While strolling along the cobbled streets of Old Tbilisi, you may smell sulphur becoming more intense and stronger as you draw closer to Abanotubani (bath district) and see a beautiful building with an adorned blue façade and hive-like domes; one of Tbilisi’s most famous landmarks. There are, of course, various must-see places to visit in Georgia’s capital, but if you are looking for some special experiences, welcome to the Tbilisi sulphur baths!
Tbilisi came to life in the 5th century and as legend says, it happened thanks to its thermal waters, when King Vakhtang Gorgasali’s falcon fell into the warm water and boiled there…
What a sad story, but it has a happy end, as the King decided it would be a good location in which to build a city.
THE NAME TBILISI IS DERIVED FROM THE WORD
”TBILI” MEANING WARM. THUS, THE SULPHUR
BATHS ARE CLOSELY CONNECTED WITH THE CAPITAL
OF GEORGIA AND HAVE BEEN AN ESSENTIAL PART OF TBILISI’S LIFE FOR CENTURIES
Moreover, these antibacterial sulphur waters, with a constant temperature of 38°C to 40°C, were and still remain as a kind of therapy for various illnesses, including skin diseases and arthritis, though people with heart problems are not advised to visit the baths often.
There are several baths in the old part of the city, but it’s perhaps better to focus on the most remarkable ones: The Motley Baths (Chreli Abano) with its wonderful oriental-style mosaic façade and The Royal Baths (Samepo Abano) located under the domes of the square. There are five rooms at The Royal Baths and prices range from 40 to 80 GEL, depending on the size of rooms and number of people. Most of these rooms are decorated in royal blue tiles and have a very calming effect.
Let’s start our explorations in The Motley baths in order to know beforehand what to expect before stepping into that thick cover of sulphur-smelling steam. With a very impressive façade outside, we enter a rather utilitarian interior and at the entrance one has to choose one of two options: a small private room where one or two can take baths together, or the second option – public baths divided according to sex.
So, it’s up to the visitor whether to choose private and cozy atmosphere or to get a more authentic experience (and at almost three times cheaper the price). There are 15 rooms in this bath house and prices range from 17 to 80 GEL, depending on your choice.
The list of prominent bathers who have also enjoyed this unique experience includes Alexandre Dumas and Alexander Pushkin, who afterwards noted:
“I have never encountered anything more luxurious than this Tbilisi bath.”
The baths, with warm sulphur pools and a very specific smell, are both soothing and refreshing at the same time. Additionally, the most remarkable thing of this practice is a massage provided by professional masseurs as you recline on a marble slab. At first sight, you may think that these hard-to-categorize procedures, including beating, rubbing and pouring on of hot sulphur water are not for the light-hearted, but the effect afterwards in most cases is absolutely awesome; tranquil bliss and a feeling that you are not carrying your invisible heavy bag of troubles any more.
TIPS: PEOPLE WORKING THERE RARELY SPEAK ANY FOREIGN LANGUAGE EXCEPT RUSSIAN, SO IT IS PREFERABLE TO USE AN INTERNATIONAL SIGN/BODY LANGUAGE!DON’T VISIT THE BATHS WITH A HANGOVER!A CUP OF TEA AFTER YOUR SPECIFIC SULPHUR-EXPERIENCE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!