing your walk east on Gorgasali Street you pass the unmistakable stone domes of the sulfur baths. You can either go into this section of the Old Town, experience the baths and climb to the Narikala Fortress, or continue on Gorgasali to see the outlying monuments and return to the baths later. Whatever you do in Tbilisi don't miss a chance to visit famed Tbilisi's sulphur baths, the Abanotubani baths. Alexanders Dumas and Pushkin both bathed here, the latter describing it as the best bath he’d ever had. Abano (Bath St) is full of subterranean bathhouses with beehive domes rising at ground level, most dating back to the 17th century. The most impressive, the above-ground Orbeliani Baths, has a Central Asian feel to its blue-tile mosaic facade.
A short distance uphill behind the baths is the mosque, built in 1895 and the only mosque in Tbilisi that survived Lavrenty Beria’s antireligious purges of the 1930s. Unusually, Shiite and Sunni Muslims pray together here. The interior is prettily frescoed and visitors are welcome to enter (after removing shoes). At the top of this street are Tbilisi’s Botanical Gardens. It’s easy to wander for two or three enjoyable hours in these extensive, waterfall-dotted gardens, which were opened in 1845 on what had earlier been the royal gardens.
Beyond the sulfur baths on Gorgasali Street, look across the river to see the residential houses perched on the Isani Plateau. There is one sulfur bath on the left bank, the Goglio Baths, visible from where you stand and distinguished by its domes and stained- glass windows. A ten-minute additional walk on Gorgasali will bring you to the Memorial to the 300 Men of Aragvi. This large white and gold stella and slab was sculpted by Alexander Bakradze in 1961. The monument is a memorial to the 300 warriors of the Aragvi region who rescued King Herekle II in 1795 when he was about to be captured by Agha Mohammed Khan. When Herekle's grandson, Ioane, learned of his grandfather's imminent capture, he mustered 300 men who rode to save the king. They succeeded, but not one survived. The stela marks the spot where they fell.
Opposite the memorial to the men of Aragvi is Machabeli's Wall, designed by Nodar Mgalobishvili and sculpted by Teimuraz Chkonia in 1967. This monument honors another Georgian hero, David Machabeli, an actor at the royal court who distinguished himself during that same battle with the Persians. Sculpted on a 7x 12- meter (23x40-foot) vertical slab is a warrior's head, his sword and shield and lines from Rustaveli's 12th-century poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin. In medieval times the spot at which these two monuments now stand marked the southeastern limit of the Old Town.
Beyond this point, farther along Gorgasali Street, you come upon Merab Merabishvili's 1982 equestrian Statue of Pyotr Bagration, the Russian general of Georgian origin who fought against Napoleon in 1812. At 39 Gorgasali Street is the Krtsanisi restaurant. Named after the battle against the Persians in which the 300 men of Aragvi died, this restaurant serves a variety of Georgian dishes; in good weather you can eat on the veranda. A little farther on you can get a good view across the river of the unusual modern architecture which distinguishes the Central Registry Office. This white palace has sloping lines as though the stone had been poured from on high. It houses the Marriage Office as well as a number of clubs and discos.
The main thoroughfare of the Old Town today (though sometimes traffic-clogged) is Leselidze. Tbilisi’s main synagogue is a very welcoming place built in 1904. A short walk further up the street is the Jvaris Mama Church, where there has been a church since the 5th century. The current structure dates from the 16th century; its frescoes were recently restored in striking reds and blues, and the atmosphere is exquisitely pious and calm. Next door is the disused Armenian Norasheni Church, dating from 1793.