Narikala dominates the skyline of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Its two walled sections sit on a steep hill between the Sulphur Baths and the Botanical Gardens. The fortress was constructed in the 4th century and was expanded by the Umayyads in the 7th century and later, by king David the Builder in the 11th. The Mongols named it Narin Qala
Now there is a cable car to Narikala and the station is only a short walk from Metekhi Church. We walked down hill past rows of new restaurants and wine shops on to the square in from to the architecturally pleasing cable car station. The sun was fierce. A pretty girl in a blue dress was trying to sell cold coffee and a beggar with a long dirty beard stretched his hand out and said, “Help me” in Russian.
The new aerial tramway opened in 2012 connecting the newly built Rike Park with Narikala. Tamara bought the tickets. A one-way journey costs 1 GEL. You need the plastic card that is used for travel on the Tbilisi Metro to buy tickets as cash is not accepted. A card can be purchased at the kiosk for 2 GEL if you don’t already have one. The air conditioned car with tinted windows took us across the Mtkvari River and over the recently renovated rooftops and buildings of the Old Town, and up to Narikala in just under 2 minutes.
At the top, a narrow path to the right past the soft drinks sellers, takes you to Kartlis Deda (Mother of Kartli), a monument which has become a symbol of the city. The twenty-metre aluminium statue of a woman in Georgian national dress was erected in 1958, the year Tbilisi celebrated its 1500th anniversary. She holds a cup of wine in her left hand and a sword in her right. “The wine is for friends and the sword is for enemies” Tamara said with a grin.
We took the path to the left which led us down to the entrance to the citadel. The hillside was full of litter. A small tree covered with coloured plastic bags tied to its branches looked like a Christmas Tree. We entered the citadel through a large hole in the wall which served as the gate and walked up the path to a little clearing with benches and a kiosk selling soft drinks and Churchkhela – traditional sausage-shaped sweets made of grape must, nuts such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and flour. The nuts are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened grape juice or fruit juices and dried in the shape of a sausage. Churchkhela is a home-made product and Georgians usually make them in the Autumn when grapes and nuts are harvested. There were pomegranate trees heavy with fruit and discarded qvevris were scattered about. We sat there for a while and drank bottled cool water and looked at the ancient watch towers, now bordering the botanical gardens (first established as a royal pleasure ground in 1636) on the other side of the hill. The path climbed further uphill towards the Church of St Nicholas.
CHURCH OF ST NICHOLAS
It was almost time for lunch, our first in Georgia on this trip, and I was thinking of grilled aubergines with walnut paste and copious amounts of well chilled Mtsvane. “No cheese pie” we were unanimous in telling Tamara as we walked down the hill towards the Old Town and its many good restaurants.