In the 5th century, near Narikala fortress, on the right bank of the Mtkvari river, King Vakhtang Gorgasali started the construction of the city which was completed by his son Dachi at the end of the 6th century. According to his father's will, Dach transferred the capital from Mtskheta to Tbilisi.
Apart from historical records, there is also a legend about the establishment of the city. The king’s sparrowhawk got lost while chasing a wounded pheasant, and both birds were found later in a boiling spring, which was how Tbilisi's thermal waters were discovered.
The word "Tbili" (or “Tpili” in the ancient way) in the name of Tbilisi translates to “hot”, implying the existence of hot springs. In the Russian Empire times, Tbilisi was called Tiflis, and this name lasted until 1936.
The legends and scholarly sources alike consider the first settled area of Tbilisi to be the area around hot springs. It was called Seidabad in the 17th century because of the Sayyids who also lived there. It was also known as “Kharpukhi”, an Armenian word meaning “to cough” when you have the flu. The name is related to a locally known healing stone that was located at Mirza Shafi street and to which people prayed to protect them from illness.
Today, the area is called Abanotubani, “the area of baths.” There were 65 baths in the 12th century, which decreased to six in the 19th century. Today there are more than 10 baths, which are constantly visited. When the famous French writer, Alexandre Dumas, stayed in Tbilisi for more than a month in 1858, he often visited them and was leaving the city worried that he would not be able to experience such soaking in his native Paris.
Locals used the site to take a bath, arrange business meetings, have fun with friends, organize parties. The future brides would also be spotted in the baths by their future mothers-in-law.
Much has changed since then, but the Abanotubani sulfur springs still flow as before. Each of them has unique healing properties that aid pleasure and have great health benefits.
The scientific research of the water sources led to the creation of a balneological resort, an idea put forward by the famous publicist and public figure Niko Nikoladze (1843-1928) back in the 19th century. In 1938, the famous resort expert, Mikheil Zandukeli (1881-1950), built "Tbilisi Balneological Resort" on Vakhtang Gorgasali St. 9.
The treatment center has been completely renovated and equipped with the latest technologies. The resort’s value lies in the mineral springs compositions from the depths of Abanotubani lands.
The Forty Sebastian Martyrs monastery (XXI century) stands at the beginning of Abano Street with an open-air archaeological museum exhibit arranged outside.
The Old Tbilisi residential buildings have balconies, hotels, cafes, restaurants, and various shops, as well as statues of the legendary sparrowhawk and pheasant. At the end of the street stands the 17th-century Orbeliani Bath, better known as the Colorful Bath (Chreli Abano) because of the colorful facade covered with ceramic tiles similar to the motifs of Islamic decor.
From here, one path leads to the Leghvtakhevi waterfall. Another path goes up to Botanical Garden Street, where you will find the only Muslim shrine in Tbilisi, built in the 18th century. The Juma Mosque has a tall minaret (19th century) decorated with a metal openwork grille. After the communists destroyed the Shiite mosque near the Metekhi bridge in 1952, the Shiites and Sunnis of Tbilisi pray together.
On the right bank of Tsavkisistskali, there are low-domed bath roofs made of bricks. Previously, each was named after its owners, but now only Gulo’s Bath keeps this tradition.
The neighborhood residents were ordinary craftsmen, dyers, tailors, and weavers. The ethnic scene was quite varied, however, due to the increasing expansion of Iran since the 17th century, Muslims constituted the majority.
Since the 1970s, the state began to renovate and rehabilitate Abanotubani, which changed the demographics. Now, almost all ethnicities are represented in Tbilisi. The famous Georgian poet Ioseb Grishashvili (1889-1965), historian of old Tbilisi, has documented the traditions of the local people. Visit his library museum at Algeti St. 1.
In 2007, in Abanotubani Square, the memorial of the former president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, was opened. He was a good friend to the Georgian people and the part of the embankment was also named after him.