Issue 1, 2018. February-March


TBILISI NEIGHBORHOODS: AVLABARI has teamed up with analyst and historian Emil Avdaliani to explore the history of Tbilisi's great neighborhoods. In this issue we will be exploring the Avlabari district.

Avlabari is a historical district located on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. It is famous today for its churches and Armenian heritage.

For centuries it was firmly outside city, cut off from the ancient neighborhoods by the river. It was known for an Arab prison and, for a time, called Soghdebili, which is believed to be a reference to an ethnic group that settled in the area when Tbilisi was part of the Persian Empire.

The first mention reference to its modern name dates back to the 14th century when it is mentioned as a suburb of Tbilisi. The name-a mixture of the Arabic "Havl" ("field") and the Persian "Bare" ("fence" or "rampart")-appears to support the idea that it was considered somewhere apart from the city-the place beyond the barrier.

It was also at times known as Isani ("fortress" in Arabic), but should not be confused with the current Isani, which is a large district to the east of Avlabari.

A Neighborhood of Markets

Avlabari hosted Russian military barracks in the early 19th century and Russian Governor-General Ivan Paskevich designed a plan to turn it into a district of the capital in 1831. A map of the area dating back to that period shows it divided into small quarters and blocks for officers and soldiers.

Paskevich's plan was eventually dropped, however, and instead Avlabari expanded under a slow spread of streets and standardized building fa├žades. It became famous for its markets, which hosted merchants from neighboring cities.

Kaleidoscope of History

Even though Avlabari has never been the heart of the city, it is full of sites that reflect Tbilisi's multi-cultured and multi-ethnic past.

Historically, Avlabari has been home to Tbilisi's large Armenian population, one that has traditionally been concentrated around the Echmiadzin Cathedral (Ketevan Tsamebuli Square). Other prominent churches are also located in the district, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, commonly known as Sameba , which means "trinity."

Constructed between 1995 and 2004, Sameba is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world and one of the largest religious buildings in the world by total area.

Avlabari also hosts an old clandestine printing house that was set up by Joseph Stalin in 1900 on what is now Kaspi Street. He believed that the compiling, publishing and disseminating of illegal literature was an important aspect of the nascent revolutionary movement. Stalin's pupil and friend Mikho Bochoridze was assigned to organize the printing house. The printing press produced newspapers and proclamations in the Russian, Georgian, Azeri and Armenian languages.

Not far from the Avlabari metro station, a beautiful palace-known as Queen Darejan's Palace-overlooks the Mtkvari River, on Vine Rise near Europe Square. Darejan, wife of the famous Georgian King Erekle II, eventually became one of the figures of opposition to Russian rule in Georgia. Not far from the palace, the famous historic neighborhood of Metekhi is perched on the cliffs, overlooking the Mtkvari River. The neighborhood is home to the eponymous Metekhi Church of Assumption. Today, Avlabari has become a hub for tourists and home to some of the city's newest architectural sites: the Bridge of Peace, which connects Avlabari and the Old City; Rike Park, an open and green recreational area that serves as a gateway to the historic Narikala Fortress and Botanical Gardens via a gondola; and the new presidential palace, located between Tsutskiridze and Abdushelishvili Streets.