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Sokhumi, with a population 111,700 as of the beginning of 1993, is the capital of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic and will most likely serve as your base for travels in the region. It is linked to other towns along the Black Sea Coast in Abkhazia by the excellent M27 highway, Cruise ships also used to put in at Sokhumi. Many originated in Odessa and stopped in Sokhumi before going on to Batumi.

Sokhumi is between the broad Bay of Sokhumi and the Sokhumi Hill (201 meters), with the Basla (Besletka) River running through it. It's a large but green and congenial resort town with a superb climate. Lying in the same latitude as Nice, it has a mean annual temperature of 15° С and approximately 220 sunny days a year. You're certain to enjoy the sea breezes and sunshine between April and November.

Legend has it that the city was founded by Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri, twin sons of Zeus and Leda and among the heroes who sailed with Jason to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. The archaeological record shows that a trading colony called Dioscuris was established here by Greeks from Miletus in the fifth century ВС. The ruins of an acropolis and other dwellings from the ancient city now lie underwater in the bay. Archaeological investigations continue to bring new artifacts to light, some of which can be seen in the Abkhazian State Museum. The town, although destroyed in pre-Christian times by the Heniochi tribe, was continuously inhabited through the first century AD when the Romans established a fortified military camp here. Known as Sebastopolis to the Romans and Tschumi to the Georgians, the town in subsequent years was attacked and conquered by Byzantines, Arabs, and Georgians. Modifications to the fortress were carried out by each successive group. The Turks look control in 1578 and ruled for over 200 years.

In the 18th century the Abkhazians attempted to throw off Turkish domination and many assaults were launched against the fortress which the Turks called Su-Khum-Kale (Water-Sand Fortress). Not until the Russians took over Abkhazia in 1810 were the Turks dislodged. In 1877, the Turks reconquered Sokhumi but were again defeated by the Russians and forced to leave the city during the Russo-Turkish War oа 1877-78. The present city with its broad, tree-lined avenues attracts tourists mainly because of the superb subtropical climate, and not because of the monuments of its rich and varied history, few of which remain.

Sokhumi Fortress (also called Dioscurias Fortress) was built in the second century ВС on the ruins oа the city oа Dioscuria. It is aе the end oа Rustaveli Avenue on the sea. It was rebuilt many еimes, but only the remains of one defensive tower are visible. Even that has been partially incorporated into the Restaurant Dioscurias, which stands on the site. While the remains themselves are not terribly impressive, the view from the restaurant is. Here is the best place to sit and ruminate on the course of empire, on the ambitions of the Greek colonizers whose vestiges are now lapped by the waves.


The fortress of King Bagrat The fortress of King Bagrat is located on a mountain in the south-eastern part of the city. Offering a magnificent view of the city and bay, this ivy-covered ruin was constructed by either King Bagrat III (975-1014) or Bagrat IV (1027-1072). Drive up Gory Bagrat Street, which branches off Tscheljuskin Street and rises 600 metersto the top. The trip past little villas perched on the hillside evokes the early days of the French Riviera when painters like Leger, Cocteau, and Chagall could hole up for next to nothing to paint. You can't help but feel all the same potential for creation here.

The Bridge over the Basla (the Besledski Most or the Venetian Bridge), six km to the northeast of the city along Chanba Street was constructed in the 10th-12th centuries and is a masterpiece of medieval bridge construction. It is 13 meters long and varies in width from five to seven meters. It can still sustain The Bridge over the Baslaa weight of eight tons. It is unclear whether the bridge was built by Venetians-hence one of its names-or by locals. A trip here would be most easily justified by aficionados of engineering history.

The Abkhazian State Museum exhibits paleolithic and neolithic finds as well as home very interesting paleontological remains. If you read Russian, many of the historical displays with ethnographic materials will help your understanding of the history of western Georgia. The prize of the collection is a marble stella of a woman and two children, found underwater in 1953 near the Old Dioscuris and probably dating back to the second half of the fifth century ВС. Some think it might have come to Colchis as an import from Athens; others hold that it is Colchian.

The Botanical Gardens of the Academy of Sciences of Georgia were founded in 1840 by General Rajewski, a friend of Pushkin's. Destroyed by the Turks in 1878 and restored in 1894, the gardens comprise five hectares with four ponds for water plants such as the Giant Amazon Water Lily. They contain more than 4,000 subtropical plant specimens. A wonderful spot for a leisurely stroll.

Monkey colony (pitomnik) in SukhumiThe Forest Park of the Sokhumi Mountains is in the northeast part of the city on the slopes of the mountain rising 210 meters above the bay. This 52 hectare park was built by Akadi Ivanovich Geladze, the First Secretary of Abkhazia from 1941 to 1951. A cable car, an ornamental staircase, and a road flanked by oleander and magnolia all lead to a platform from which you can get unquestionably the best view of the city. A radio broadcast tower is nearby, and on the platform itself is Amza (Moon) Restaurant. This spot is Sokhumi's answer lo Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence.

The Monkey Colony is on the slopes of Mt. Trapetskaya. This institute was founded in 1927 under the auspices of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The entire institute is now home to more than 7,000 monkeys.

The Abkhazian Dramatic TheaterThe Abkhazian Dramatic Theater, corner of Engels Street and Rustaveli Avenue was built in 1952 and is now the home of the Abkhazian National Theater Company, founded in 1929. Both Georgian and Abkhazian troupes used to perform here, and earphones were available for hearing the performances translated into Russian. Try to hear a performance by Nartaa, the Abkhazian choir whose members are between the ages of 70 and 130. They, and other choirs made up of Abkhazians over 100 years old, are phenomenal and mustn't be missed. They can also be seen at the Summer Theater in the square off Kirov Street. If no performance is listed, you might try going to the outdoor cafe across from the national theater. This is a favorite hangout of the Georgian mokhutsi (old people) and someone might be able to tell you where they will be gathering informally for a night of drink and song. If no choir of old Abkhazians is performing-and you feel that a trip to the region would be incomplete without hearing and seeing this amazing phenomenon-you could make a special trip to the small villages of Otkhara, Khuap, Duripsh, and Achandara that are home to many of them. These are northeast of Gudauta and Likhny.