Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Tiflis

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From volume XXIII of the work.
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TIFLIS, capital of the province of the same name and of Russian Caucasia, is picturesquely situated (44° 48′ E. long., 41° 42′ N. lat.) at the foot of high mountains, on both banks of the river Kúr, some 500 feet above the level of the Black Sea. The heat in summer is excessive, owing to the confined position; but the surrounding hills (1350 to 2400 feet) shelter the town effectively from the cold winds of a generally severe winter. A large square, the cathedral, one or more handsome streets, gardens, bridges, many fine or neat buildings—among them the grand-ducal palace, the opera-house, and the museum—European shops, the club or circle, hotels, and public offices are evidence that Western civilization has not only penetrated but has long prevailed in this geographically remote town. Of its 54 churches 26 are Armenian, 2 Lutheran, and 1 Catholic. The (Sion) cathedral traces back its origin to the 5th century; but in the interval it has suffered much and often. Other churches date from the 14th and 15th centuries, the Armenian cathedral of Vank from 1480, and the Catholic church from the 14th century. Tiflis has two gymnasia and pro-gymnasia for boys and two for girls, and a number of other schools; several scientific societies, of which the Caucasian branch of the geographical society is well known; an astronomical and a physical observatory; and a public library. The manufactures of the place are limited to a few cotton and silk factories, tanneries, soap-works, and brick-works. But the petty trades are largely developed; and the artisans of Tiflis (about 8000) are renowned as silversmiths, gunsmiths, and sword-makers. Since 1883 Tiflis has been in railway connexion with Poti and Batum on the Black Sea and with Baku on the Caspian; but the line from Russia to Vladikavkaz has not yet crossed the main chain of the Caucasus. The trade is of great importance, as Tiflis is the chief centre for the import of raw silk and silken goods, raw cotton, carpets, and dried fruits from Persia, as well as from trans-Caucasia, while a variety of manufactured wares are imported from Russia. The foreign trade of trans-Caucasia with Asia, mostly carried on from Tiflis, in 1884 reached the value of £1,729,800 for exports, and £857,070 for imports. In 1883 the population numbered 104,024, as against 71,051 in summer 1865 and 60,085 in winter, exclusive of a garrison of 6800. Ethnologically, the numbers are—Armenians 31,180, Georgians 14,787, and Russians 12,142, with an admixture of about 1200 Germans, 7150 Persians (in summer), 1500 Tatars, and some Jews and Greeks.

Many chroniclers and travellers have written about Tiflis. Perhaps one of the fullest accounts is contained in Brosset's edition of the Description Géographique de la Géorgie (St Petersburg, 1842), by the illegitimate son of Wakhtang VI., king of Karthli, who became a pensioner of Peter the Great. English travellers since 1849 describe Tiflis in its main features much in the same terms. Lady Sheil, writing in 1849, calls it "most thriving, active, and bustling." Edward Eastwick (I860), estimating its population at 40,000 and the height of the mountains overhanging it at 3000 feet, represents the plain in which the city is situated to be so barren that "even the Kúr . . . imparts to it but a limited fertility." Mounsey (1866) speaks in warm terms of its social charms and the great hospitality of its inhabitants, and notes it as the seat of government for the "Caucasian provinces of Russia, headquarters of an army of 150,000 men, and the residence of the governor-general." In the old division of Tiflis three distinct towns were included,—Tiflis, Kal'a (the fort), and Isni; subsequently Tiflis seems to have become known as Sáiyidábàd, Kal'a as Tiflis, and Isni as Aulabár. Kal'a and Isni possessed citadels; that of the former contained the church of St Nicholas and a royal palace, that of the latter the church of the Holy Virgin and the residence of the archimandrite. The town is now divided into quarters: the Russian (the finest of all), the German, the Armenian, and that in which are congregated Jews, Mohammedans, and the mass of Orientals. Tiflis can lay claim to a very considerable antiquity. In 455 the chieftain of Georgia, "Wakhtang, transferred his capital from Mhtset to the warm springs of Tpilisi, where he erected several churches and a fort. In 570 the Persians took the place and made it the residence of their rulers, but retained it only for ten years. Tiflis underwent successive plunderings and devastations at the hands of the Greeks in 626, of one of the commanders of Omar in 731, of the Khazars in 828, and of the Saracens in 851. The Georgians, however, always managed to return to it and to keep it in their permanent possession. In the course of the succeeding centuries Tiflis fell repeatedly into Persian hands; and it was plundered by Timur about the end of the 14th century. Afterwards the Turks seized it several times, and towards the end of the 17th century the Lesghians made attacks upon it. In 1795, when the shah of Persia plundered Tiflis, Russia sent troops to its protection, and the Russian occupation became permanent in 1799.