Capital and cultural centre of Georgia, located on the Kura River in the Caucasus Mountains; population (2002) 1,073,300. It is a major economic, transportation, and industrial centre. Engineering industries, including electric locomotives and equipment, machine tools, and agricultural machinery, are of leading importance; other industries include the manufacture of textiles, leather goods, ceramics, foodstuffs, and tobacco. In the lead-up to the collapse of the USSR in 1989 and Georgian independence, the city was the scene of bloody clashes between Russian security forces and nationalist demonstrators.
Dating from the 5th century, Tbilisi is a centre of Georgian culture, with a number of fine buildings. It became Russian in 1801 and was the seat of the Viceroy of the Caucasus until 1882. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the principal cultural centre for the whole of Transcaucasia. Politically, it was one of the strongholds of Social Democracy in Tsarist Russia. During the Revolutionary period, it was the capital of the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation (1917-18), and of the shortlived independent Georgia (1918-20). It was made capital of the Transcaucasian Federal Republic within the USSR (1922-36), and of Tbilisi oblast within the Georgian SSR (1951-53).
Anti-Russian demonstrations in Tbilisi were suppressed here by troops in 1981 and 1989; the latter clash followed rejected demands for autonomy from the Abkhazia enclave, and resulted in 19 or more deaths from poison gas, and 100 injured. In December 1991 at least 50 people were killed, as opposition forces attempted to overthrow President Gamsakhurdia, eventually forcing him to flee.
Tbilisi has several spas; its name derives from the presence of several hot sulphur springs nearby (Georgian tbili ‘warm’). Architectural treasures here include St David's and Anchiskhat churches, Zion Cathedral, Lurdzhi monastery church (12th century), Metekhi Castle (1278-89), and Anchiskhat bell-tower (1675). The city is the seat of the Georgian Academy of Sciences (founded 1935), a university (founded 1918), a conservatoire (founded 1917), an arts academy, and several other higher-education establishments and research institutes. It also has a public library (1850), a Georgian museum (1867), and an opera and ballet theatre (1851).
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