— Gori and Tiflis (გორსა და თბილისში) ~ pre-1917



Street in Gori – wood engraving – 1880 (Click to enlarge)

Gori, which is now the regional capital of Shida Kartli, is where Joseph spent his childhood and and got its name from the Georgian word «gora» (Georgian: გორა) which means “heap” or “hill”.

In old Georgian annals it is written that King Davit IV (the Builder) – the same king who rebuilt Tiflis – settled Armenian refugees there in the 12th century. Again, like Tiflis, Gori was conquered by all kinds of foreign invaders and it was only until Georgia was taken under the Russian wing did things settle down for a while.

Unfortunately Stalin was born there in 1878 so that’s what the city has been famous for since the Revolution 🙁

Joseph’s father supposedly had an estate somewhere around Gori but so far, I’ve not found anything out to prove or disprove that fact.

A drawing of Gori done around the 1880s

A drawing of Gori done around the 1880s (Click to enlarge)

The old fortress of Gori

The old fortress of Gori (Click to enlarge)










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According to legend, the area around Tiflis was covered with forest and without habitation until 458AD, when King Vakhtang Gorgasali, aka Wolf-Lion, of Iberia (present day Kartli in eastern Georgia) went into that particular part of the forest to hunt with his falcon.

The falcon caught or injured a pheasant, and both birds fell into a hot spring and died 🙁

Mtskheta, old capital of Georgia. Photo by Dmitry Ermakov

Mtskheta, old capital of Georgia. Photo by Dmitry Ermakoff (Click to enlarge)

However Vakhtang was so impressed with the area and the surrounding health-giving springs that he decided to build a city there. At the time, the capital of Iberia was Mtskheta, 20km north of Tiflis at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers but Vakhtang decided that he would make the new city the capital.

That was the legend – here’s the actual history …

Archaeologists say that there is evidence that the area was settled as early as 3000 BC and it was Vakhang’s  eldest son, King Dachi, who finished off the walls of Tiflis and made it the capital in the beginning of the 6th century.  It was from that date that the city started to flourish due to its location, being at the crossroads of important trade and travel routes between East and West.

1671 – Tblisi by Jean Chardin (Click to enlarge)

Because of its favourable position, Tiflis suffered almost constant invasion between 627-1795AD by Byzantines, Arabs, Khazars and Seljuk Turks, some of them invading the city several times! King Davit IV (David the Builder) recaptured the city in 1121 and rebuilt it, building his palace across the Kura River in the Isani district.

This was what you might call the start of the golden period for Tiflis, being the capital of the most powerful state in the Near East and then the flourishing cultural centre, but in the 13th century, the Mongols decided they’d invade Georgia and so the invasions continued on and off.  Finally, in 1795, Shah Aga Mohammed Khan arrived with his band of marauding Persians and completely destroyed the city, driving off the entire population 😮

The ruler at the time, King Irakli II, realised he couldn’t do anything on own so turned to Russia and appealed to the tsar for help. Thus Georgia was enveloped into the Russian Empire and had a couple of hundred years of peace until the Revolution caused its awful upheaval of the population 🙁

Avlabar Bridge - photo taken by A Roinoff

Avlabar Bridge – photo taken by A Roinoff (Click to enlarge)

Camel caravan from Persia heading for Tiflis

Camel caravan from Persia heading for Tiflis (Click to enlarge)

The old Georgian word for warm was «Tpili» and because of the numerous hot sulfuric springs, the city was called «Tbili» or «Tbilisi», meaning warm location. However when the Persians ruled, they called the city Tiflis and the Russians and Armenians kept that name.

The Russian Empire was huge in the 18th-early 20th centuries and so all the areas were divided up into governorates, subdivisions if you like, called «guberniyas» (Russian:  губе́рния) which was ruled by a governor; so … in Joseph’s day, Tiflis was the capital of Tiflis Guberniya 🙂

The city of Tiflis underwent incredibly rapid development during the 19th century. There were performance at the Georgian theatre, newspapers were published; however many Georgian intelligentsia derided their countrymen wanted to follow the European way of life and were not impressed that so many traditions of old Tiflis were lost 🙁

I found a great pdf with information about Tiflis in the late 19th/early 20th century, which gives you an idea of what the city was like during Joseph’s time …

«When the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti was annexed by Russia in 1801, Tbilisi actually  represented a feudal city. It was feudal in terms of both its governance system and its  appearance. Moreover, it was a semi-agrarian city. The city dwellers owned plots of cultivated  land either in their backyards or a bit further away. They also owned vineyards, gardens,  spring waters and water conduits for the irrigation of their lands.

Narikala Fort and the old city. Photo by Dimitry Ermakoff

Narikala Fort and the old city. Photo by Dmitry Ermakoff (Click to enlarge)

As noted above, Tbilisi had the outline of a typically feudal city. Its major part was  situated within the old city walls and comprised three districts: sakutriv tpilisi (Tbilisi proper), also known as Seidabadi, which harbored the famous baths, and Kala, the most densely populated district, were located on the right side of the river Mtkvari. The suburb Avlabari  was laid on the left bank of the river. Garetubani (outskirts) located north-westward from Tbilisi was mainly occupied by the King’s and Queen’s gardens, which became the main  district of Tbilisi several decades later.

The architectural landmarks of the old citadel Nariqala included churches, mosques and  the baths. According to the German orientalist, Julius Klaproth, who visited Tbilisi in 1807,  there were 15 Orthodox Christian churches, 20 Armenian and 2 Catholic churches in Tbilisi.

Out of Tbilisi’s two Mosques, one, which served the Sunni Tatars, was destroyed as a result of  Agha- Mohammad Khan’s incursion into Georgia, though its fascinating Minaret stood intact.

The right and the left sides of the city were connected solely by Avlabari Bridge.  Major changes in the life of the city were brought about during the years of Mikhail Vorontsov’s rule (1844-1854), the first Viceroy of the Russian Tsar in the Caucasus. The Viceroy’s vigorous activity rapidly impacted on the development of Tbilisi.

Viceroy's Palace

Viceroy’s Palace (Click to enlarge)

In 1846 the Public Library situated in front of the Viceroy’s Palace started functioning, and by 1852 the Library  already contained 13051 volumes.50 In 1846 the newspaper “Kavkaz” was founded and was  published in Russian and Armenian languages. The Section of the Imperial Geographic  Society and the Caucasian Society of Agriculture and the new Observatory were opened up.

On Vorontsov’s initiative the interior of the Sioni Chathedral was renovated. The old  Ottoman Mosque on Botanical Street was restored in 1846-1851 by Italian architect Jiovanni  Skudieri.

In 1849-1851, a new stone bridge was constructed to replace the existing stone one,  connecting the right bank of the river with the new districts of Tbilisi, Kukia and  Chughureti. In 1858 Mnatsakanov Bridge was constructed.

Sanapiro and Michael Streets  were planned. New streets popped up on the right side of the river and the area of the former  Royal Gardens was used for the construction of new houses. Mushtaidi Garden was acquired and made public. In 1848-50, on Vorontsov’s initiative a new street was laid in Seidabadi where the custom house used to be. Previously, this street, stretching downwards, had not  been paved and got muddy in rain, which hampered the transportation of goods.

Previously, this street, stretching downwards, had not been paved and got muddy in rain, which hampered the transportation of goods. Owing to  the newly laid street, the connection of Seidabadi and Ortachala to the centre of the city improved.

Urban development of Tbilisi continued after Vorontsov. The newly built districts more than ever resembled the centres of European cities.

Golovin Avenue

Golovin Avenue (Click to enlarge)

Golovin Avenue was the main street of the right bank of Tbilisi. According to the mapdrawn in 1800 we see in its place a narrow path that coincided with Dighomi route. Golovin Avenue drew particular attention from the Caucasian governors ever since the first decades of the century. It was the street where the Viceroy’s palace was situated.

In the 1830s, when the plan for the development of Garetubani was adopted, the government principally insisted on creating a special artistic outline for this street that would distinguish it from all others. At that time the main street of Garetubani was still unnamed and only in 1848 it was named after Golovin.

The old bridge of Maidan and water-carriers with horses

The old bridge of Maidan and water-carriers with horses (Click to enlarge)

In addition, there was a lack of social amenities. For instance, only the central parts of the  city were supplied with water, whereas the rest of the population used the Mtkvari water to  drink. Drinkable water from the Mtkvari, from the natural streams and wells, was carried by ox-carts, donkeys, and by metulukhcheebi (water-carriers). “The houses of Tiflis are provided with water in a strange fashion. It is carried by horses, in curious leather bags hung on either side of a rude saddle. At the house door, the horse is stopped, a large measure is set on the ground, and water is drawn from the bag to fill it, each house-keeper being furnished as much as she demands. Water and wine are also carried in skin bottles made from complete hides.Men may be seen walking along the streets; or a wagon may jolt by, bearing a huge buffalo skin dilated with wine”, described the American journalist V. Nelson. Even by 1905 the city was not yet lit.

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Even by 1905 the city  was not yet lit.   Only the central streets were paved, whereas the suburbs were unpaved so that in summer they were dusty and in rainy weather got too muddy to walk.

The old quarters of the city and its renowned bazaars were preserved almost intact over the 19th century. Owing to them Tbilisi preserved an ancient oriental setting and was particularly attractive to the foreign tourists. By the close of the century Charles O. Dana, an American traveller, wrote that in Tbilisi “as in all other oriental or semi-oriental town, the most interesting lounging place is the bazaar.”

The major bazaars of Tbilisi were Shua Bazari (the  middle bazaar, i.e. Armenian Bazaar), and Meidani. Both of them were located in Kala, one of  the oldest parts of Tbilisi. Shua Bazari comprised of two parallel rows of counters. The brick  houses were divided into two parts – the front one, where the traders stood had a function of a  store, and the rear part of the counter was used as storehouses. By day the bazaar used to be  crammed with people. The Meidani, excitedly described by some travellers, actually  constituted a small trading square. It directly butted Seidabadi and was surrounded by low  buildings from all sides. Predominantly Persians and Tatars inhabited the area of Meidani.

Bread stall.

Bread stall (Click to enlarge)

They ran dukhans and bakeries in Meidani. The Shua Bazari and Meidani reminded travelers of famous oriental bazaars and they  often won even greater praise. According to the English traveller Harry de Windt, “The  Armenian and Persian bazaars are perhaps the most interesting, I doubt whether the streets of  Yezd or Bokhara present so strange and picturesque a sight, such vivid effects of movement  and colour.”

The French industrialist and artist, Alfred Koechlin Schwartz wrote that the  Tbilisi Bazaars were so picturesque that one found it difficult to depict them.

The spectacle was created not only by the narrow streets with the counters distributed according to the trades, but also by the people bustling around. Tbilisi bazaars represented a kind of anthropological museum. Harry de Windt gives a pictorial description of the people walking around in ethnic attire: “Every race, every nationality is represented, from the stalwart, Fruddy-faced [sic] Russian soldier in flat white cap and olive-green tunic, to the grave, stately Arab merchant with huge turban and white draperies, fresh from Bagdad or Bussorah. Georgians and Circassians in scarlet tunics and silver cartridge-belts, Turks in fez and frock-coat, Greeks and Albanians in snowy petticoats and black gaiters, Khivans in furs and quaint conical lamb’s-wool hats, Tartars from the Steppes, Turkomans from Merv, Parsees from Bombay, African negroes, – all may be seen in the Tiflis Bazaar during the busy part of the day.”

Svanetia Dadeshkiliani Princesses. Photo by Dmitry Ermakoff

Svanetia Dadeshkiliani Princesses. Photo by Dmitry Ermakoff (Click to enlarge)

The same picture prevails in the beginning of the 20th century; and Luigi Villari made essentially an identical remark: “The most interesting feature of the bazaar, and indeed of the whole of Tiflis, is the population… At Tiflis you find specimens of all these races, and in the bazaars you can hear all their languages spoken, with the addition of such extraneous tongues as Polish, German, French, Italian, Hindustani, Sart, and sometimes even Chinese.”

As a whole, Tbilisi was a “city-hybrid”: its new part Garetubani, with its public buildings, comfortable private residential houses and wide, straight streets resembled “Small Paris”. Whereas the old quarters with their dukhans, bazaars, baths and caravanserais preserved oriental shape. Baron August von Haxthausen wrote: “[Tiflis] has a peculiar aspect: on the side from which we entered, the quarter inhabited by Russians, it has a perfectly European look: straight streets, rows of modern houses, elegant shops, milliners, apothecaries, even a bookseller, with cafes, and churches with cupolas and towers… But where this European town ends, one of perfectly Asiatic character begins, with bazaars, caravansaries, and long streets, in which the various trades are carried on in open shops… In no place are both the contrasts and the connecting links between Europe and Asia found in same immediate juxtaposition as in Tiflis.”»
[Source: 19th century Architecture of Tbilisi as a reflection of Cultural & Social History of the City by Nino Chanishvili]



The funicular up to Mount Mtatsminda started in September 1903 and was completed 16 months later, in February 1905.  The trip took 6 minutes and initially people were afraid to get into the car as they were worried that the rope would break!  Not surprised they were nervous – lookee here …

Tbilisi Funicular

Tiflis Funicular


According to the first tram driver, Vaso Kvavilashvili, people were bused to the station, told not to be afraid and paid to go onto the tramcar and make the journey up and down!  What a hoot 😀

Once the public realised there really was nothing to be afraid of, there were long queues to get tickets 🙂

What a shame Joseph didn’t live long enough to come to Hong Kong with his wife and daughter, I’m sure he would have been reminded of Tiflis when he saw the Peak Tram there :/


Tiflis Funicular Station

Tiflis Funicular Station (Click to enlarge)

The Peak Tram heading towards the Garden Road Station

The Peak Tram in Hong Kong (Click to enlarge)




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This photo of Joseph was taken in Tiflis but what date? No idea! 🙁

He looks like he was around 19-20 years old when the picture was taken so I reckon it was taken after he finished his time at either the Corps des Pages or the Alekseevskoe Military School.

I’d imagine he’d graduated and went back to see his parents and siblings before joining his regiment.

It’s so disappointing but I haven’t found any information about what happened to his parents or the rest of his family once the Revolution took hold in 1917 🙁

Such a bloody shame to not know what happened to so many “White Georgians” (my term – like “White Russians”!) but the world certainly knows all about that reddest of “Red” Georgians, Stalin. One of the more cruel, nasty and evil persons the world has known  >:(



Paintings by Borys Romanowski (1879-1947)

Borys Romanowski was a Polish painter who was born in Kiev and who went to study painting at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) in Paris, before working as a stage designer at the Paris Opera House.

A caravanserai

A caravanserai (Click to enlarge)

He returned to Kiev in 1912 and was sent to the front as a reporter during World War I.  When he returned to Kiev to demob, he became one of the founders of the Union of Artists of Ukraine. A Georgian friend suggested Romanowski should come to Tbilisi in 1925, which he did, and he remained in Georgia until 1947, when he returned to Kiev and died of a heart attack.

I wouldn’t normally put paintings up which were made during the Soviet years but I thought these paintings of Tblisi, all done in 1930, were so striking that they should be shared with you 🙂

Paintings of Borys Romanowski

A Polish painter, born in Kiev, who lived in Georgia from 1925 till his death in 1947

*NB – when you click on the album, the screen will show the top of this page. Please just scroll down to see the pictures.





Gori & Tiflis

Photos of places Joseph knew and perhaps visited when he was growing up

*NB – when you click on the album, the screen will show the top of this page. Please just scroll down to see the pictures.




A great site with lots of photos of Georgia before the Revolution …

The Georgian Museum of Photography


Pictures of Old Tiflis …







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