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Exploring the Rich Cultural History of Georgia

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Not many Americans know of the small Caucasus Mountains country of Georgia (Leonidovich), and if one was to talk about Georgia the listener’s response may be along the lines of, “Oh, Georgia, do you mean the state?” No, not the American state of peaches and sunshine (15), but a drastically different country of wine, monasteries (13), and a deep cultural history going back many, many centuries.

Georgia is a Eastern European country located smack dab in the middle of Europe and the vast stretches of Asia (Georgia). Located in the Caucasus Mountains, Georgia sits near the middle east next to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey to the south, with Russia looming above it (Leonidovich).

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In the western world, this tiny Caucus nation (Leonidovich) is referred to as Georgia (Why Is Georgia), (as it shall be referenced throughout this essay as well to simplify for the target audience (who would generally call it by its Western name anyways) and limit confusion). Though in Georgia, (and surrounding sovereignties), this country is called Sakartvelo. The name Georgia has multiple theories as to how it was devised. Though according to our most modern theory, the likelihood is as follows: ““Georgia” could have been borrowed from Arabic (ĵurĵan/ĵurzan) or Syriac (gurz-ān/gurz-iyān) in the eleventh or twelfth centuries. Both of these versions could have originated from the New Persian “gurğ/gurğān,” which means “land of the wolves”” (Why Is Georgia).

But to truly understand a culture, one finds it essential to dig deeper than its name, and that he or she first understands the base of the ideologies of the country that bond it, to turn a long story short (practically another essay even), its religion. Georgia declared Christianity the state religion in 330 AD. As such, many artistic movements have drawn inspiration from the church, which promoted religious symbols and Georgian saints as a common display of art (Georgian Art). This quite commonly included many of the artistic styles Georgia is known for, such as murals and frescoes (Georgian Art), (the art of painting on freshly spread moist lime plaster with water-based pigments) (Frescoes).

One stellar example of this is David Gareji (Georgian Art), a monastery in eastern Georgia that was built in the 6th century (Georgia and). This sacred holy site to the Georgian people was eventually made into a school of fresco painting and is home to numerous murals, ranging from brightly colored murals to simple, less colorful imagery (Georgian Art). Going from drab paint slashes to vibrant hues was actually a stylistic concert in Georgian art that evolved over time. However many of these murals sadly don’t find a big place in the artistic history of the world, as numerous are not in the best condition, thus shown throughout the country’s history by repeated invasions of the Persians, Mongols, and the Soviet Union takeover (Georgian Art) of 1921 (Georgia).

Georgian art work also shows influence from the Byzantine empire, though during the 11th-13th century, hagiography (the writing of the lives of saints, in this case, done in the form of paintings) (Hagiography), became popular, and the style shifted away from her early Byzantinian roots (Georgian Art).

In the fourteenth century, a new, now historically well known painter arose in Georgia named Damiane. Damian combined rustic Georgian art traditions with more developed trends from Russia the Slavic countries of the Balkans (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) (Slavic). Proportions of humans were now drawn more realistically, faces were drawn with more expression and positive and negative space was used more wisely. One predominant trait did stay the same though, the use of the church in these Georgian paintings (Georgian Art).

Georgia has been influenced by European, Ottoman, Arabian, and Annatolian cultures (Georgian Culture), therefore providing quite the unique melting pot for the country you would think might be relatively hidden away in the mountains. Though to add on to the groups that influenced Georgian culture are the Persians. Georgian art was swayed from the west when the Persian empire conquered this tiny mountain nation in the 17th century. It was brought back to a more European approach in the 18th century, through its first annexation by Russia. Many Georgians moved to Moscow, accounting for the European artistic exchanges (Georgian Art).

Georgia recently has had a new movie come out called, “And Then We Danced.” Because of Georgia’s Christian roots (dating back to a 4th century alliance against the Persians) (Georgia: The) its orthodox church has a lot of influence on the people residing there. Though the new movie that just came out contradicts a lot of the ideals of the church, with the plot being about a homosexual dance couple. While a considered a relatively decent drama, it has caused quite the controversy within the Georgian movie industry, religious groups, and the average folk alike (The dancer).

While movies certainly have become quite popular (The dancer), another more modern artform that’s in vogue in Georgia is photography. Artists such as Ana Chaduneli have created beautiful artistic images with deep meanings, also dabbling in the mix sound systems (for short videos of course) and graphic design. Another good example would be Kote Jincharadze, who often expresses ideals such as liberty and change (Georgia’s).

To go back to more classical roots, the beginning of Georgian literature starts in the 4th century, when people were converted to Christianity and therefore introduced to western literature and philosophy, though the preliminary bearings of literature begins with the creation of the Georgian Alphabet (originally, writing was done in Armanzuli (a Syrian dialect related to Hebrew and Syriac) (Amariac), though around the 4th century, Georgia’s first (of three) alphabets evolved, Asomtavruli, which was used until around the 9th century) (Georgian). As the church did on visual artistic influences, writing was also swayed by the social power of the church. Though religious Georgian writing reached its zenith in the 10th century where devout melodic poems and legends took strong hold. Though after the enervation of the Byzantine empire on Georgia, more non religious literary artworks took hold, and from the 10th to 13th century a Georgian golden age was overseen where the advancement of all forms of art were embracessed, but poetry and prose especially (Rayfield).

Though even still, this country just can’t stop getting invaded. Thanks to the Mogolian invasion led by Ghengis Khan in the 1220s much of the literature written at the time was sadly lost. A couple hundred years later Georgia is invaded yet again, but this time by Russia (in its first annexation of it in the 18th century, as previously stated) (Georgian Art), which made Russian the official language of business and government. Though Russian rule opened up new roads to European arts and philosophy, making a new mark on Georgian Literature. Mostly through French and German philosophy and publications (Rayfield). Relations with Russia can not be said to be particularly good now either, with Russia trying to disable growth of Georgian economic prosperity with import bans, and Russia occupying Georgian territories (Ragozin) and other conflicts emerging from ethnicity related issues going back all the way to the Soviet era times when Georgia was under its control, as previously mentioned (Russian).

Nowadays, Georgia has actively been propelling the tourism industry to show off its culture to the world. Recently it has made a business deal with Portugal in its capital, Libson. The deal was a tourism cooperation, with the Portugese Foreign Minister stating on the rendezvous between him and Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani, “Portugal and Georgia are countries with many natural resources, beautiful landscapes, very important cultural heritages and good quality of people. So we will now cooperate more in terms of training and work on tourism” (Portugal). Though Portugal was a specific example of the cultural relation Georgia is trying to build, Georgia has been trying to do this with many other countries as well, ranging from North America, The EU, the Middle East, and Asia (Why is everyone).

The overall reason for Georgia’s extremely drastic cultural crusade is because of the economic disparities residing within the small scaled country. Back in 2006, the poverty rate included nearly a third of the country! Though by 2017 the poverty rate was only half of so! Decreasing to just 16.3% (Why)! Though this is still quite the high poverty rate, it is certainly a vast and rapid improvement, especially as it holds its position as a second world country with an HDI (Human Development Index) of 0.786. Bringing it in at 70th place in the world (Georgia: Human). More broad statistics support this as well, showcasing a humongous advancement in the country, as Georgia’s GDP has steadily increased by 4.5 percent each year for the past 20 years (Why is everyone)!

Georgia has a bit of something stuffed in the tiny country for practically anyone, combining elements of early Byzantinian culture, Mongolian, and later western European influence all mixed into one country (Leonidovich). Seen from the religious water frescoes on the domed roofs of orthodox churches (Georgian Art), to the modern, controversial movies being projected across Georgia, and soon Europe, and maybe eventually worldwide (The dancer). No wonder the economic prosperity of Georgia and the GDP is on a steady incline. If all continues to go as well, this artistically rich, and historically rich country is sure to preserve all its relics and elements of culture for a long time for many generations to come.

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