Batumi On The Rise!

Lined with historic quays, lush green parks and coastal cafes, Batumi Harbor is also the point of departure for tour boats. A statue of Saint Andrew, believed to bring married couples good luck, stands next to a small waterfall near Sarp Border Crossing. Due to new investment, the city, which blends its own rooted history with vestiges of 300 years of Ottoman rule, is being rebuilt from head to toe. Blanketed in snow, the mountain villages in the Batumi hills take on a 
romantic air in winter.

With an agreeable resort air, Batumi Harbor area is full of architectural wonders. Aiming to welcome a million tourists this year, the city hosts numerous cultural events around the calendar. One of its leading festival and concert venues, Batumi Piazza attracts with its elegant arches. And the famous Rustaveli Avenue shopping area with its buildings and fountains blazes with light at evening.

COASTAL CITY OF GEORGIA, WHICH HAS ENJOYED A TOURIST BOOM OF LATE THANKS TO INVESTMENT, BATUMI IS JUST THE SPOT FOR SEEING ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS AND THE OTTOMAN HERITAGE AND EXPERIENCING AN EARLY SPRING THANKS TO THE SEMI-TROPICAL LOCAL CLIMATE. Gateway to the Caucasus, Batumi is a cosmopolitan coastal city destined for tourism. A meeting point of numerous civilizations throughout history, it’s not for nothing that the city is known as the Antalya of the Caucasus. With its long beaches and stunning natural beauty, Batumi is especially enjoyable in spring and summer. Next door neighbor of Turkey’s Artvin, it is like the Black Sea in terms of vegetation and climate, the Caucasus in terms of cuisine, and Europe in terms of architecture. The emerald green slopes of this city, which holds out the natural attraction of cities where mountains meet the sea, are covered in tea plantations. An old port city with a population of close to 150,000, Batumi is situated on a broad, fertile plain. The history of the city, which bears traces of three hundred years of Ottoman rule, goes back three thousand years. Home to the military in Tsarist Russia and to the dachas of the bureaucrats in the Soviet era, Batumi today is undergoing a process of rapid development thanks in large part to the good relations being developed with Turkey. The city is literally being rebuilt, and famous Italian architectural firms have been engaged for the task. Three new five-star hotels are under construction in conjunction with major European hotel chains, and the local government has put architecture at the forefront of these investments. Known for its golden-domed cathedrals, Batumi Boulevard was transformed into a giant entertainment district with the addition of a five-kilometer-long beach last year. Starting with the Palace of Justice, numerous monumental structures and skyscrapers are now illuminated by night, changing the skyline of the city. Meanwhile Batumi Aquarium, noted for its extraordinary architecture reminiscent of pebbles laid one on top of the other, is expected to be completed in 2013. The giant apartment blocks of the Soviet era are being rapidly revamped as well. The best way to get to know the city, which has already announced this year’s target of a million tourists, is to take long walks. The Medea Statue on Freedom Square, which has witnessed so many important events in history, is one of the city’s icons. The Orthodox Church and Cathedral of St. Barbara are here as well. The Old Post Office stands at the point where the city’s two main avenues intersect, and the opulent Opera House is just a little further on. A statue of the poet Ilya Chavchavadze, ‘the uncrowned king of Georgia’, complements the scene. Batumi State Park on the shore is like an island of green in the center of the city. Next to the park with its oxygen-rich walking trails, Batumi University is an elegant example of the architecture of the Tsarist period. Batum does not lack for sights worth seeing, and one of them is Batumi (Orta) Mosque, an Ottoman monument. Among some ten museums in the city, Adjara State Museum of Fine Art, Batumi Technological Museum and the Ethnographic Museum stand out. The city’s three national parks total 40,000 hectares in area. Some 10 kilometers north of the city, Batumi Botanical Garden is the world’s largest of its kind. Laid in the 1880’s, it is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its opening this year. The viewing terraces in this park, which is home to upwards of 2,000 plant species, are thrilling. And the road from the city center to Gonio promises an enjoyable view as well. The magnificent contours of the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea’s endless blue are our companions on the road. Gonio 15 kilometers from Batumi is a charming coastal settlement. The village of Ahalsopeli with its old arched stone bridge is situated at the point where the Çoruh River empties into the Black Sea. Neighboring Adlia meanwhile is a former farming village. Apsaros Castle on the Gonio coast was erected in the Roman period, and there are Turkish baths and graves in this castle, which was under Ottoman rule for many years. Inside the walls of the castle, which also houses the monumental tomb of St. Matthew, one of the disciples of Jesus, is a walking trail adorned with palm and tangerine trees. The sign at the entrance says that the Hellenistic statue of a golden horse found in nearby excavations is on display in Batumi Museum. Gonio Plage which starts at the base of the castle, is considered one of the longest on the Black Sea. As the tinkle of cowbells wafts on the wind from the neighboring villages, we don’t forget to wave at Turkey when we reach Sarp Border Crossing a few kilometers further on.

Map above:
A cheese-topped pitta bread called haçapuri is the dish of choice for lunch. And seafood and salads with mountain herbs are popular at the restaurants around the harbor.

Hotels offer discounts of up to 50 percent through mid-June. The five-star hotels at the city center with their renovated spas are already gearing up for the season.

You will surely find something to suit you at the shops on Batumi Boulevard. You can buy everything here from local musical instruments and articles made of hand-carved wood to homemade jams, herbal teas and a wide variety of fragrances.

Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Batumi-Istanbul flights daily except Tuesdays and Thursdays. Departure times are 1:05 p.m. from Istanbul and 5:50 p.m. from Batumi. www.turkishairlines.com

Turkish citizens do not need a passport or visa to enter Batumi. They may enter as tourists for stays of up to 90 days on their Turkish national ID card.

Tourists are welcome in Batumi. And Turkish is widely spoken, especially in the areas near the border. Hospitality is legendary in this region, where leaving someone to dine alone is considered almost shameful.

Coffee culture is part and parcel of everyday life in Batumi. Coming in dozens of varieties depending on flavor, aroma and strength, Batumi coffees from Turkish to aromatic blends are believed to impart magical vitality.

TURKISH COFFEE AND MAGNOLIAS
Turkish Coffee and magnolias are much-loved in Batumi. Seen all over the city, magnolias are used in everything from perfume to decorating. One of the best spots in the city for enjoying coffee, Batumi Harbor is alive with street musicians and exciting activities year round. And the melodies you hear are bound to bring to mind an old Caucasian fairy  tale.

BAHAR AKINCI
Writer, journalist

“When I first set foot in the city in 2011, summer had just come to the Black Sea. I drew a breath of the cleanest air in my life and immediately hit the streets, where you find yourself in a film from a different period at every turn. When I hear the name Batumi now, I think of warm, friendly people, city squares like lace, an extensive coastline, modern architecture, jazz and a city that is being redesigned from head to toe.”

You can explore Batumi’s coastline on tour boats departing from the harbor. The ritual of fishing with the special handmade harpoons that are one of the city’s living traditions has become popular with tourists as well in recent years.

We have one suggestion for exploring Batumi’s magnificent natural beauty. You can discover the beauty of rural Batumi by branching out from the city of Kobuleti, known as Çürüksu in Ottoman times, to Keda, famous for its historic bridges.

A large portion of Batumi converted to Islam with the Ottoman conquest of the Caucasus in the 15th century, and Muslims make up half the city’s population today.

Rising on a colossal column is a Statue of Medea holding the Golden Fleece in her hand. The figures of the ancient seamen atop this column are among the city’s must-see sights.

DID YOU KNOW?
According to various sources, the foundations of civilization in Europe were laid by tribes that migrated from Georgia 1.8 million years ago. The Georgian of Georgia today, one of the oldest living languages with a 2,000-year-old alphabet, is spoken with a different accent.