The Georgian city of Kutaisi is nothing but beautiful. It is a place of history and legend, since this was where the legendary Jason supposedly stole the Golden Fleece. Although Kutaisi is not even close to being a wealthy city, its natural beauty more than makes up for what it lacks in economy. Tourism is definitely the leading industry here and below are a few travel tips for you.
First tip: you should definitely visit the three most important attractions, which are the Gelati Monastery, Bagrati Cathedral and Museum of History and Ethnography.
Founded by the Georgian King Davit Agmashenebeli in 1106, the Gelati Monastery is a monastic complex that houses several old churches including the Church of the Virgin that was also found by King Agmashenebeli. More popularly known as “David the Builder”, King Davit Agmashenebeli is considered a Georgian national hero and was buried in Gelati.
The monastery used to be the Georgian center for academics and culture, since Kutaisi was once the capital city. Gelati used to run an academy that educated the country’s top scientists, philosophers and theologians of that time. Today, the monastery still houses some of the many great documents and murals produced during Gelati’s golden years.
In 1994, UNESCO recognized Gelati Monastery as a World Heritage Site. In 2008, the World Monuments Fund included the monastery in the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
The other Kutaisi attraction is Bagrati Cathedral, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This 11th-century cathedral stands majestically on a hill and is considered an architectural masterpiece. It is now in ruins but tourists can clearly make out how stunning and reverent the original cathedral was. It is now being reconstructed to its original glory, but many would rather have it as it is in order to maintain integrity and authenticity.
Meanwhile, the Museum of History and Ethnography displays important national and historical artifacts from the city’s most significant historic sites. This museum definitely deserves a visit. Other local attractions you might want to check out are the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Motsameta Church, Sataplia Caves (to see dinosaur footprints), and Geguti Palace.
Second tip: try Kutaisi’s local version of the delicious Georgian cheese bread, khachapuri, which is the country’s staple food. It is leavened bread with cheese and egg. This delicious bread comes with other ingredients and in different shapes and varieties from the different regions in the country. The Kutaisian version is a must-try.
Third tip: enjoy the natural hospitality and friendliness of the people but watch out for pickpockets and thugs. The city is in poverty, and so most of the muggers are not hard-pressed criminals but townsfolk who don’t have money to buy food. This should make them more pitiful but also more persistent and dangerous.
Although considered as the second most important city next to the capital city of Tbilisi, Kutaisi is definitely not among the safest places in Georgia. It is near the war-torn, separatist region of Abkhazia and the number of refugees in the area is rising. More refugees entering the city could lead to a rise in crime rate and negatively affect tourism.