Issue 2, 2013. April-May



Day in, day out - seeing the same city every day can chip away at its charm. Thanks to the diligent Alexander Bainbridge and his website,, is proud to offer excerpts of how foreigners saw Tbilisi in 1914 according the Baedeker's Guide Book for Russia.

1. Where to stay in 1914:

Tbilisi is Route 66 in the guidebook, tucked between an entry on the trip from Batumi to Tbilisi (or Tiflis, as the city is referred to) and advice on traveling to Baku. After listing the train routes to and from the city, Baedeker provides an insightful run-down of hotels tourists might enjoy. At the London Hotel and the Orient, English, French, and German were spoken. For those loving to mingle with the locals, however, the guide recommends Hotel Kavkaz, which Georgians were known to "frequent."

2. A city in the valley:

Baedeker describes Tbilisi in minute detail: "Tiflis or тифлисъ (1495 ft.), Georgian Tbilisi or Tbilizi Kalaki, the capital of the viceroyalty of the Caucasus and of the province of Tiflis, and the headquarters of the 1st and 2nd Caucasian Army Corps, stretches for a distance of about 7 M. along a narrow valley 1-1½ M. in width and enclosed by barren mountains 2300-2460 ft. in height. Pop. 350,000 (Armenians, Russians, Georgians, &c.). Latitude 41° 13' N., long. 44° 48' E of Greenwich." The guide goes on to note that the best season to visit is autumn, and that the city is hot in the summer.

3. What to eat:

Evidently not much has changed in the average tourist menu: the Baedeker thoughtfully explains national dishes like "shashlúik , basturmá (beef roasted on the spit), tchikhirtmá (soup with mutton or fowl, saffron, and other spices), lokó (boiled fish from the Kurá), and plov (the Turkish pilau)."

4. Getting around:

Travelers to Tbilisi in 1914 were advised to take an electric tram or a horse driven carriage while seeing the sites. Baedeker noted the tram routes (chief intersecting points were the Erivánskaya Square and the Samánnaya Square) and average prices for carriage rides (prices in rubles and kopeks - the national currency of the Russian Empire in 1914):

From the rail. station to the town (if the train is more than ½hr. late, 30 cop. is charged for each additional ½ hr. of waiting) - 75 cop.

From the town to the station - 50 cop.

Per drive - 50 cop.

Per hour - 1 rb

To the Mushtaïd Gardens or to the Botanical Gardens - 80 cop.

5. If you get sick:

If you think it is hard to figure out medical care today, in 1914 Baedeker had you covered - if you spoke German: "(German-speaking). Dr. Von Haffner, Torgóvaya 10; Dr. Kirschenblatt (internal diseases), Xénievskaya 6; Dr. Maissuryánz, Loris-Mélikovskaya 9; Dr. Mykirtchyánz (ladies' doctor), Bébutov St. 58; Dr. Rosenbaum (surgeon), St. Michael's Infirmary.—DENTISTS. Helmrich, Golovínski Prospékt 41; Dr. Mykirtchyánz (see above).—BATHS at the foot of the fortress; fee to the masseur (Tëpщикъ)."

6. Places to go to meet people:

If you were in town to socialize, Baedeker listed several clubs visitors might want to consider, including the German Club and the Armenian Club, as well as the Kruzhok (introduction and fee required) and the Artists Club where guests could enjoy concerts and a garden.

7. A perfect day:

In 1914, it appears tourists enjoyed the same sites foreigners love today. On the first day of their trip to Tbilisi, Baedeker recommended travelers experience the Convent of St. David and the bazaars, followed by an afternoon at the sulphur baths, finishing with a stroll through the Botanical Gardens.

8. Sites to see:

Baedeker divides the city by the Mtkvari River (known by its Russian name, the Kura) and by ethnic neighborhoods: the German Quarter, the Georgian Quarter, and the Russian Quarter. But the guide stresses that the best part of Tbilisi is the city's "street scenes."

"Perhaps the most interesting feature of Tiflis consists of the STREET SCENES in the native quarters. The streets are generally steep and often so narrow that two carriages cannot pass each other.

The houses, mostly adorned with balconies, are perched one above the other on the mountain-slope, like the steps of a staircase. From sunrise to sunset, with the exception of the hot midday hours, the streets are crowded with a motley throng of men and animals, walkers, riders, and carts ... The most conspicuous elements of the population include the Georgian dealers in vegetables, fruit, and fish, with their large wooden trays on their heads; the Persians, in their long caftans and their high black fur caps, often with red-dyed hair and finger-nails; the Tartar seïds and mullahs, in flowing raiment, with green and white turbans (tchalma); the smooth-shaven Tartars, in their picturesque tcherkéskas and shaggy fur caps; and women never appear in the street without their veils. Among other features are the lively little donkeys bearing heavy loads or ridden by one or more men, and the horses carrying waterskins, with their gaily-clad attendants."

9. The bazaar:

Located to the south of the Russian Quarter, the bazaars were noted in the guide book as "a network of narrow lanes and alleys occupied mainly by Armenian and Persian dealers." Baedeker recommended a "hasty visit" especially "if ladies are part of the party." The guide book notes a carriage ride will last 90 minutes, and tourists should take a commissionaire "recommended by the hotel-keeper" for safety. For the brave at heart, however, the guide book has this advice: "Those who have more time will find it very interesting to stroll through the bazaars on foot, studying the various popular types at their ease. Among the most interesting features of the bazaars are the open workshops of the goldsmiths and armourers; the stalls of the small-ware dealers and pastrycooks; the bakers' shops, with their flat loaves baked in huge clay ovens; the cobblers' stalls, displaying their gaudy slippers; and the wine-merchants' shops, where the wine is kept in sheep or buffalo skins (burdyúk), with the hair inside."

Potential shoppers are warned that Tbilisi is a hotbed of fake Dagestani swords, and the best wine is from Kakheti. Travelers planning on making "extensive purchases" are advised to bring an "experienced inhabitant" to help haggle.

10. Getting out of town:

For the adventurous, Baedeker noted that the summer resort "Kodzhori" is about 12 miles south-west of Tbilisi (walking not recommended). "Udzó, with an old church, and the ruined fortress of Ker-Ogli both afford fine views of the Little Caucasus, up the valley of the Kurá, and of the high mountains. In the environs of Kodzhori are the ruins of several old Georgian churches, with frescoes and curiously decorated doors and windows (Betáni, Kabenski Convent, &c.). About 7 M. to the S. of Kodzhori is the German colony of Elisabethtal (ca. 3280 ft.; inn)."