Tbilisi (English Georgian: თბილისი [tʰˈbiliˌsi]), in some countries also known by its former foreign name Tiflis(English /tᵻˈfliːs/ or /ˈtɪflᵻs/), is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River with a population of approximately 1.5 million people. Founded in the 5th century AD by Vakhtang I Gorgasali, the monarch of the Kingdom of Iberia, Tbilisi since served as the capital of various Georgian kingdoms and republics. Between 1801 and 1917, then being under the rule of the former Russian Empire, Tbilisi was the seat of the Imperial Viceroy, governing both Southern and Northern Caucasus.
Because of its location on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, and its proximity to lucrative east-west trade routes, throughout history Tbilisi was a point of contention between various global powers. The city’s location to this day ensures its position as an important transit route for various energy and trade projects. Tbilisi’s diverse history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medieval, classical, Middle Eastern, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and Modernist structures.
Historically Tbilisi has been home to people of multiple cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, though it is currently overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox Christian. Its notable tourist destinations include cathedrals Sameba and Sioni, classical Freedom Square, Rustaveli Avenue and Agmashenebeli Avenue, medieval Narikala Fortress, pseudo-Moorish Opera Theater, and the Georgian National Museum.
Archaeological studies of the region have indicated human settlement in the territory of Tbilisi as early as the 4th millennium BC. 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 Old Georgian T’bilisi (თბილისი), and further from T’pili (თბილი, “warm””). The name “T’bili” or “T’bilisi” (literally, “warm location”) was therefore given to the city because of the area’s numerous sulphuric hot springs that came out of the ground.
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. Tbilisi was not the capital of a unified Georgian state at that time and did not include the territory of Colchis. It was, however, the capital city of Eastern Georgia/Iberia. During his reign, King Dachi I oversaw the construction of the fortress wall that lined the city’s new boundaries. From the 6th century, Tbilisi grew 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.