Abanotubani is a bath district in the middle of old Tbilisi with “Royal”, “Colorful”, “Sulphuric”
baths, situated above naturally hot springs, which go centuries back.
The story goes back to the fifth century when the founder of Tbilisi King Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting with his falcon near the Mtkvari River. The falcon caught a pheasant but then dropped it. The servants, who were sent to bring the bird back, found it boiled in a hot stream. The King ordered to build a city there and made it the capital of Georgia. Therefore the name of the city - Tbilisi, is derived from a Georgian word “TBILI”. which means warm.
Arabian geographer. Ibhn Haokal. wrote: “There are hot waters in Tbilisi, which are boiling without fire”. According to the historical sources, there were 65 mineral baths in Tbilisi in the 13-th century.
Old bathhouses are constructed where sulphuric springs are sprouting out from the heart of the earth, imparting their therapeutic properties to the baths. Sulphuric springs have constant temperature of 38-40 C and they positively affect skin diseases, as well as neurotic ails and blood circulation.
“Mekise” - the masseur in Georgian, plays the principal part in the traditional bathing process. He rubs and scrubs off the customer’s skin, using a special sponge and gloves made of rough material.
Speaking about his impression of Georgian Baths, 29 year- old George, tourist from the United States of America says: “Massage was much more painful than I was expecting. It was the first experience of this kind in my life, but it was nice to realize that I experienced something of Georgia’s historic past”. Special massage by Mekise includes massaging of arms, waist, neck and it has a definite therapeutic effect.
The baths were built under the influence of Iranian architecture. “They are low buildings covered by semicircular domes with glass aperture in the center that serves as windows in order to illuminate the interior of the bathhouses, which are situated below the ground level”. Zaza Matiasvili, an expert in architecture explains, adds: “In some of the pools water is so hot that you can hardly endure the temperature, while in other pools water is warm, with sharp sulphur smell. Thus there is plenty of variety to choose the kind of bath you prefer”.
Apart from having therapeutic features, bathhouses used to be one of the most common gathering places for people. They exchanged the news, discussed the burning issues of the day and had fun.
A number of well-known people from different parts of the world have visited baths of Tbilisi. In thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo mentions Tbilisi bathhouses in his book of travels.
Alexander Dumas was delighted by the baths in Georgia and spent most of the time relaxing in the bathhouses. He was so impressed by his trip that lamented in the end of his memoirs: ’’Why doesn’t Paris, the city of physical pleasures, have such baths?”
In his “Journey to Arzrum” renowned Russian writer, Alexander Pushkin wrote in 1829: “Never before have l seen either in Russia or in Turkey anything that can surpass magnificent Tiflis baths”. He described in details each procedure that he went through in Georgian bathhouses. “'Not since my birth have I witnessed such luxuriousness as I did at Tbilisi baths” – the famous Russian poet concludes his record of ho journey to Georgia.
Despite the facts that nowadays less Georgians visit the district of baths in the old part of Tbilisi, the professionals who are employed at Tbilisi bathhouses have preserved all ancient traditions of historic baths Nunu Gogitidze, one of the Tbilisi baths’ spokesperson says: "Although we don’t have as much visitors as we did thirty - forty years ago. Georgian baths still attract many tourists. The significant detail is that among our guests there are many young people from different parts of the world and as long as they keep doing so, we can say that Tbilisi famous baths are not merely ancient historic sites; they are functional and a part of interesting cultural heritage even now in the twenty - first century”.