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Poti, Georgia's main port, is one of the most ancient towns in the country, founded as the Greek trading colony of Pazisi or Phasis in the 6th or 5th century BC, although there is little evidence of this now. It's a pleasant enough town, visited by travellers for two main reasons: the ferry to Ukraine, and the nearby Kolkheti National Park with its wetlands and bird life.

Founded by the Greeks Poti was re-established as a Turkish fort, which was the hub of the trade in Circassian slave-girls, the most highly prized in the Ottoman Empire. Poti was absorbed into the Russian Empire in 1828, development of the modern port began in 1858 and was boosted by the arrival of the Transcaucasian Railway in 1872. Georgia's first railway was opened in 1871-2 between Poti and Shorapani, 35km southeast of Kutaisi. The town centre was laid out with an unusual radial plan centred on its cathedral, modelled on Istanbul's Hagia Sofia and completed in 1907. Today Poti has a Georgian navy base as well as a busy container port.

Poti's name evolved from the Mingrelian name for the Rioni River and the town at its mouth, Pati. Some scholars believe that the ancient Greeks, hearing the local name Pati, Hellenized it for the sake of pronunciation to Phasis. Others hold that Phasis is a word indigenous to the region. Additionally, our name for that delectable fowl, the pheasant, derives from Phasis. The Greeks, having found these birds in great numbers at the mouth of the Phasis River, took them back to Europe and called them phasianoi, after the place where they'd been found.

The Greek association with Poti and the Rioni does not end here. In the 13th century ВС, Jason and his Argonauts set of from lolcos (Volos) in northern Thessaly in search of the Golden Fleece. They sailed across the Aegean Sea, through the Dardanelles (Hellespont) into the Sea of Marmara, and then up the Bosporus into the Black Sea (Euxine). Jason entered the Colchian realm of King Aeetes by rowing into the mouth of the Phasis River and hiding his ship, Argo, upriver. Apollonius of Rhodes (third century ВС) wrote in his Argonautica that the palace of King Aeetes was on the north shore of the river whereas the Golden Fleece itself was in a sacred oak on the opposite bank. No one knows for sure where the palace stood, but both Poti and Kutaisi claim to be built over King Aeetes' capital, Aea. Some scholars believe that Aea refers to King Aeetes' entire realm; others still seek clues through excavation of sites like Vani. In 1984 Tim Severin, the Irish explorer, recreated Jason's voyage in a replica of the Argo and proved that the journey was physically possible. His observations in Svaneti of gold-sifting techniques with sheep fleeces in the Enguri River gave further corroboration of the historical reality behind the myth.

Indeed, throughout Georgia the Golden Fleece, Jason and the Argonauts, King Aeetes and his daughter Medea are known to every schoolchild not as the stuff of legend but as an important part of the country's cultural patrimony. Many Georgian women are named Medea. As we all know, Jason managed to obtain the Golden Fleece with Medea's help. After falling in love, the two sailed back to Iolcus where, with Medea's help, Jason took revenge against Pelias. The story ends badly, however: in Corinth, Jason divorced Medea and married Glauce, the daughter of Creon. To exact revenge on Jason, Medea sent a magic robe to Glauce as a wedding gift. The magic ointment on the robe burned Glauce and Creon to death. Travelers should perhaps heed the legend as a cautionary tale about trilling with the affections of Georgian women.

Poti, though the most important commercial port in Georgia, is a city of 50,000 people; unattractive, without much to see and does not have much to offer the traveller. You can, however, make arrangements to board ferries here that go to Bulgaria, Turkey, and Ukraine. In the Central Square is a statue of the Mother of Colchis and one of the oldest theatres in Georgia. The commercial port is bustling and you can take a hydrofoil to Batumi or other towns along the coast. Alas, as far as Jason and his crew go, the only reference to them is the Argo Cafe which is housed in a mosaic ship modelled alter Jason's 50-oared galley. It sits beached in Nikoladze Square. (Those interested in the contact between classical Greek civilization and Colchis will be impressed by a trip to the archaeological site of Vani, which should be done as a day trip out of Kutaisi.

It is a the base for Kolkheti National Park whose visitor centre is south of town at Guria 222. Nearby you will also find the big equestrian statue of Tsotne Dadiani (who led an uprising against the Mongols and was killed by being coated with honey and left to be eaten by insects).

Orientation & Information

The centre of Poti is Rustavelis rkali (Rustaveli Circle), a very large roundabout surrounding the cathedral, with 10 streets radiating from it. Davit Aghmashenebeli, the main street, runs northwest across a river to reach a junction after 1.5km. Here Gegidze, with the Hotel Anchor and the best selection of places to eat, heads to the right (east), while the port is 400m to the west. Kostava runs 600m eastward from Rustavelis rkali to a square which is the terminus for some marshrutkas and has the bazari (market) off one corner. The train station is just north of this square, across a bridge.

Getting There & Away

In Tbilisi, marshrutkas and buses to Poti (six to seven hours) leave the rear of the main train station at 9am, 10am, 11am, 12.30pm, 1pm, 5pm and midnight. Poti has two marshrutka terminals. From the square next to the market, there are departures to Batumi (1½ hours) every hour or half-hour from 8am to 9pm, plus some to Zugdidi.

The other terminal, about 300m west from the train station along Navsadbuli, has departures to Zugdidi (1½ hours, about hourly from 10am to 3.30pm), Kutaisi (2½ hours, about hourly, 7am to 4pm) and Tbilisi (six to seven hours, at 9am, 1pm and 4pm).

Trains from Tbilisi to Poti take six hours, are 3rd-class only, and leave at 2.45pm (seating only) and 11.40pm. Departures from Poti to Tbilisi are at 8.45am and 11.40pm.

The Ukrainian shipping company UkrFerry operates two passenger ferries a week each way between Poti and Ilyichevsk, near
Odessa, Ukraine.

The Bulgarian company Intershipping ( operates a weekly passengercarrying vehicle ferry from Burgas to Poti and back (one-way per passenger/car €150/300, three days).