Telavi is the main city and administrative center of Georgia's eastern province of Kakheti. Its population consists of some 21,800 inhabitants (as of the year 2002). The city is located on foot-hills of Tsiv-Gombori Range at 500–800 meters above the sea level.
From the 10th until the 12th century AD, Telavi served as the capital of the Kingdom of Kakheti and later Kingdom of Kakhet-Hereti. During the so-called Golden Era of the Georgian State (12th-13th centuries), Telavi turned into one of the most important political and economic centers of the Georgian State. After the disintegration of the united Georgian Kingdom in the 15th century, the role of Telavi started to decline and the city eventually became an ordinary town of trade and crafts. Telavi re-gained its political importance in the 17th century when it became a capital of kingdom of Kakheti. By 1762, it turned into the second capital (after Tbilisi) of the united Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti. The reign of King Erekle II, who was born and died in this city, was a special epoch in the history of Telavi. During this period (1744-1798) it grew into a strategic and cultural centre. Erakle II established there theological seminary and founded a theatre. Erekle II's reforms touched upon all the aspects of life in the country. They changed fundamentally the political, economical and cultural orientation of Kartli-Kakheti and, subsequently of the whole Georgia. His name became a symbol of freedom and national independence of the Georgian people. Erakle II is still called affectionately “Patara Kakhi” (Little Kakhetian), and his heroic deeds are described in the folk literature.
In 1801, after the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti was annexed by the Russian Empire, Telavi lost its status as a capital. In the 19th century, the city was given the status of an administrative center of an uyezd within the Tbilisi Gubernyia. During that period, the economy of the city was mainly composed of small-scale industries (leather painting, pottery production, wine-making, etc.), commerce and agriculture. The town's population was about 12,000 in the end of the 19th century (including about 2,000 Armenians, chiefly refuges from Ottoman Armenia, and 10,000 ethnic Georgians).
Telavi and its surroundings are rich by historical, architectural and natural monuments. The most important heritage monuments preserved within the city limits include:
"Dzveli Galavani" (old walls) - fortress of the first Kakhetian kings (9th-10th centuries AD);
Church of the St. Mary (16th century AD);
Church of the Holy Trinity (6th century AD);
Fortress "Batonis Tsikhe" (fortress of master) built in 17th century AD - this is the only well-preserved medieval royal palaces in Georgia;
"Korchibashishvilebis Tsikhe" - castle of local noblemen Korchibashishvilis (16th-18th century AD);
"Vakhvakhishvilebis Tsikhe" - castle of local noblemen Vakhvakhishvilis (18th century AD).
Telavi is the only city in Georgia, where four fortification monuments from different historical periods remain relatively intact. Due to this reason, architects, scholars and art historians consider Telavi as the most "medieval" cities in the country. Another curious sight in Telavi is a 900-year-old sycamore (45 meters high, 12.4 meters around the trunk).Other notable landmarks around Telavi include the Alaverdi Cathedral (11th century AD) - the second highest cathedral in Georgia after the newly built Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral, the Ikalto Academy (8th-12th centuries AD) - where the famous Georgian writer Shota Rustaveli studied, the Church of St. George (dedicated to the patron saint of Georgia; it is said that in Georgia there are 365 churches in the name of St. George), ruins of the city and castle of Gremi (the former capital of Kakheti from the 15th-17th centuries AD), Shuamta - a complex made up of three churches of different periods - 6th, 7th and 8th centuries in a highland forest, Akhali Shuamta ("New Shuamta" in English) - the monastery close to Dzveli Shuamta ("Old Shuamta" in English), built in the 16th century, the stunning Tsinandali Gardens (the residential Palace of Noblemen Chavchavadzes family) and many others.