The History and Exotic Image of Tbilisi Bazaars

A bazaar, in the context of trade and exchange, is quite an interesting and versatile phenomenon. Neither industrialization nor fashionable supermarkets have replaced such markets and they have more or less maintained the significant factor of communication as a permanent and extraordinary social system.  

Bazaars in general define the agricultural, economic and social relations of a country and consequently have always been significant research objects for historians, philosophers, and sociologists.

Bazaar is a Persian word for a trade and gathering place in which it is possible to buy everything. A bazaar can be a whole trade district with a number of stalls and exchange points.

Bazaars in Georgia date back to ancient times and there are some interesting sources describing them, such as the account of Greek geographer Strabo, where the Georgian bazaar is highly praised for its wealth and variety of products.  

Tbilisi’s bazaars were truly interesting phenomena and a number of travelers and historians wrote about them in their works. Such interest in Tbilisi’s bazaars was provoked by their location on the trade-caravan route and much of the Caucasus depended on Tbilisi’s economical potential. The capital of Georgia brought together not only Georgian, but also north and south Caucasian products and craftsmanship.

Famous Georgian scientist, historian and researcher Ekvtime Takaishvili noted in his work that the Tbilisi bazaar is a living organism, actively functioning from early morning till midnight and sometimes even throughout the night. Aside from sellers and buyers, Tbilisi bazaars put together other members of society and were seen as a kind of gathering place, playing the role of media, where orders and political or governmental decisions were spread by people called ‘Jarchi’. 

There were three main bazaars in Tbilisi at the beginning of the XIX century: in King’s Square, between Sioni and Anchiskhati churches, in Tatri’s Square near Metechi church and the famous ‘Rusi’s Bazaar’ (Russian bazaar) which appeared in 1887. Bazaars were also named for the products they sold, for example Bambi’s Rigi (cotton line,) Rkini’s Rigi (iron line). The present Shardeni Street was named ‘Dark Line’ because on rainy days, in order to keep products dry, this narrow street was completely covered, making it extremely dark there.  

One of the highlights of Tbilisi bazaars was water carried by special traders called Tulukhchi. They carried special waterskins made of bull leather on a horse or donkey and sold the water in pitchers. 

The Tatri Square bazaar in Old Tbilisi had several names: ‘Tatri’s Bazaar,’ ‘Shaitanbazaar’ and later, ‘Kirovi’s Square’. Today it is one of the most attractive tourist sites of Old Tbilisi, known as Meidani.  Crowded and active place, it counted around 20,000 people per day. Apart from buying and selling, people came there to hear new information. In previous centuries, the newspaper was a luxury and very few could afford to buy them. Besides, it was much more entertaining to hear the latest news live. Tatri’s Bazaar was the most famous informational and communication center of Tbilisi after Ereveni Square (the present Freedom Square). 

Erevani Square was known as ‘Firewood Square’ at the beginning because firewood and coal, the only heating facility of that time, were sold there. 

Based on historical sources, Tbilisi in the XVIII century was the biggest place for consuming wine. Special spots selling wine and vodka were named Sirajkhana and people selling wine – Siraji. 

King Rostom built a palace on a square between Sioni and Anchiskhati churches in 1638. This square was named the ‘Royal Square,’ and later ‘Erekle II Square’. It had a rectangular shape and served as a trade and gathering place.  

Navtlughi, one of the oldest bazaars in Tbilisi, is located in the Samgori district. The name Navtlughi is a Turkish word and means ‘place of kerosene’ and it inevitable burned down. In the 1760s, King Erekle II built a wall and the abandoned Navtlughi became settled again. An important trading-transit road to Kakheti passes through the place and the first potatoes brought by Germans exiled to Georgia were sold there in 1820.

‘Rusi’s,’ also known as ‘Saldati’s bazaar’, in Kolmeurneoba Square, was opened by the Tbilisi municipality in 1886. It was an ordinary bazaar on working days, but on weekends, Russian soldiers gathered there and it was possible to find almost everything: products, furniture, vessels, shoes, clothes, and linen. In winter one could buy a New Year tree there, a tremendous and popular novelty of the time.  

Molokan’s Bazaar was founded in the 1830s of the XIX century when Molokan’s sect was exiled to Georgia. They made settlements on the territory of new Kukia. Molokans had their own cemetery and bazaar, founded in 1860. Molokans sold fish, salt, vegetables and milk. This place has maintained its original name ‘Molokan’s Bazaar’ until today. This bazaar was an exotic place at the conjunction of Okrosubani, Svanetiubani and Kukia districts. 

Dezertirebi Bazaar is the name of the central market, dating back to the 1920s, at which soldiers sold weapons and other goods. An old building of ‘Dezertirebi Bazaar’ built in 1920 was taken down in 2007, but the area still continues functioning and in that vivid place you can buy whatever you wish. Plus, strolling between trade lines provides you the chance to experience authentic communication. The most in-demand products in Tbilisi’s bazaars are homemade cheese, fresh meat, aromatic spices, walnuts, nuts, almonds, appetizing Georgian fruit and of course, Georgian Adjika (hot, spicy but subtly flavored dip). 

Near to the Dezertirebi Bazaar, on the first floor of the Tbilisi Railway Station, you come across the Gold Market with a wide collection of refined gold and silver artworks, precious jewelry of the Soviet times and Italian contemporary gold accessories. Experienced goldsmiths offering different services also are available there. 

The Dry Bridge Flea Market is an exotic image in our Post-Soviet history. This bridge was constructed by Italian architect Scudieri in 1881. Later, Mtkvari River changed its river-bed and as a result, the bridge became ‘dry’. This market became especially relevant following the collapse of the Soviet Union, when people facing harsh poverty started to sell items brought from home. Now you can find a variety of goods: from Soviet cab meters to precious unique items, Georgian hats, Soviet artifacts, old coins, medals, flags, rare books and carpets.   

Tbilisi markets as living organisms are a mix of history, culture, and traditions of the city; but almost none of them have maintained their authentic character. These markets are unique but share one important common feature – Georgian openness and a strong desire to communicate. 

Photo : Mariam Tskitishvili 

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