From the viewing area overlooking the Kura River, our guide pointed out the diverse religious communities that have historically lived together without conflict or prejudice: the Muslim district is now the location of the many thermal baths; the Armenian district is behind us on the hillside; and a mixure of Jewish, Christian and other communities are interspersed within the old town. An example of religious tolerance within the city is the joint use of the Tbilisi (Juma) Mosque, used by both the Sunni and Shiiite Muslims. This sharing of prayer rooms started in 1951 when a fire destroyed the Shiite Mosque; the Sunnis opened its Juma Mosque for Shiite prayers, first as a “divided” space but today is no longer divided and is open to all.
Mother of Georgia and Narikala Fortress
After visiting the Metekhi_Church, we walked over to the Gondolar for the short ride up to the top of Sololak Hill, where we could get a closer look at the gigantic Mother of Georgia statue and the Narikala Fortress. The statue was erected in 1958 to celebrate the city’s 1500th anniversary (that’s not a typo, folks!). The twenty meter high aluminum figure of a woman dressed in Georgian national dress symbolizes the Georgian national character; in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies – such an appropriate symbol for a country plagued by war over the centuries from its neighbors; and, its examples of religious tolerance throughout its history. While the statue overlooks the city, behind it and below in the valley is the Botanical Gardens, known not only for its collection of rare plants, but also for its cool, refreshing micro climate. From the statue we follow the paved trail down to the Narikala Fortress, built in the 4th century, around the period when the city was founded.