Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oliver Wardrop's "The Kingdom of Georgia: Notes of Travel in a Land of Wine, Women and Song"

I am currently reading The Kingdom of Georgia:  Notes of Travel in a Land of Wine, Woman and Song, published in 1888 by Olver Wardrop.  Like W. E. D. Allen, of whose work I reviewed here, here, here and here, Wardrop and his wife, Marjory were curious English travelers who stumbled into Georgia by chance.  They spent the remainder of their lives thinking, writing and speaking about the country that had captured their imagination.  I understand their obsession.    

Wardrop's work is an absolute pleasure to read, due in large part to passages such as the following, describing picnics in a churchyard overlooking Tbilisi:

The view from the churchyard is a splendid one ; the whole city, with its wonderful diversity of form and colour, lies at your feet ; on the right you can see far along the Kakhetian road, and on the left the great highway to Vladikavkaz follows the winding course of the Kura. In the evening we often climbed to the top of a bare crag not far from the church, carrying with us a large earthenware flagon of wine, a roast leg of mutton, fruit, cucumbers, and other delicacies, and spreading out our cloaks on the ground lay there making merry, singing and telling tales until long after midnight ; the lights of the town below us seemed like a reflection of the bright stars above us, and the music and laughter of many a jovial group came up the hillside to mingle with our own.

The entire first chapter is copied below, courtesy of Burusi.

One morning in April, 1887, after a five days’ passage from Odessa, we entered the harbour at Batum.
Batum (Hotel Imperial, Hotel de France, Hotel d’Europe) is a town of 10,000 inhabitants, mostly Georgians; it consists of an ancient Asiatic quarter, dirty and tumble- down looking, and a European one only seven years old. Its situation at the foot of the mountains is lovely beyond all description. The place has a decidedly ” Far West” look about it, everything seems halffinished ; the streets are broad and, with a few exceptions, unpaved, the depth of the mud varies from three or four inches to half a yard, heaps of rotting filth furnish food for numerous pigs, and in the best thoroughfares ducks find convenient lakes on which to disport themselves.
დაბრუნება ბათუმის ნავსადგურში
I took an early opportunity of presenting myself at the British Vice-Consulate, a small, two storey cottage, tlie lower half of which is of brick, the upper of corrugated iron sheets. Mr. Demetrius R. Peacock, the only representative of British interests in the Caucasus, is a man whose services deserve fuller recognition. It would be hard to find a post where more diplomatic tact is required, yet he contrives to make himself respected and admired by all the many races with which he is in daily contact. Mr. Peacock was born in Russia, and has spent most of his life in that empire, but he is nevertheless a thorough Englishman. In Tiflis I heard a good story about him. On one occasion the French Consul-General jokingly said to him, ” Why, Peacock, you are no Englishman, you were born in Russia.” To which our representative replied, ” Our Saviour was born in a stable, but for all that He did not turn out a horse.”
Although Batum is not very attractive as a town, it is at any rate far preferable to Poti or Sukhum, and it has undoubtedly a splendid future before it. Even at the present time the exports amount to nearly 400,000 tons, chiefly petroleum, manganese ores, wool, cotton, maize, tobacco, wine, fancy woods, &c. It is essentially a city of the future ; and its inhabitants firmly believe that it will yet be a powerful rival of Odessa in trade, and of the Crimean coast-towns as a watering-place. At present we should hardly recommend it to invalids ; the marshes round about are gradually being drained; but they still produce enough malaria to make the place dangerous to Europeans ; the drinking-water, too, is bad.
The harbour is fairly well sheltered, but rather small ; yet, to the unprofessional eye, there seems no reason why it might not easily be enlarged if necessary. The entrance is protected by a fortification in the form of an irregular rectangle, lying on the S.W. corner of the bay, behind the lighthouse. The earthworks, about seventy or eighty feet high, and lined with rciasonry, cover a piece of ground apparently about 300 paces long by 180 paces broad ; a broad-gauge railway surrounds the fortress. When I was there the work was being pushed forward very rapidly, and preparations were being made to fix a heavy gun close to the lighthouse — at that time there were only about a dozen guns of small calibre in position.
In the town there is absolutely nothing to attract the stranger’s attention ; a few mosques and churches, petroleum refineries, half a dozen European shops, some half -finished public buildings, and the embryo of a public garden on the shore serve as an excuse for a walk ; but if the traveller happens to hit upon a spell of wet weather, he will soon have seen all he wants to see of Batum, and will get out of its atmosphere of marsh gas and petroleum as soon as possible.
The only daily train leaves at eight o’clock in the morning ; the station, although it is a terminus of so much importance, is a wretched wooden building, a striking contrast to the one at Baku, which would not disgrace our own metropolis. The railway skirts the sea for about thirty miles, and on the right lies a range of hills covered with a luxuriant growth of fine forest-trees and thick undergrowth gay with blossoms ; in the neighbourhood of the town there are already many pretty villas. The rain of the previous few weeks had made the woods wonderfully beautiful, and the moist air was heavy with fragrance ; I never saw such a wealth of plant life before. At Samtredi, where the lines from Batum and Poti meet, we leave Guri and Mingreli behind us and enter Imereti. On the left we now have a fine broad plain, and near us flows the Rion, the ancient Phasis. The country is far more thickly populated than Guri or Mingreli, or any other part of Trans-Caucasia, but it could easily support a mucli larger number if the ground were properly worked. I was amazed wlien I saw, for the first time, five pairs of oxen dragging one wooden plough, but the sight of this became familiar to me before I had lived long in Georgia.
At the roadside stations (I need hardly say that our train stopped at all of them) I saw some fine faces — one poor fellow in a ragged sheepskin cloak quite startled me by his resemblance to Dante Alighieri. From the station of Rion, on the river of that name, a branch line runs northward to Kutai’s, none other than the Cyta in Colchis whence Jason carried oS” Medea and the Golden Fleece.
Kutais (Hotel de France, Hotel Colchide, Hotel d’ltalie) is a beautiful town of 25,000 inhabitants, almost all Georgians. The ruins of an old castle on the other side of the river show where the town stood a century ago, and from this point the best view of Kutai’s is obtained. Abundance of good building-stone, a rich soil, and plenty of trees, render the capital of Imereti a charming sight; its elevation of about 500 feet makes its atmosphere cool and bracing compared with that of the coast-towns. The traveller who wishes to become acquainted with Georgian town-life cannot do better than stay in Kutais a month or two.
About five miles off is the monastery of Gelati, built in the tenth century, and renowned as the burial-23lace of the glorious Queen Tamara. From Kutais a journey may be made to Svaneti, the last Caucasian state conquered by Russia, and even now only nominally a part of the Tsar’s dominions ; Mr. Wolley’s book, ” Savage Svanetia,” will give the intending visitor some idea of the sport that may be had in that wild region. The road across the Caucasus from Kutais to Vladikavkaz is much higher and wilder than the famous Dariel road, and I much regret that I had not time to travel by it.
Pursuing our journey from Rion to the eastward we soon reach Kvirili, which is about to be connected by a branch line of railway with Chiaturi, the centre of the manganese district; at present all the ore is carried down to the main line, a distance of twenty-five miles, in the wooden carts called arhas. Passing through glens of wondrous beauty, adorned with picturesque ruins of ancient strongholds, we at length arrive at the mountain of Suram, 3027 feet above Black Sea level, the watershed which separates the valley of the Kura, with its hot summers and cold winters, from the more temperate region drained by the Rion. The railway climbs very rapidly to the summit of the pass, but it comes down still more rapidly ; there is a slope of one in twenty for a distance of a thousand feet ; at the bottom is the town of Suram with its fine old castle. We now follow the course of the Kura all the way to Tiflis, passing Mikhailovo (whence a road runs to Borzhom, the most fashionable summer-resort in TransCaucasia) and Grori, a good-sized town, near which is the rock city of Uphlis Tsikhe. It is half past nine at night before Mtzkhet, the ancient capital of Georgia, is reached, and at a quarter past ten we enter Tiflis, ten hours from Kuta’is, and fourteen hours from Batum. Our journey is not yet ended, however, for it takes half an hour to drive from the station to the fashionable quarter of the town where the hotels are situated.
The best hotels are Kavkaz, Eossija, London; all pretty good. If the traveller intends to make a prolonged stay, he can easily find furnished apartments and dine at a restaurant (eg. the French Restaurant d’Europe, opposite the Palace). The best plan of all is to board with a Georgian family; but without good introductions it is somewhat difficult to do this. Although beef only costs l^d. a pound and chickens 2d. each, living is dear in Tiflis; the necessaries of life, except house-rent and clothing, are cheap, and one need not, like Alexandre Dumas, pay three roubles for having his hair cut, but the “extras” are heavy, and if the visitor is not disposed to spend his roubles with a free hand and a light heart, he will meet with a poor reception, for the Georgian hates nothing more than meanness, a vice from which he firmly believes Englishmen to be free.
Tiflis takes its name from the hot medicinal springs, for which it has been famous for fourteen centuries at least; in Georgian it is called Tphilisi, which philologists assert to be derived from a root akin to or identical with the Indo-European tep; the meaning of Toeplitz and Tiflis is thus the same.
In the fifth century king Vakhtang Gurgaslan founded Tiflis, and began to build the Cathedral of Sion, which still stands in the midst of the city. The castle, situated on a high, steep rock, near the Kura, is older than the city itself, and its construction is attributed to the. Persians. Tiflis has shared in all the triumphs and misfortunes which have befallen Georgia, and the history of the capital would only be a repetition of the history of the nation.
The city is built on both sides of the Kura, at an elevation of 1200 feet, between two ranges of steep, bare hills, which rise to a height of 2500 feet, and hem it in on all sides, thus it lies at the bottom of a deep rock basin, and this accounts for the terrible heat which renders it such an unpleasant dwelling-place in July and August.
The river Kura is crossed by several fine bridges, the best of which is named after Prince Yorontsov, who during his governorship did great things for TransCaucasia, and gained for himself the lasting gratitude of all the peoples committed to his care. The population of 105,000 consists not only of Georgians, but of Russians (civil servants and soldiers), Armenians (traders and money-lenders), Persians, Tatars, and a few Europeans, viz. Germans (colonists from Suabia), Frenclimen (milliners, hotel-keepers). Although the English residents might be counted on one’s fingers, it seems a pity that her Majesty’s Consulate should have been closed in 1881 ; surely Great Britain has in Georgia interests at least equal to those of France, Germany, Belgium, and the other nations which have representatives in Tiflis.
The effect which Tiflis produces on the mind of the stranger is perfectly unique; its position, its surroundings, the varied nature of its street-life, the gaiety and simplicity of its social life, all combine to form a most powerful and most pleasurable impression. If the reader will mentally accompany me, I shall take him through some of the more interesting quarters, and endeavour to give him some idea of the place.
First of all, starting from the fashionable district called Salalaki, let us climb the rocky road which leads to the ruins of the castle, whence we obtain the finest view of the city. The best time to enjoy the panorama is evening, and in summer no one would ever think of making the toilsome ascent much before sunset. From these crumbling walls one looks over a vast expanse of house-tops and church spires, through the midst of which winds the muddy Kura. At our feet lies the old town, a labyrinth of narrow, crooked streets, stretching from the square of Erivan down to the waterside, where stands the Cathedral of Sion.
Quite near at hand the river becomes very narrow, and advantage of this circumstance has been taken by building a bridge, which leads to the citadel of Metekh (now used as a prison) and the large Asiatic quarter called Avlabar.
მთაწმინდა, მამა დავითის ეკლესია
Holy Mount (Mtatsminda)

On this side of the river, forming a continuation of the range of hills on which we are standing, rises the Holy Mount (Mtatsminda), and perched high up near its summit is the pretty white church of St. David, behind which rises a wall of bare, black rock.
მეფისნაცვლის სასახლე, ტფილისი

Half-way between it and the river is the Governor’s palace, with its extensive gardens, just at the beginning of the Golovinskii Prospekt, a long boulevard with fine shops and public buildings; between the boulevard and the river lies the Municipal Garden, named after Alexander I. Turning our eyes towards the other side of the Kura, beyond Avlabar, we see, on the hill facing St. David’s, a large block of buildings used as a military depot, arsenal, and barracks, and still farther on, on the river bank, is a thick green belt which we recognize as the gardens of Mikhailovskaya Street, ending in the splendid park called Mushta’id. Crossing the bridge, we Qow turn our back on the city and descend into ‘he Botanical Garden, situated in a sheltered ravine, a delightful place for an evening stroll; on the opposite side of the ravine is a Tatar village with a lonely graveyard.
ერევნის მოედანი
Erivan Square
The Erivan Square is the great centre of ictivity; in its midst is the Caravanserai, a vast rectangular building full of shops, not unlike the aostino’i Dvor, in Petersburg, but poorer.
თამამშევის ქარვასლა-თეატრი
From that corner of the square in which is the Hotel du Caucase, runs Palace Street, all one side of which is occupied by the Caravanserai of the late Mr. Artsruni, a wealthy Armenian, and behind, in a fine garden, is the Georgian theatre; both the garden and the theatre belong to the Land Bank of the Nobles, an institution which deserves the attention of all who are interested in the Iverian nation. The bank was founded in 1874 in order to aid farmers to work their lands by advancing them money at the lowest possible rate of interest; all the profits are spent in the furtherance of philanthropic schemes and in the encouragement of national education. It is a significant fact that the more intelligent members of Georgian society should have chosen this mode of activity in preference to any other, but the reason of their choice is apparent; from the bitter experience of the last hundred years they have learnt that although munificence is one of the noblest of the virtues, extravagance and ostentation are hurtful, and they have, therefore, wisely determined to do all they can to improve the economic condition of the country. The public meetings of the shareholders give an opportunity for discussion and speech-making, and it is in this ” Grruzinskii Parlament ” (as the Russians have nicknamed it) that Prince Chavchavadze has gained for himself the not unmerited title of the ” Georgian Gambetta.” I was an occupant of the Ladies’ Gallery at one of these assemblies, and I shall never forget the impression produced upon me by the sight of these handsome, warlike Asians in their picturesque garb, conducting their proceedings exactly in the same order as British investors do every day in the City of London. Try and imagine the heroes of the Elizabethan Age at Cannon Street Hotel discussing the current dividend of the S.B.R., and you will have some idea of my feelings.
Only those who have lived the life of the people in Trans-Caucasia know what a terrible curse the money-lending community are. A local proverb says, ” A Greek will cheat three Jews, but an Armenian will cheat three Greeks,” and the Georgian, straightforward, honest fellow, is but too often cruelly swindled by the artful children of Ha’ik. When the fraud is very apparent the Armenian often pays for his greed with all the blood that can be extracted from his jugular vein.
During my stay in Tiflis, a certain wild young prince, Avalov, had made himself popular by slaughtering a few Armenians ; his latest exploit made so much stir that a prosecution was talked of ; but Avalov was no dweller in towns, he spent his time meri-ily out in the greenwood, and it would have needed a company of Kazaks to arrest him.
While the authorities were deliberating, the prince sent a polite message to say that if they tried to make matters unpleasant for him, he would, with God’s help, devote the remainder of his natural life to running amuck of every ” salted ” Armenian (a reference to their habit of salting children as soon as they are born) that crossed his path. Another young nobleman got three years’ imprisonment for “perforating” an insulting usurer, and the cruelty of the sentence was much spoken of ; a lady said to me, ” Just fancy, that fine young fellow imprisoned among common criminals for killing a rascal of an Armenian,” as who should say for killing a dog.
Let it be clearly understood that I say nothing against the Armenian nation ; I have the strongest admiration for their undoubted literary and administrative talent, and for the energy with which they resist all attempts to destroy their national spirit. The Armenian not being a money-lender or trader, is a citizen of which any country might be proud ; but the usurer, whether he be Jew, Armenian, or Briton, is a most despicable character, and, unfortunately, the peculiar conditions under which the Armenians have lived for many centuries have necessarily made Shylocks of a large percentage of them.
დიდების ტაძარი
Caucasian Museum
Continuing our walk, we emerge from Palace Street into the wide Grolovinskii Prospekt, which takes its name from Golovin, a former governor of the Caucasus. On the left lies the palace, a fine modern building in the European style, and on the right is the Caucasian Museum, in which the student will find geological, zoological, ethnographical, entomological, botanical, archeological, and numismatic collections of the highest interest.
On the walls of the staircase are several large pictures, the most interesting of which are, a portrait of Queen Tamara, copied from the painting at Gelati, and “The Arrival of the Argonauts in Colchis,” the figures in which are all portraits.
tlie G-rand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovicli being represented as Jason. There is also a very large collection of photographs, comprising all that is worth seeing in the Caucasus and in Persia. In the same block of buildings is the Public Library, in which will be found most of the literature relating to the country, and a fair number of books on general subjects.
The library is at the corner of the Prospekt and Baronovskaya Street, and turning down the latter, the first turning on the right brings us to the Post Office, facing which is a girls’ grammar school. The traveller who happens to pass that way when the lessons for the day are over (and he might do worse if he likes to see pretty young faces), will be surprised, unless he has been in Russia, to see that all the children are dressed alike, regardless of age, complexion, and taste; he will be still more surprised when he hears that if one of these uniforms is seen out after 5 p.m., the fair wearer is severely punished, it being the opinion of the Tsar’s Minister of Education that school-girls, and school-boys too, should after that hour be at home preparing their tasks for next day. The school accommodation is lamentably inadequate ; in the government of Tiflis there are only about 280 children at school for every 10,000 of the population, in the government of Kutais only 250.
Eeturning to Grolovinskii Prospekt, we pass on the right the Staff Headquarters of the army of the Caucasus, the best restaurant in the city, some good shops, and then arrive at the Aleksandrovskii G-arden, which slopes down to the river bank; its shady walks are thronged every evening when a military band performs. Near its extreme corner, and almost on the waterside, is the Russian theatre ; although the house is a small one and only used as a makeshift until the new theatre is finished, it is a very pleasant place to spend an evening; good companies from Petersburg and Moscow play during the season, and I saw some of the stars of the profession there. Unfortunately, there is a preference for translations of French and German pieces with which the European is already familiar, but Eussian plays are not totally ignored. I once saw a version of ” Le Monde ou Ton s’ennuie ” which was in the smallest details of gesture and property a photographic reproduction of the comedy as I have seen it on the classic boards of the Theatre Frangais — but there was one startling innovation, Bellac was described on the programme as an abbe (sic !). The great charm of the Tifliskii Theatre is, however, its open air crush-room, a fine large garden where a band plays between the acts, and where refreshments may be partaken of and smoking indulged in.
The new theatre on Golovinskii Prospekt is a handsome edifice which was still unfinished at the time of my visit. The farther you get from the Erivan Square the less ‘aristocratic does the Boulevard become, the only other building of note in that part of it being the Cadets’ College; the opening of the new theatre will, however, make a great difference, and in a few years the dirty little beershops on the left will doubtless disappear, and Golovinskii Prospekt will be one of the finest streets in the world. Its situation is a splendid one, and is not unworthy of comparison with that of Princes’ Street, Edinburgh ; the Holy Mount, rising black and steep to a considerable height, and adorned with the pretty white church of St. David, might not inaptly be said to be to Tiflis what the Castle Hill is to the modern Athens.
At the end of the Boulevard is the posting-station, whence we can return to our starting-place by tram-car. All the main thoroughfares of the city are now laid with tram-lines, the construction of which is due to a Belgian company which is paying very good dividends.
მთაწმინდა, მამა დავითის ეკლესია
Church of St. David
Thursday afternoon is the best time for visiting the Church of St. David, for a service is then held and large numbers of women attend. Proceeding from Salalaki along Laboratornaya, which is parallel to the Boulevard and is the most select street in Tiflis, we reach the street of the Holy Mount (Mtatsmindskaya), a steep, roughly-paved thoroughfare which leads up to St. David’s Place, and a winding mountain path takes us thence to the church. St. David was a Syrian monk who came to Georgia in the sixth century, and lived a hermit’s life among the woods which at that time covered the hill. Tradition says that the daughter of a wealthy man who lived near there, finding herself in an interesting condition, thought the best way of getting out of the difficulty would be to accuse the saint of being the cause of this state of affairs. The holy man, naturally, objected, and having made his accuser appear in an assembly of the people, he proved his innocence by making the unborn child say audibly who was its father. Whereupon, in answer to the prayers of the saint, the child was converted into a stone, which the damsel brought forth immediately.
This stone was made the foundation of a church. David then asked that a spring of living water of fructifying virtue might be made to flow ; this fountain is still visible, and its water is largely used by married ladies ; the climb of twenty minutes from St. David’s Place is so toilsome that even the most bitter Malthusian would hasten to quench his thirst there ; as far as I know, it is the only water in Tiflis fit for human consumption. Every pious lady who visits the shrine carries a stone or brick up the hill with her, and it is from these that the church was built and is still kept in repair. There is another interesting custom in which maidens and matrons alike take part ; after adoring the picture of the Virgin, the suppliant silently walks round the building three times, unwinding as she goes a reel of thread, fit symbol of the boundlessness of her love and veneration for the Immaculate Mother of God. Then picking up one of the pebbles with which the ground is covered, she rubs it against the plastered wall, and with beating heart waits to see . if it will stick — if it does, then her prayer has been heard, the lass will have a sweetheart, the wife will have a son. The church is of modern construction, but its design differs in no respect from the ancient Byzantine style, specimens of which may be seen all over Georgia. The interior is like that of any other Greek church, and on the walls there are some quaint but rather crude pictures. The mass is, of course, in Georgian, and the choral service strikes rather strangely on Western ears, although not wanting in melody.
Just below the church is a monument bearing the inscription in Russian : ” Aleksandr Sergeyevich Grriboyedov, born January 4th, 1795, killed in Teheran, January 30th, 1829. Thy mind and thy deeds will never die in the memory of Russia, but why did my love outlive thee ? ” The story of Griboyedov’s life is a sad but interesting one. By birth, education, and talents he was fitted to become one of the most brilliant members of Russian society, but he was early infected with the restless critical spirit of the century, and at the age of seventeen he had already thought out the plot of his great comedy Gore ot uma, which is a bitter satire on the fashionable life of his day. In 1812 his patriotism led him to join in the national defence, but he never saw active service ; like his brother officers he enlivened the monotony of barrack life with the wildest dissipation and folly ; for instance, we read that he galloped up two flights of stairs and into a ball-room, that he took advantage of his position as organist in a Polish church, to strike up a well-known comical tune in the midst of high mass. But lie soon abandoned this un satisfactory life, went to Petersburg in 1815, turned liis attention to dramatic literature, and produced some successful pieces. In 1818 we find liim in Persia as secretary to tlie embassy at Tavriz; there he led a solitary life and studied the Persian language, he read all the poetical literature of the country, and himself wrote Persian lyrics.
In 1823 he took a year’s leave of absence, and employed much of the time in revising his great work ; it was his aim to make his verse ” as smooth as glass,” and he sometimes re-wrote a phrase a dozen times before it pleased him. “When it was at length finished, the severe censure prevented its representation, and it was many years after the poet’s death before the full text of the play was heard in Russia. After taking part in a war against the Caucasian Mountaineers, the Persian war gave him an opportunity of exhibiting a bravery bordering on recklessness, and when Erivan had been stormed it was through his skilful diplomacy that Russia obtained such favourable terms of peace, although the British Minister aided Persia with his counsels. In 1828 he left Petersburg with the rank of ambassador at the Persian Court. Before leaving he expressed to his friends the most gloomy forebodings, he was sure that lie would not return to Russia alive. At Tiflis, however, he found temporary relief from his mournful feelings in the society of Nina Chavchavadze, daughter of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze, the poet, a lady whom he described as a “very Madonna of Murillo ;” he married her, and she went with him as far as Tavriz, he promising to come back to her as soon as possible.
He had no sooner reached Teheran, than his enemies at the court of the Shah began to excite popular feeling against him, and an incident soon occurred which gave some excuse for an attack on the embassy. An Armenian prisoner who had risen to the dignity of chief eunuch in the Shah’s household, and two women, an Armenian and a German, from the harem of a powerful personage, fled to the Russian ambassador and asked him to assist them to return to Russian territory. Griboyedov insisted that, according to the treaty of peace, all prisoners had a right to freedom, and he refused to give up the refugees. On the 30th of January, 1829, a mad, yelling crowd of 100,000 men made an attack on the embassy. Griboyedov, sword in hand, led out his handful of horsemen and was immediately killed ; only one member of the embassy escaped death. It was Griboyedov’s wish that he should be buried in Georgia, and they chose this romantic spot which the poet had loved so much during his stay in Tiflis. The beautiful Nina remained faithful to her husband’s memory, and mourned for him eight-and-twenty years, until she was carried up the winding path to share his grave.
The view from the churchyard is a splendid one ; the whole city, with its wonderful diversity of form and colour, lies at your feet ; on the right you can see far along the Kakhetian road, and on the left the great highway to Vladikavkaz follows the winding course of the Kura. In the evening we often climbed to the top of a bare crag not far from the church, carrying with us a large earthenware flagon of wine, a roast leg of mutton, fruit, cucumbers, and other delicacies, and spreading out our cloaks on the ground lay there making merry, singing and telling tales until long after midnight ; the lights of the town below us seemed like a reflection of the bright stars above us, and the music and laughter of many a jovial group came up the hillside to mingle with our own.
After descending the hill, we cross the Boulevard at the publishing office of KavJcaz, the official organ, and skirting the Alexandrovskii Garden, soon reach tlie finest bridge in the town, Vorontsovskii Most, from which we get an interesting view of the waterside part of the Asiatic quarter ; most of the houses have balconies overhanging the river, and one is involuntarily reminded of the Tiber banks at Rome.
მ. ვორონცოვის ძეგლი, 1880 წ. დ. ერმაკოვის ფოტო
Statue of Prince Yorontsov
On the other side of the bridge, in a small square, is a statue of Prince Yorontsov, Governor of the Caucasus, from 1844 to 1854. During my stay the good people of that district were astonished one morning to see the Prince’s head surmounted by a tall, well-worn sheepskin hat, such as the Lesghians wear ; the effect was exceedingly ridiculous, and the youthful revellers who, at considerable risk of breaking their necks, were the authors of the joke, were well rewarded for their pains by the laughter of all who passed that way, for your Georgian is a merry fellow.
Turning to the right, we traverse Peski, a quarter very different from Salalaki. Here we see small open-fronted Oriental shops in which dark Persians ply their trades, making arms, saddlery, jewellery, selling carpets, and doing a hundred other things all before the eyes of men and in the open air. There is a strange confusion of tongues and dresses ; a smart little grammar-school girl rubs shoulders with a veiled Mussul man woman, and occasionally you see the uniform of a Russian officer elbowing his way through a crowd of Lesghians, Armenians, Georgians, Persians ; through the midst of all this confusion runs the tram-car. “We are not beyond all the influences of civilization, for, besides the tramway, we see on a sign-board the legend “Deiches Bir” (PDeutsches Bier), over the picture of a flowing tankard.
We cross the narrow bridge and pay a visit to the baths. Perhaps the reader knows something of the so-called Turkish bath, and imagines that the baths of Tiflis are of the same sort ? There is certainly some similarity between the two, but there are profound differences ; the treatment to which the visitor is subjected at a Turkish bath in Constantinople is not to be compared with what the Persian shampooer puts you through in Tiflis. He goes through a whole course of gymnastics with you, during which he jumps on your chest, on the small of your back, doubles you up as if you were a fowl ready for cooking, and, besides removing every particle of your epidermis, performs sundry other experiments at which the novice stares aghast. At the end of it all you make up your mind that it is not so terrible as it looks, and as you feel wonderfully refreshed you resolve to return again before long. The water is of a heat of about 100° Fahr., and is impregnated with sulphur and other substances which give it a healing virtue ; it is to these springs that Tiflis owes its existence, and they have always been of much importance in the daily life of the people. Formerly it used to be the fashion for ladies of rank to hire baths and dressing-rooms for a whole day, spending the time in perfuming themselves, staining their finger tips, dressing the hair, and performing a dozen other ceremonies of the toilette, concluding with dinner, but the growth of European habits has rendered this custom less common.
The Cathedral of Sion is, as we said before, as old as the city itself, but, of course, it has suffered considerably at the hands of destroyers and restorers. Its style is the same as that of all the other churches in Georgia, and it doubtless served as a pattern for most of them. The inside has been tastefully decorated in modern times, and produces a pleasing effect, although it seems small to anybody who is familiar with the cathedrals of Europe. In front of the altar is the Cross of St. Nina, formed of two vine branches bound together with the saint’s hair; this cross has always been the most sacred relic in Georgia.  There is also a modest tomb, which contains the body of Prince Tsitsishvili, a Georgian who was appointed Governor of the Caucasus by Alexander I., and who, after a glorious career, was foully murdered outside the walls of Baku by the treacherous khan of that city.
From the cathedral the way to the European quarter leads through the so-called Armenian Bazar, one of the most interesting parts of the city. Old arms, coats of mail, helmets and shields, such as are still used by the Khevsurs up in the mountains, silver ornaments and many other interesting trifles, may be purchased here, but nothing of great value is offered for sale, and the jewellery, with the exception of filigree work from Akhaltsikhe (which is hard to get and very expensive) is not very good. On the birthday of the Tsarevich, I was walking down to the cathedral in order to be present at High Mass, when I saw an incident thoroughly characteristic of the arbitrary proceedings of the Russian police. A burly 1 gorodovoi, clad in white uniform and fully armed, was forcing the Asiatic shopkeepers in the bazar to close their premises in order to do honour to the son of the autocrat. I remembered how I had seen the Turkish soldiery in Jerusalem perform a similar task a few months before, when the young Prince of Naples entered the Holy-City ; it is true that the Turks went a step further than the Muscovites, for they drove the people out into the main street, and refused to let them go home until the evening, but the idea was the same in both cases. The best native tailor of Tiflis lives in this neighbourhood, and I had the honour of having a Circassian suit made for me by him ; it fitted like a glove. I may say that, although a great many people in Tiflis wear European dress, in the country it is almost unknown. I found that for travelling there is nothing better than the Circassian garb ; it stands a great deal of rough usage, and always looks respectable.
Mushtaid is the finest promenade in the city. It is situated at the west end, and is approached by the Mikhailovskaya, a long, straight street, with, fine gardens on either side of it. Some of the best restaurants in the city are in these vineshaded gardens, and one of them is devoted to wrestling matches. It was my good fortune to be present at a famous contest in which the Kakhetian champion, Grdaneli, fought a certain bold Imeretian professor of the fancy art. The performance was highly interesting, and it was gratifying to learn from the bills that the proceeds “were to be for the benefit of a young man who wanted to study at Petersburg, but had not the necessary means. The inner ring was formed of country gentlemen and officers, all sitting cross-legged on the ground; behind them, tier above tier, were at least a thousand spectators, breathless with expectation. A primitive band, consisting of a drum and a zurna (an instrument which sounds like the bagpipes), played a war- like air, to the sound of which the heroes danced round the arena amid the frantic applause of the crowd. Both men were fine fellows, but Grdaneli was a very Hercules, and withal amiable-looking ; he was the favourite, and justified his reputation of being invincible by utterly demolishing the Western man in a very short space of time. Every incident of the battle called forth from the bystanders loud yells of praise and encouragement which might have been heard miles ofi”.
The two best clubs have summer quarters in Mikhailovskaya Street, by the waterside — the Eruzhoh (near the Vera Bridge) and the Georgian Club (nearer Yorontsovskii Bridge) ; both have concert-rooms and gardens attached to them, and the famous dance called Lesginha may be seen there with its accompaniment of hand-clapping. The costumes worn by both sexes are picturesque and rich, and one meets people of all nationalities including political exiles from Poland, Russian officers and officials, German professors and representatives of many otlier races besides Georgians. All arms must be left at the entrance. Georgian music is very unlike our own, and at first it strikes tlie European as loud, wild, discordant, positively unpleasant, but when one is accustomed to it, it is very agreeable. Before I had heard many of the national melodies, I was very much astonished when an accomplished lady told me that her reason for preferring the Georgian Club to the Kruzhok was, that at the former Asiatic music was performed ; but I can now understand her liking for the music of her country. In the Appendix I have written down a few melodies which will not, I think, grate harshly on English ears.
The beauty of the Georgian women has been called in question by some travellers, but these are nearly all men whose acquaintance with the people has been extremely limited. The favourite observation of these critics is a stereotyped phrase about ” undeniably good features, but want of animation.” Surely Alexandre Dumas the elder knew a beautiful face when he saw it; he says; “Z/(X Grece, c’est Galatee encore marbre ; la Georgie, c’est Galatee devenue femme” Mushtaid, the town garden, owes nearly all its charms to nature, the walks and open spaces are neatly kept, but nearly the whole area is a forest in the recesses of which we may lie undisturbed for hours, looking down on the turbid waters of Kura and listening to the rustling of the leaves above and around. Every evening its avenues are crowded with carriages and horsemen ; beautiful faces, tasteful toilettes, gay uniforms all combine to form a charming picture. Fancy fairs are occasionally held, at which the visitor may mingle with all the social celebrities, lose his money in rafiQes, buy things he doesn’t want — in short enjoy himself just as if he were at home. But I doubt whether many frequenters of bazaars in England have seen such an acrobatic feat as was performed in Mushtaid last summer; an individual in tights hung himself by the neck on the upper end of an inclined wire, stretched over the heads of the spectators, and slid down it at lightning speed, firing half a dozen pistol-shots as he went. No week passes without a popular fete of some kind, for the Georgians are as fond of gaiety as any nation in the world.
From the above brief sketch the reader will see that Tiflis is a city where one can live for a long time without suffering from ennui. Although the immediate neighbourhood looks bare and uninviting, there are, within a few miles, many beautiful spots well worth a visit. The climate has been much abused by some writers, and it must be admitted that during the months of July and August the heat is very trying, but in my opinion Tiflis is a healthy place ; since the great plague of ninety years ago it has been pretty free from epidemics, and although fever and dysentery kill a good many people every year, the victims are nearly all residents of low-lying parts of the city, where no European would live if he could help it.
During the warm weather there are often storms, characterized by all the grandeur that might be expected in a region of great mountams so near the tropics ; after one of these the steep streets become foaming torrents. The sheltered position of the city protects it from the terrible gusts of wind which make the plain to the eastward almost uninhabitable, and the storms seldom cause any more serious damage than broken windows and flooded houses. Hitherto all the town water was obtained from the Kura, and delivered to the consumer from bullock- skins, but a well has now been dug a little below St. David’s, whence the dwellers on the right bank will get a supply of a liquid which is not tepid, not opaque, not evil-smelling, and not semi-solid.

No comments: