The city rises in terraces from both banks of the Kura. In the old section are medieval buildings and courtyards, narrow streets, overhanging balconies, and the famous hot sulfur springs. The rest of the city has been extensively modernized. Landmarks include the remains of the Zion Cathedral (6th cent.; rebuilt 16th–18th cent.), the Anchiskhat Basilica (6th–7th cent.), and the Metekhi castle and church (1278–89). A funicular railway runs to Mt. David. Tbilisi's educational and cultural facilities include the Georgian State Univ. (1918), the Georgian Academy of Art (1922), and the Academy of Science (1941).
Archaeological evidence indicates that the site was settled as early as the 4th cent. BC The Persian military governor of Georgia built a fortress on the hill of Tbilisi in the 4th cent. AD, and in the 5th cent. the capital of the old Georgian kingdom was transferred there from Mtskheta. In the 6th cent., Tbilisi became the seat of the Iberian dynasty. The city lay along the natural trade route between the Caspian and Black seas but was also astride one of the world's great crossroads of invasion and migration. Tbilisi was a stronghold of Muslim power and a commercial center from the 8th to the 11th cent.; during this period Arabs, Khazars, Seljuks, and Ottoman Turks successively ruled the city. From 1096 to 1225 it flourished as the capital of an independent Georgian state. It was ruled from the 13th to the 18th cent. by Mongols, Iranians, and Turks before coming under Russian control in 1800–1801.
Tbilisi became the seat of the czarist government in the Caucasus but also developed as a revolutionary center from the second half of the 19th cent. and played a leading role in the Revolution of 1905. Stalin studied at the city's Orthodox seminary and worked with Bolshevik underground groups in Tbilisi. Tbilisi was the capital of the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation (1917–18), of independent Georgia (1918–20), and of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (1922–36). Georgia was made a separate constituent republic in 1936, with Tbilisi as its capital. Tbilisi was the scene of a 1989 massacre of civilian demonstrators by Soviet troops. The incident led to an explosion of Georgian nationalist sentiments. The city's downtown area was devastated in 1991 by a violent coup that forced the resignation of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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