The capital of GeorgiaTbilisi stands on the banks of the River Mtkvari, in a valley surrounded by hills. The name for the city derives from the word tbili (warm). It is best seen from the top of Mount Mtatsminda.
With its warm climate, stone houses built around vine-draped courtyards, and winding streets, the city has a lively, Mediterranean atmosphere which was even present during the Soviet period. The old city, spreading out from the south bank of the river, has numerous frescoed churches (the most noteworthy being the sixth-century Sioni Cathedral), 19th-century houses with arcaded open galleries on the upper floors, a castle and a surprising number of cafés and enticing tourist shops selling locally produced arts and crafts.
Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi's main thoroughfare, features an assortment of stylish public buildings testifying to the city's prosperity at the turn of the century. The Georgian State Museum on Prospekt Rustaveli houses a collection of icons, frescoes and porcelain, as well as an outstanding display of jewellery discovered in pre-Christian Georgian tombs. The Georgian Museum of Arts, in the centre of town, includes many works by the much-loved 19th-century 'primitive' artist, Niko Pirosmani.
The Narikala Fortress, first established by the Persians in the fourth century AD and most recently rebuilt in the 17th century, is a good vantage point for views over the old city. Visitors can still experiment with health-giving sulphur baths in a domed, oriental-style 19th-century bath house just north of the Metekhi Bridge. Popular with visitors today, Georgian sulphur baths were also frequented by writers such as Pushkin and Tolstoy. The open-air Museum of Ethnography, located in a western suburb, has interesting examples of rural buildings and artefacts. Davit Aghmashenebeli Prospekt is the base for the Georgian State Philharmonic Orchestra and the internationally known Georgian National Dance Troupe.