Situated at the strategically important crossroads where Europe meets Asia, there is evidence still that Georgia is emerging from the collapse as a Soviet Union state.
There had previously been a brief interlude of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, but this ended when the Soviet Red Army invaded Georgia in 1921, incorporating it into the Soviet Union a year later.
So when I arrived and a taxi picked me up from Tbilisi airport and drove me to the city centre, I stared out of the window and noticed the obvious requirement for expansion. Obvious because much of the city is a building site and you don't build for any reason. They build skywards and into the rock, directly below monasteries and crumbled fortifications. Terracotta houses perch over Tbilisi like the mansions and spiralling roads of the Hollywood Hills, juxtaposing the modern with the ancient. It's progression through construction. The emerging nation.
The trading embargo with Russia in 2008, after military conflict with their powerful neighbours and the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, means that Georgia are now in a state of rebuilding.
Thick, wooden beams replace traditional (and safer) scaffolding. Erect timbers climb almost every building block, reinforcing artisan techniques and the gulf between modern metropolis and antediluvian. Repairs and excruciating restoration is underway on ancient churches, mosques, synagogues and family homes by craftsmen and non-vertigo-suffering scaffolders, many of whom I witness sinking bottles of Kazbegi larger during breaks.
The washed stone and marbled museums and houses in Tbilisi are contrast to the surrounding villages where you witness real poverty; where thin cattle roam free, the concave surface of their chests revealing xylophone ribcages, and where the elderly sell melons from the back of bicycles along the main roads to anyone who'll stop and buy.
Perhaps this 'divide' is political, maybe even cultural? Is it because Russian politicians and celebrities have ceased visiting Georgia and their holiday homes by the Black Sea? Maybe it's due to the geographical position: a small corner of the former Soviet Union state, now reclaiming its own identity and establishing it's fierce independence. I don't know the answer. To assume one would be uninformed and idiotic, but there are two portions of life, each desperately different and each evident to visitors.
The striking backdrops to Tbilisi are rolling hills and plush greenery: pine, fern, conifer, and olive, noisy with crickets. You can hear the soft south flow of the Mtkravri River. Today, the river splits through the city core. Students congregate in the heat around water fountains and elders cover waste bins with dice boards. Taxis are everywhere, a sign of hope; the expectation for visitors and weary tourists requiring transport. It's a timing thing you see. Georgians have no sense of timing, locals admit this fact to me. So they wait. It's as if all the hands have fallen off the clocks.
Unaware of what was ahead of me, I trekked the incline to Sachino, Palace of the Queen Darejan, and an interesting example of Georgian late feudal secular architecture. I inhaled the sticky air as it tightened my lungs. Sweat poured from my forehead.
At the summit I reached Kartlis Deda, designed by sculptor and Tbilisi native, Elguja Amashukeli and erected on the top of Sololaki hill in 1958, the year Tbilisi celebrated its 1500th anniversary.
The 20-meter-tall aluminium statue, wearing Georgian national dress and holding a cup of wine in one hand and a sword in the other has been called the monumental "Mother of Georgia". She symbolises the Georgian national character: wine stands for hospitality and the sword represents every Georgians love of freedom (and their character should anybody try to infringe their liberty).
Kartlis Deda stands all the way up there, upon the hill and over-looking her capital. She is silent; a shining tall construction watching over Tbilisi. She is perhaps the most important woman in all of Georgia: its protector and a standing definition to others of what Georgia is, has been and will be. She is vital to the Georgian spirit. She is powerful and necessary. She is beautiful. She is Georgia's most famous and most recognised woman.
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