Georgia swears in Salome Zurabishvili as first female president

The inauguration of Georgia's first female president marks the start of the country's new constitution. Salome Zurabishvili has committed to making the former Soviet state's path toward Europe "irreversible."

Salome Zurabishvili was sworn in as Georgia's first female president on Sunday. Her inauguration marks the start of a new constitution which transforms her post into a largely ceremonial role.

Paris-born Zurabishvili won a run-off vote last month with 59.6 percent of the ballot, according to the Central Election Commission. Turnout was 56.23 percent. 

Sunday's ceremony took place in the courtyard of an 18th-century manor that belonged to Georgia's penultimate king, Heraclius II.

Read more: Georgia's first female president 

Attendees included former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered a ceasefire deal during Georgia's 2008 war with Russia

Path to Europe

Zurabishvili said in her inaugural speech that she would use her experience in France's diplomatic service, and previous role as Georgia's foreign minister, to promote her nation's aspirations to join the European Union and the NATO transatlantic military alliance.

"The goal of my presidency is to make Georgia's democratic development and its path toward Europe irreversible," said the 66-year-old.

"I will facilitate this process with the support of our strategic partner, the United States of America, and our European friends."

Georgia signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014 as part of its efforts to diversify economic ties. 

Read more: EU offers Eastern Partnership members money, motivation  

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Georgia, melting pot of cultures

Multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious: This is Georgia. The breathtakingly beautiful country between the Caucasus and the Black Sea is one of the oldest settlement areas of mankind. Today about 3.7 million people live in this small country with its magnificent nature and culture.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

The capital Tiblisi

The metropolis of Tbilisi is Georgia's cultural centre. And it has been since the 5th century. The city has known Roman, Arab, Turkish, Persian and other conquerors. Russia invaded Georgia in 1799 and remained there until the end of the Soviet era. They all left their traces. Tbilisi celebrates the present day with new constructions such as the Peace Bridge and the Concert Hall (right).

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Old town and fortress

Since the 3rd century, the Narikala fortress has kept watch over the old town with the typical balconies and carvings on the houses. The panorama path up to the fortress leads through a labyrinth of alleys. The massive castle has seen conquerors come and go, was destroyed and rebuilt again and again. Only a lightning strike in the powder warehouse (1827) turned it into a ruin.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Where the royals resided

The Metekhi Virgin Mary Church can be seen on the steep bank of the Kura, which flows through Tbilisi. From the 12th century, the residence of the Georgian kings was located on this site, as is indicated by the equestrian monument next to the church. It depicts King Vakhtang Gorgasali, the founder of Tbilisi. In 1937, under Soviet rule, the residence was demolished. The church survived.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

700 years of bathing culture

The Abanotubani district with its hot thermal springs is considered the oldest part of Tbilisi. The springs have been used for 700 years. The Persian-style bathhouses were built later, in the 17th century. The bathing rooms are located under the domed brick vaults. A number of them are still in use today and are a popular meeting place to bathe and chat.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

7,000 years of wine cultivation

They are called Chinuri, Chichwi or Orbeluri. Grape varieties from Georgia enjoy an excellent reputation. The largest wine-growing areas are in the east of the country, in Kakheti. Archaeological finds prove that wine was cultivated in Georgia over 7,000 years ago. And even this very day wine is cultivated in amphorae. UNESCO declared this method an intangible cultural heritage.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

70 years of Soviet rule

When you travel through the country, you will encounter relics from Soviet era: Houses, factories, monuments or, as here, this viewing platform on a former military road near Kazbegi mountain. All of them stone testimonies. Georgia was part of the Soviet Union for 70 years - until 9 April 1991, when the people voted for independence in a referendum.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Hiking in the Caucasus

The most diverse landscapes and climate zones are concentrated in the most compact area; from the mountain villages of the Caucasus to the beaches of the Black Sea. Almost half of Georgia is covered with forest. Two thirds of the country is mountainous, with several 5,000 meter (16,404 ft) peaks. Numerous nature reserves and national parks make Georgia a worthwhile destination for hikers.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

A remote UNESCO World Heritage Site

2,200 meters above sea level, in the Great Caucasus, lies Ushguli - "Courageous Heart"; a community of four villages with roots dating back to the 16th century BC. Ushguli is considered to be the highest situated permanently inhabited place in Europe. Since 1996, the villages with their characteristic fortified towers have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Vardzia – city in the rock

Up to 50,000 people lived in the cave town of Vardzia. It lies in the south of Georgia. It was built in the 12th century as a fortress to defend against Turks and Persians. It was carved by hand with simple tools into a 500 meter high rock face, seven storeys above each other. There were bakeries, stables, a treasury and a church.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

The old capital of Kutaisi

160 kilometers from the Black Sea coast lies the old capital of Georgia, Kutaisi. It was the residence of the Georgian kings from the 10th century until 1122. Many are buried here. Churches, monasteries, palace ruins and the well-preserved medieval townscape make this city worth a visit. Today it is the economic and cultural center of West Georgia.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Coastal town of Batumi

The Black Sea coast. The climate is mild Mediterranean. The port city of Batumi, the third largest city in Georgia, beckons you to take a stroll along the beach. The promenade is flanked by art objects. It is not the only contrast. Between the derelict residential buildings, huge malls and luxury residential buildings are being built. A well-known real estate mogul has invested here: Donald Trump.

Georgia - a holiday destination between the Caucasus and the Black Sea

Hospitality & traditions

More than twenty different ethnic groups live in Georgia, including Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Arameans, Jews and Greeks. They brought their traditions and customs with them. And the Georgians? They love their own traditions and do not miss a single festival to wear their traditional costumes. They celebrate passionately - with traditional music and dances. Folk festivals are always a spectacle.

Potatoes and protests 

Opposition parties had denounced her victory as fraudulent. Opposition supporters marched with sacks of onions and potatoes on Sunday to mock what they claim were government efforts to bribe voters by handing out free vegetables.

Police blocked a convoy of cars and buses, which stretched for kilometers, on the road leading from the capital Tbilisi to the medieval town of Telavi, where Zurabishvili's ceremony was held.

Clashes erupted between police officers and protesters as they tried to break through police ranks, reported the pro-opposition Rustavi-2 broadcaster.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections, said the election was administered well, but that state resources were misused in the campaign and "one side enjoyed an undue advantage."

kw/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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Arts.21 | 14.10.2018

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