Georgia, a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia, is a former Soviet republic that’s home to Caucasus Mountain villages and Black Sea beaches. It’s famous for Vardzia, a sprawling cave monastery dating to the 12th century, and the ancient wine-growing region Kakheti. The capital, Tbilisi, is known for the diverse architecture and mazelike, cobblestone streets of its old town.
The Caucasian barrier protects Georgia from cold air intrusions from the north, while the country is open to the constant influence of warm, moist air from the Black Sea. Western Georgia has a humid subtropical, maritime climate, while eastern Georgia has a range of climate varying from moderately humid to a dry subtropical type.
There also are marked elevation zones. The Kolkhida Lowland, for example, has a subtropical character up to about 1,600 to 2,000 feet, with a zone of moist, moderately warm climate lying just above; still higher is a belt of cold, wet winters and cool summers. Above about 6,600 to 7,200 feet there is an alpine climatic zone, lacking any true summer; above 11,200 to 11,500 feet snow and ice are present year-round. In eastern Georgia, farther inland, temperatures are lower than in the western portions at the same altitude.
Georgia’s location and its diverse terrain have given rise to a remarkable variety of landscapes. The luxuriant vegetation of the moist, subtropical Black Sea shores is relatively close to the eternal snows of the mountain peaks. Deep gorges and swift rivers give way to dry steppes, and the green of alpine meadows alternates with the darker hues of forested valleys.
More than a third of the country is covered by forests and brush. In the west a relatively constant climate over a long time span has preserved many relict and rare items, including the Pitsunda pines (Pinus pithyusa). The forests include oak, chestnut, beech, and alder, as well as Caucasian fir, ash, linden, and apple and pear trees. The western underbrush is dominated by evergreens (including rhododendrons and holly) and such deciduous shrubs as Caucasian bilberry and nut trees. Liana strands entwine some of the western forests. Citrus groves are found throughout the republic, and long rows of eucalyptus trees line the country roads.
The Georgian language is a member of the Kartvelian (South Caucasian) family of languages. It has its own alphabet, which is thought to have evolved about the 5th century, and there are many dialects. A number of other Caucasian languages are spoken by minority groups; many are unwritten.