Batumi — Pearl of the Black Sea

Batumi, often called the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’, is a resort and port city in Georgia located to the southwest of the country along the Black Sea coast. Lying near the foot of the Lower Caucasus Mountains, Batumi is the capital of the Georgian autonomous republic of Adjara and is the second-most-populous city in the country.

Batumi is one of the oldest cities in Georgia dating back to the early 8th century, but the initial settlement in the area, named Batus, traces its origins back to the 4th century BC. Batumi’s interesting historical past has considerably influenced the architectural diversity of the city and paved the way for its present day innovative architectural styles.

Access to the city is easy. Batumi Airport is the second biggest airport in Georgia and serves many international destinations, including Dubai, Moscow and Istanbul. There are also direct flights from London, Berlin and many more European cities to be added soon.

There are so many great things to see and do in and around the city that a week could pass by without you even realizing it. Everything about the city from its architecture, culture, scenic surrounding nature, the exquisite food, will leave you enthralled and the whole family will find something engaging to do in Batumi.

Old Batumi’s most historical part is stretched between the seaport and the Boulevard, and features distinctive building facades and balconies.The Boulevard encompasses a waterfront promenade with a park and beach. Modern high-rises and a major restoration works on 19th-century classical buildings along its historic Old Town have transformed the city’s skyline over the last ten years.

Europe Square lies in the center of the city and gains its name from Batumi joining the Assembly of European Regions, the largest independent network of regions in Europe.It is the main happening place in Batumi, with every celebration or event, including Batumoba (Day of Batumi), Gandagana Folk Festival and the Christmas Market, taking place within the confines of the square.

Jazz concerts and other musical festivals are a regular at the square, with the Enrique Iglesias gig in 2011 cramming a record crowd of over 50,000 into the place. A statue of Medea, who in ancient Greek myth helped the young warrior Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, adorns the center of the square as a symbol of ancient Georgian connections with the European world.

Another dramatic feature of the square is the Astronomic clock tower, where you can besides checking out the time, you can also know the position of the sun, the moon and the planets at any given time.

The Alphabetic Tower is a 130-meter-high structure in Batumi designed to symbolize the uniqueness of the Georgian alphabet and people. The structure combines the design of DNA, in its familiar double helix pattern. Two helix bands rise up the tower holding 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet, each 4 meters tall and made of aluminum. In the middle of the building is an exposed elevator shaft leading to the very top of the building, in the crown of which is a colossal silver ball. The structure has a revolving restaurant on the third floor, which goes around 360 degrees in an hour, offering visitors a panoramic view of the city and the Black Sea.

Another major draw in the city is the Chacha Fountain or Chacha Tower near the marine station. Built in 2012, the tower is an exact replica of a tower that once stood in the same spot more than a 100-years ago, but which was later razed by the authorities. Four fountain pools surround the tower, which rises in the center to a height of 25-meter and is flanked on four sides by smaller turrets. The fountains are reported to spew Chacha, a strong Georgian spirit, at supposedly irregular intervals.

Around 9km north of the city, Batumi Botanical Garden showcases flora from around the world. Work on the 108 hectare Batumi Botanical Garden began in the 1880s under the guidance of Russian botanist Andrey Nikolayevich Krasnov. The site, which officially opened to the public in November 1912 was one of the largest botanical gardens in the former Soviet Union. The gardens have undergone various phases of expansion and development over the years and since 1925 it has been a principal institution for the study of Caucasian maritime subtropical cultures.

Religion is important to the people and visiting the church with your family is a tradition. With 80 percent of the people Orthodox and the other 20 percent mainly Muslim, the city’s churches and mosques are filled to capacity. Catholic churches, such as the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit, Saint Nicholas Church and the Batumi Armenian Church, as well as the Batumi Mosque and the  Batumi Synagogue attract worshippers throughout the week.

Georgian food is superb and the secret to their cuisine lies in the freshness of ingredients. The local market is always busy with people selling home-made products, huge  watermelons, cheese, spices or other local goodies. Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian dish, with each restaurant having a different way of preparing it. It is usually made of cheese-filled bread sometimes topped with an egg, which looks much like a pizza, but tastes totally different. It is served as a main course and is extremely filling.

Makhuntseti waterfall is located near the town of Keda, at 335 meters above sea level. Near the waterfall several picnic sites are available for visitors. While visiting the waterfall it is also possible to visit nearby tourist attractions, including the ancient arched stone Makhuntseti Bridge, Adjarian wine houses, and private wine cellars scattered throughout Keda Municipality.

The Mtirala national park is quite amazing and it offers around 4 kms of scenic hiking and a wonderful experience. With mass tourism yet to catch up with the area, the hiking trails appear remote and almost like a forgotten part of the world.

The country is home to a variety of urban singing styles, including a mixture of native polyphony, middle eastern monophony and later european harmonic languages. Nowhere is this musical diversity more evident than in Batumi which hosts the annual Batumi Black Sea Music and Art Festival.

This year, the seventh iteration of the festival was held from 1 to 10 September under the patronage of UNESCO, which has now been lending its patronage to the event for three years in a row. The patronage highlights the unique and exceptional status of the festival. The festival regularly invites leading international musicians from Europe and other countries around the world to perform, and many will offer younger musicians masterclasses.

Sound of classical music transcend the seaside city during the 10-day festival with musical masterpieces of  Bach, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, Chopin, Ravel and Liszt flood the streets of Batumi. However, above all, the Batumi Black Sea Music and Art Festival is a celebration of music, a reminder that nothing brings people and nations together like music and other arts.

You need to visit Batumi with an open mind, and if you do not limit yourself to the beach and the well-trodden tourist paths, you will discover a whole new world and be surprised to learn that Batumi is so much more than just another seaside resort on the Black Sea coast.

Wilson d’Cunha
Special to The Times Kuwait