Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River. Founded in the 5th century by Vakhtang Gorgasali, the monarch of Georgia's precursor Kingdom of Iberia, Tbilisi has served, with various intervals, as Georgia's capital for nearly 1500 years and represents a significant industrial, social, and cultural center of the country. Located near the southeastern edge of Europe, Tbilisi's proximity to lucrative east-west trade routes often made the city a point of contention between various rival empires throughout history and the city's location to this day ensures its position as an important transit route for global energy and trade projects. Tbilisi's varied history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medieval, classical, and Soviet structures.
According to an old legend, the present-day territory of Tbilisi was covered by forests as late as 458. One widely accepted variant of the legend of Tbilisi's founding states that King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia went hunting in the heavily wooded region with a falcon (sometimes the falcon is replaced with either a hawk or other small birds of prey in the legend). The King's falcon allegedly caught or injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died from burns. King Vakhtang became so impressed with the hot springs that he decided to cut down the forest and build a city on the location. The name Tbilisi derives from the Old Georgian word "Tpili", meaning warm. The name 'Tbili' or 'Tbilisi' ('warm location') was therefore given to the city because of the area's numerous sulphuric hot springs that came out of the ground.
Archaeological studies of the region have revealed that the territory of Tbilisi was settled by humans as early as the 4th millennium BCE. The earliest actual (recorded) accounts of settlement of the location come from the second half of the 4th century CE, when a fortress was built during King Varaz-Bakur's reign. Towards the end of the 4th century the fortress fell into the hands of the Persians after which the location fell back into the hands of the Kings of Kartli (Georgia) by the middle of the 5th century. King Vakhtang I Gorgasali (reigned in the middle and latter part of the 5th century), who is largely credited for founding Tbilisi, was actually responsible for reviving and building up the city and not founding it. The present-day location of the area which Gorgasali seems to have built up is spread out around the Metekhi cliff and the latter-day Abanotubani neighbourhood.
King Dachi I Ujarmeli, who was the successor of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, moved the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi according to the will left by his father. It must be mentioned that Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time (therefore did not include the territory of Colchis) and was only the capital of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Dachi I was also responsible for finishing the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city's new boundaries. Beginning from the 6th century, Tbilisi started to grow at a steady pace due to the region's favourable and strategic location which placed the city along important trade and travel routes between Europe and Asia.
From 570–580, the Persians took over Tbilisi and ruled it for about a decade. In the year 627,Tbilisi was sacked by the Byzantine/Khazar armies and later, in 736–738, Arab armies entered the town under Marwan II Ibn-Muhammad. After this point, the Arabs established an emirate centered in Tbilisi. The Arab domination brought a certain order to the region and introduced a more formal/modernized judicial system into Georgia. In 764, Tbilisi, still under Arab control was once again sacked by the Khazars. In 853, the armies of Arab leader Bugha Al-Turki (Bugha the Turk) invaded Tbilisi in order to enforce its return to Abbasid allegiance. The Arab domination of Tbilisi continued until about 1050. In 1068, the city was once again sacked, only this time by the Seljuk Turks under Sultan Alp Arslan.
In 1801, after the Georgian kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti joined the Russian Empire, Tbilisi became the center of the Tbilisi Governorate (Gubernia). At that time, Tbilisi was an overwhelmingly Armenian city, with Armenians forming 74.3% of the population. From the beginning of the 19th century Tbilisi started to grow economically and politically. New buildings mainly of European style were erected throughout the town. New roads and railroads were built to connect Tbilisi to other important cities in Russia and other parts of the Transcaucasus (locally) such as Batumi, Poti, Baku, and Yerevan. By the 1850s Tbilisi once again emerged as a major trade and a cultural center.
After the war, several large-scale projects were started, including a streetcar system, a railway bypass and a relocation of the central station and new urban highways.
- The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi commonly known as Sameba is the main Cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Constructed between 1995 and 2004, it is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the World. Sameba is a synthesis of traditional styles dominating the Georgian church architecture at various stages in history and has some Byzantine undertones. The idea to build a new cathedral to commemorate 1,500 years of autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church and 2,000 years from the birth of Jesus emerged as early as 1989, a crucial year for the national awakening of the then-Soviet republic of Georgia. In May 1989, the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate and the authorities of Tbilisi announced an international contest for the "Holy Trinity Cathedral" project. No winner was chosen at the first round of the contest when more than a hundred projects were submitted. Finally the design by architect Archil Mindiashvili won. The subsequent turbulent years of civil unrest in Georgia deferred this grandiose plan for six years, and it was not until November 23, 1995, that the foundation of the new cathedral was laid. The construction of the church was proclaimend as a "symbol of the Georgian national and spiritual revival" and was sponsored mostly by anonymous donations from several businessmen and common citizens. On November 23, 2004, on St. George's Day, the cathedral was consecrated by Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II and high-ranking representatives of fellow Orthodox Churches of the world.
- Tbilisi State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre is situated on Rustaveli Avenue, in the center of Tbilisi. It is the oldest opera house in Georgia. The Tbilisi Opera has hosted opera stars such as Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras, and has held many ballet performances. On the initiative of Mikhail Vorontsov on 15 April 1847 there were laid the foundations of the building of the opera theatre, which took 4 years under the guidance of the Italian Architect, Antonio Scudieri bering completed in 1851. The theatre was built on the central square of the city of Tbilisi (the modern Liberty Square, the territory next to the municipality). Given the varied musical practices and traditions in Tbilisi, the opera theater became an important heart of the cultural life of the country. It was the first opera theater in all Transcaucasia, holding 800 spectators, and notable by its façade and interior, comparable to European theaters of the time
- The "Sioni" Cathedral of the Dormition is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral. Following a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land, the Sioni Cathedral bears the name of Mount Zion at Jerusalem. It is commonly known as the "Tbilisi Sioni" to distinguish it from several other churches across Georgia bearing the name Sioni. The Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral is situated in historic Sionis Kucha (Sioni Street) in downtown Tbilisi, with its eastern façade fronting the right embankment of the Mtkvari River. It was initially built in the 6th-7th centuries. Since then, it has been destroyed by foreign invaders and reconstructed several times. The current church is based on a 13th-century version with some changes from the 17th to 19th centuries. The Sioni Cathedral was the main Georgian Orthodox Cathedral and the seat of Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia until the Holy Trinity Cathedral was consecrated in 2004.
- The Anchiskhati Basilica of St Mary is the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi, Georgia. It belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church and dates from the sixth century. According to the old Georgian annals, the church was built by the King Dachi of Iberia (circa 522-534) who had made Tbilisi his capital. Originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was renamed Anchiskhati (i.e., icon of Ancha) in 1675 when the treasured icon of the Saviour created by the twelfth-century goldsmith Beka Opizari at the Ancha monastery in Klarjeti (in what is now part of northeast Turkey) was moved to Tbilisi so preserve it from an Ottoman invasion. The icon was preserved at the Basilica of St Mary for centuries (it is presently on display at the Art Museum of Georgia).
- Narikala is an ancient fortress overlooking Tbilisi and the Kura River. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi. On the lower court there is the recently restored St Nicholas church. The fortress was established in the 4th century as Shuris-tsikhe (i.e., "Invidious Fort"). It was considerably expanded by the Umayyads in the 7th century and later, by king David the Builder (1089-1125). The Mongols renamed it "Narin Qala" (i.e., "Little Fortress"). Most of extant fortifications date from the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1827, parts of the fortress were damaged by an earthquake and demolished.