Sakartvelos, Gaumarjos – Long Live Georgia!

by ChessBase
8/22/2012 – Chess tournaments are not only about piece pushing and rating points. They also offer participants a unique opportunity to meet other people and visit exciting places. If, that is, you have an intelligent and interested mind, and are willing to travel. After playing the Women's Rapid and Blitz World Championship in Georgia IM Irina Krush toured the country and shares her impressions with us.

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Sakartvelos, Gaumarjos!

A pictorial report by IM Irina Krush

“Long Live Georgia!” I knew a long time ago that I would introduce my report with these words, because it makes me truly happy to say them. You might wonder why such a reaction to simple words. I asked myself this question. And I realized that in its outward form, it’s a toast to a country, but my response is to the qualities it represents: warmth, hospitality, kindness, friendship, joy at life – the things that this country showed me.

I have Georgian friends in New York, so in some sense I knew their country before I got there. A Georgian is inseparable from his homeland; he carries it with him wherever he goes. In my Georgian friends I saw, quite distinctly, not just them but the place they came from.

So when the Women’s Rapid and Blitz World Championship was announced for Batumi, there wasn’t much to think about – I was going to go and see firsthand the place that produced such convivial, warm people. Also, wasn’t the Caro-Kann invented in Georgia!?

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Despite the fair amount of traveling I did in the country, my trip was very easy. I was always transferred from one pair of good hands to another, whether they were friends of friends or strangers. Chronologically speaking, I spent a few days in the capital, Tbilisi, upon my arrival in Georgia, took a train west to Batumi where the tournament was held, then traveled north to Svaneti for three days, back south to Kutaisi for a day and a night, and went back to Tbilisi for the final three days, from where I made an excursion to Mtskheta on my last day.

A view of the capital city: Tbilisi

One of my first pictures in Georgia: the view from the balcony

Tavisuplebis Moedani (Freedom Square) in Tbilisi. The bronze sculpture is that of
St. George slaying the dragon. Behind the column is the City Hall. And on the left...

... Kartlis Deda (Mother Georgia), a prominent Tbilisi landmark.

She is located on the same side of the river as Mamadaviti Monastery, also up in the hills, close to the Botanical Gardens. She holds a bowl of wine in one hand and a sword in another – expressing the idea of meeting your friends with wine, and your enemies with the sword.

A view of Tbilisi from close to Kartlis Deda

A fountain just off of Tavisuplebis Moedani. There's a running joke in Georgia about the Georgian
President's love of fountains: the people have nothing to eat, but he keeps building fountains.

The tonem, the traditional Georgian oven that produces delicious bread

One of the things that stand out about Georgia is the churches: they’re ubiquitous. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say you can find one almost as frequently as you can find a pizzeria in New York. Georgia has a long history of Christianity, being the second nation to accept it as the official religion in 337 AD (Armenia was the first).

Sameba (Trinity) Cathedral was completed in 2004. Set on a hill, it towers over its surroundings and is visible from everywhere in Tbilisi. My guidebook says it's the "largest religious building in the South Caucusus, with an interior of 2,380 sqm." I'm not surprised, cause it really is huge! Unusual for Georgian churches. The above photo was taken from the balcony of the apartment I stayed in. Sameba is now the seat of Georgia's Patriarch, Ilia II.

Sameba Cathedral up close

As I walked through Sameba, I felt a little sad that I couldn't identify many of the icons, since the inscriptions were in Georgian. But then my eyes caught Russian script, and I read that this icon is a present from the Russian Patriarch Alexey II to the Catholicos-Patriach of All Georgia Ilia II on the occasion of Sameba's founding. And when I looked up further, I saw a familiar face – St. Seraphim of Sarov!

There are plenty of churches that date back a thousand years, and some as far back as the sixth century. These churches are a world treasure, and a number of the ones I visited are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, recognized for their universal artistic, cultural, and historical value. When I was in Gelati, a monastery built from 1106-25 by one of Georgia’s most famous rulers, King David the Builder, during Sunday service, it was filled with tourists, both foreign and Georgian.

At the church on Mtatsminda: sprinkling holy water on the church grounds

I’ve never been to a country where faith is so visible. It’s commonplace for people to cross themselves whenever they pass a church, or when they get into a car for a journey. Even at the Sheraton hotel – I say ‘even’ because it is after all, a rather Western establishment – on Wednesdays and Fridays, they would have dishes designated as ‘fasting’, i.e., vegan dishes for people who observe those fasting days.

The view at night from my balcony. The large tower is the Radisson Blu hotel.
The river is called the Mtkvari – and I didn't skip any vowels in spelling that name

In the next part of my report we will be unlocking doors in Batumi and Svaneti

Irina Krush, 28, was born in Odessa, Ukraine. She learned to play chess at age five, emigrating with her parents to Brooklyn that same year (1989). Krush attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, and played in one of the top high school chess teams in the US.

At the age 14 she won the 1998 US Women's Chess Championship to become the youngest U.S. Women's Champion ever. She has won the U.S. Championship on three other occasions, in 2007, 2010, and 2012. Her current rating is 2464 and her title is International Master. At the coming Olympiad in Istanbul she will play on the second board of the US team.

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