Batumi in Georgia, The Las Vegas of the Black Sea

Batumi is Georgia’s main tourist destination located on the shores of the Black Sea. Exactly what we needed for a long weekend. We were looking forward to discovering the city and especially enjoying its beaches.

As the country was still under COVID-19 restrictions, we had to wait for shops, hotels, and restaurants to reopen. We knew that some places would still be closed, but we decided to make the most of what the resort had to offer.

I admit that since we went early March, we were aware that swimming would be compromised — the water temperature barely approaching 10˚C — too bad but we will be back this summer. There is 380 km between Tbilisi and Batumi, a five-hour drive. 

Batumi in a nutshell

Located on the Black Sea coast in southwest Georgia, Batumi is the second-largest city in Georgia and the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. In 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the region joined the newly independent Republic of Georgia.

The region has its own flag and dialect, in which one can find words from the Turkish language.

During the Russian era, Batumi became a famous seaside resort due to its temperate climate and location at the foot of the Caucasus Mountain.

From 2010, Batumi began its transformation to become the city it is now. Modern buildings have been built, luxury hotels and casinos appeared on the seafront. This new architecture contrasts with the Belle Epoque style of the classic 19th-Century Russian buildings lining its historic old town.

Today, the city also serves as Georgia’s principal seaport. Batumi’s economy includes industries such as shipbuilding, food processing, and light industry; but is primarily based on tourism and gambling.

It is no coincidence that the city’s nickname is the “Las Vegas of the Black Sea”!

Our first discovery of this beautiful city

A colorful balcony

We arrived on Friday before noon and took advantage of the afternoon to walk the city streets and discover the Park of May 6, an idyllic place to stroll and recover from our long journey. However, we still have the next day to plan for. It is on a terrace of the Europe square in the historic center – which I will present to you later in the article – that we organized our Saturday while enjoying a drink.

A street in Batumi
The Park of May 6 and the Lake Nurigeli

The main spots not to be missed

Our tour in the old town of Batumi, which can be visited in a leisurely way in two hours
The start of our walk along the seaside

Knowing that we wanted to have a lunch picnic on the beach, we planned the tour to start at the Europe Square and end by the seafront. We were lucky to have such splendid weather and pleasant temperature given the season. Perfect for our first meal of the year on the beach!

So here we go — to discover the monuments and curiosities of the old town of Batumi.

The old town of Batumi

Europe Square

For me, the most beautiful square in the city. One can admire the buildings in a 19th-century Belle Époque style, which have been wonderfully renovated.

On the terrace is the place to come and have a drink, appreciating the details of this grand architecture.

The statue of Medea

This statue, unveiled by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on July 6, 2007, is dedicated to Medea, a Colchidean princess from Greek mythology.

In the old geography, Colchis was a state, a kingdom, and then a Georgian region which currently corresponds to several Georgian provinces, including Ajaria. The term “Colchis” is also used to refer to the ancient tribes that lived on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

According to Greek mythology, Colchis was the kingdom of Aeétès and Medea and the destination of the Argonauts. It was also the country of the Amazons.

The legend of the Golden Fleece
The Golden Fleece was the gift that Phrixos made to his father-in-law, Aeétès, then king of Colchis, on the occasion of his marriage with Calciopé (one of the king’s daughters).
This golden fur, which came from a ram, was endowed with divine powers: whoever possessed it was granted victory in battle and absolute control over mortal men.

Later, when Jason and his companions the Argonauts set out to conquer the precious fur, Medea – the second daughter of King Aeétès – out of love for him, helped him overcome all obstacles. She led Jason to the Golden Fleece, put a dreadful dragon to sleep with her magical powers, and protected their escape.

Piazza Square

Part of the mosaic
The tower and its bells

Built in 2009, it is a venue for cultural and entertainment events.
In the center of the square, surrounded by the bars and restaurants’ terraces, is one of the largest mosaics in Europe.
On one side of the square, a large tower built in the Venetian style plays the Anthem of Georgia every three hours, while another part of the courtyard houses a stage ready to welcome groups and artists.

And it is around a drink or a good meal that you can fully enjoy the shows that are played outdoors!

Church of Saint Nicholas

This 150-year-old Greek church is one of the oldest places of worship in the city.

In 1854, the Greek-born mayor Ilya Efremidi undertook significant works in the city, then under Turkish occupation. The Turkish authorities that agreed with his plans allowed him to build this temple, on the condition that there would be no bell.
Thanks to the Greek parishioners’ donations, the construction of what became a religious building and a place of life began in 1865.
From 1894 to 1898, it housed schools for boys and girls and a choir considered to be one of the best in Batumi.

The bell that we see today was not added until 1878 by the Russian military troops.

Batumi Central Mosque

This mosque was commissioned in 1886 by the family of Aslan Beg Khimshiashvili, a Georgian Muslim nobleman.
It is popularly known as “Jamia in the middle” because it was once between two other mosques that did not survive.

Cathedral of the Mother of God

The Cathedral of the Mother of God in Batumi is a Georgian Orthodox cathedral, originally built as a Catholic church in 1897.

The cathedral was our last monument for this tour of the old town. I am always delighted to cross cities whose history is reflected in the architecture of buildings and admiring when they are well maintained so that we can fully enjoy their beauty.
I know the new city will be completely different, and we look forward to heading to the seaside. And the picnic is waiting for us!

The seafront

As expected, we enjoyed our lunch break at the water’s edge. The sea is calm and quiet  — there is virtually no tide on the Black Sea — and the beach is covered with pebbles.

Of course, we went in search of the most beautiful rock, like all the children around us!

It’s time for us to begin the second part of our visit by following Batumi Boulevard. Batumi Boulevard was first built in 1881, mainly a park with benches, beautiful statues, and dancing fountains.
It was only after 2010 that the newer part was created, along the sea. Real estate developers stormed the seaside to build stylish buildings and create luxurious hotels and casinos. 

One can do the walk by foot or by bicycle, knowing that there are 6 km up to the piece of art “Périlleusement vôtre” — whose English name is “Flipflop on eggs.” If you opt for bikes, you will easily find them for rent along the promenade.

The Chacha Tower

For starters, what is chacha?

Chacha is a Georgian brandy, clear and strong, made with grape grounds.

The Chacha Tower started out as a cool idea for a tourist attraction. The four fountains at its base were to dispense free chacha to passers-by for one hour each week. But the attraction did not have the expected success!

So no more chacha here. You’ll have to find some elsewhere in the city…

Miracle Park

This small park marks the beginning of Batumi Boulevard. Here you can find some of the city’s main attractions.

The statue of Ali and Nino

The monument of love
It is a beautiful statue that has the particularity of being animated.
Created in 2010 by Georgian sculptors Tamar Kvesitadze and Paata Sanaia, it tells the story of the love between the heroes of Kurban Said’s novel: Ali, an Azerbaijani aristocrat and Nino, a Georgian princess.
The figures come together and merge into a single entity without ever touching each other.

Unfortunately, we did not witness the reunion of these two lovers!

The Ferris Wheel

A short ride on this Ferris wheel will give you a beautiful view of the city.

The Lighthouse and the Alphabetic Tower

The lighthouse

The first lighthouse building was constructed in 1863, under the Ottoman Empire, to guide ships entering the Black Sea. Its white light can be seen 14 nautical miles from the coast.
In 1878, a second lighthouse was built by the Russians. But it was not until a few years later, in 1882, that French engineers redesigned it and made the 21-meter-high building that currently exists.

The Alphabetic Tower

The Alphabetic Tower, at 130 meters high, symbolizes the uniqueness of the Georgian alphabet and people. Its structure represents the symbol of DNA, two helical bands on which the 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet were fixed. Each letter is four meters high and made of aluminum.

An elevator in the center of the tower allows access to the colossal silver ball. Another way to get a panoramic view of the city! 

As we headed towards Batumi Boulevard, our eyes were drawn to a building that seemed a little exuberant — a sizeable pointed tower on which a golden miniature big wheel had been installed!

The Batumi tower

With 35 floors, it is the tallest building in Batumi. And at the risk of repeating myself, we really can’t miss it! It was built in 2012 and was supposed to house the Technical University of Batumi.
The plan never came to fruition, and investors acquired it and turned it into a luxury hotel.

Here we are at the entrance of Batumi Boulevard. As you’ll see in the following photos, the first part of the boulevard hasn’t changed much.

Batumi Boulevard in pictures

A small coffee shop that sells delicious coffee!
One of the dancing fountains. A show of water jets.
A bamboo forest
A beautifully renovated glass roof that has been transformed into a restaurant

The Summer Theatre

This place is a must-see in the summer when troupes from worldwide come to perform in Batumi.

The old theatre was built in 1949 and destroyed by fire in the 1990s, and this replica is one of the most remarkable buildings on the boulevard.
Its structure and facades are made entirely of wood. One can admire the complexity with which the wooden blades of different shapes, sizes, and hues were assembled. It is this remarkably unique craftsmanship that makes the beauty of the building.

A bonus; the smell of the wood heated by the sun that transports you to the middle of the forest.

Café Fantasy or Batumi Octopus

Café Fantasy was completed in 1975. It immediately became a popular meeting place for Batumi residents, especially for young people.

The set represents an octopus resting on its eight arms. Its body reflects the iridescent sea, and is decorated with various marine animals, including dolphins — considered a symbol of Batumi — seahorses, starfish, and fish of different colors.

The mosaics and themes of Café Fantasy are very similar to the ones by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona’s Goell Park, particularly his multicolored mosaic salamander.

A bit of history:
Café Fantasy is located in what was the border between the USSR and Turkey. During the Soviet period, visitors could buy freshly ground coffee, ice cream, and soft drinks. However, due to strict regulations, it had to close at 10 p.m. every night.

On the way there you can walk across a Japanese Garden, follow ponds where multicolored mandarin ducks wade or sit on a bench to take the time to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the park.
It is popular for the inhabitants of the city, and after months of being on lockdown, the place was full of life on this beautiful day. A little holiday atmosphere!

The new buildings that bloomed along the ride

The capital of Adjara is now experiencing a boom in the real estate market. New buildings were built to accommodate an ever-increasing flow of tourists and entrepreneurs who are ready to establish their businesses in Georgia.

Their architecture is far from the square, uniform, and often depressing buildings built during the communist era. These old apartments, with the clothesline hanging from balconies are still quite common, and represent the majority of the dwellings of the old town of Batumi.

But here, the new glass balconies invite you to enjoy the sun while taking in the view of the sea.

“Périlleusement vôtre” or FlipFlop on eggs

We have reached the goal of our visit, the “Flip-Flops on eggs” sculpture by the French artist Elisa Fantozzi.

The flip flops are 5.5 m long and 2.30 m wide, laid on twelve eggs each 1.60 m high and 1 m wide

Elisa Fantozzi said that her work symbolizes the perilous approach of a “new” country — the country’s first steps towards independence are often difficult and require a certain amount of caution, not unlike walking on eggshells.

This work also has its little story. Batumi has, in a way, “stolen” the monument from Tbilisi.

In 2009, the artist went to Tbilisi, where she presented the original sculpture — a pair of sneakers mounted on eggs. The symbolism of the work pleased the mayor of Tbilisi, who has kept a model of it on his desk.

Batumi was the first to place the order, asking that flip-flops replace the sneakers. Indeed, we’re by the sea!

The walk continues further along the beach, but for us, this is where we stopped. All that’s left to do is enjoy the seaside and go home.

Rejoicing in a breathtaking view of the city

There are two options for exploring panoramic views of Batumi and its surroundings.

The first is to take the Argo cable car from the city center and the second to go to the Sameba Monastery. We went for the second option.

The Argo cable car

The cable car station is located on Gogebashvili Street. It leads to Anuria Hill, 256 meters above sea level, where Argo, the cultural entertainment complex is located. You can admire the view and also visit a restaurant as well as souvenir and wine shops.

Sameba Monastery, also known as the Church of the Holy Trinity

The Church of the Holy Trinity of Batumi is located about 8 kilometers from the city, on Mount Trinity.

(If you don’t have a car, you can use a rideshare service, which is besides a very convenient and cheap way to get around town here.)

A little bit of its history:

It was built in the second half of the 19th Century but ceased to function in the 1930s. It was then used as a warehouse.

It was only after the end of the Second World War that members of the Batumi Orthodox Church asked the Bishop of Georgia to have it operate again. In 1947, the church was finally reopened.
After its restoration, the locals donated church books, religious icons, and other objects.

Unfortunately, the church was burned down and completely destroyed in 1976. It was rebuilt in 1979.

I was not disappointed when I entered the church. Like with many Georgian churches, I found the interior peaceful. The tiny size of their nave, the abundance of religious portraits often in golden tone, the multitude of candles, and the soft daylight that enter by the narrow windows give a cozy and confined atmosphere. I also like the little oil lamps hanging under the frame.

I would have liked to show you some pictures, but it is forbidden to take photos out of respect for places of worship.

Before leaving, we lingered on the terraces of the monastery to enjoy the beautiful view of the city and the Black Sea that lay before us.

If you still have time

The Batumi Botanical Garden

Unfortunately, when we went to Batumi, the botanical garden had not yet reopened. However, I made a mental note to fill this part out with photos and comments on our next visit here. 

The botanical garden is located 9 km from the center of Batumi and covers 111 hectares.
Created in 1912 by the eminent botanist and geographer Andrey Krasnov, it presents one of the largest varieties of flora in the world.

Final point

We had a delightful weekend in Batumi. The discovery of the city was a real surprise, and we enjoyed our walk along the sea. However, I admit that I look forward to returning to enjoy the beach and its “Las Vegas” side!

I’m not really a gambler, but I like the adrenaline rush that betting can provide every once in a while.

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