The history of Rustavi has two phases: an early history from ancient times until the city was destroyed in the 13th century, and modern history from the Soviet era to the present.
Rustavi is one of the ancient towns of Georgia. The foundation of Rustavi is dated from time immemorial. Leonti Mroveli connects this process with the name of the glorious ancestor of Georgian people. As Leonti writes in his works "The description of the Kingdom of Georgia" Rustavi was called as Bostan-Kalaki. It was situated on the river Mtkvari (Kura) and founded by the wife of Kartlos. She built a castle to the east of the mountain Iagluji.
The historian Leonti Mroveli, who described the lives of the first Georgian kings, mentions the town Rustavi among those castles, which protested the troops of Alexander the Great.
Though it is proved in history that Alexander the Great never invaded Georgia but Rustavi itself is mentioned among such ancient towns as Uplistsikhe, Urbnisi, Mtskheta and Sarkineti. This fact proves that Rustavi as a city had been founded in the 5th–4th centuries B.C, it was the period of unification of Georgia.
This is what Leonti Mroveli gives us in his work—“The lives of Kings”. The king Trdat, the 28th King of Kartli (of the end of the 4th century A.D) had built a church and a canal. The academician Nikoloz Berdzenishvili wrote that from that time on Rustavi was considered as a big political and administrative center.
During the reign of Vakhtang Gorgasali (5th century) Rustavi took an important part in the political life of Georgia. Since then a Bishopric pulpit had been founded in Rustavi and of the bishops out of 12 was sanctified according to the wish of Vakhtang Gorgasali.
The churches of Kartli acted against the King Vakhtang Gorgasali as they were under the influence of Persia. That’s why the King of Kartli dismissed the main Bishop Michael and charged his man.
The Bishopric of Rustavi existed until the 13th century, before it was ruined by Mongols. Later the Bishopric was transferred to Martkopi, but the Bishop of Martkopi wore the ecclesiastic title of Rustaveli (Rustavi).
At the beginning of the 6th century, in 503, the Georgian troops resisted against the Persian King. In the battle the King Vakhtang Gorgasali was mortally wounded.
Georgian warriors remained without their commander and they had been defeated by the Persians. They destroyed the Kingdom of Kartli and the government was given to Mirzahan—the Shah's vizier.
Besides the manuscripts, the excavations of the castle Rustavi prove that Rustavi was a big political and administrative center. During the archaeological excavations the remnants of ancients buildings were found, there are the remnants of the buildings of the 4th and 5th centuries.
It is well known that in the 4th century Rustavi and Ujarma had been promoted in Kakheti.
Rustavi was still a very important place when it was invaded by Arabs. In the 8th century it belonged to Kakheti and it became one of the best administration centers.
The head of Kakheti-Hereti, Kvirike the Great sent one Eristavi (the head of a nation) out of three to Rustavi and gave him the whole Kakheti.
As Arabs were defeated and driven out, another enemy invaded Georgia—those were Turkish-Seljuks. First the Turkish-Seljuks invaded Georgia in 1068 under the leadership of Sultan Alp Arslan. There was a terrible battle between king Bagrat the IV and the enemy. But Bagrat the IV was bitterly defeated. The Turkish-Seljuks took Akhalkalaki. Later the king of Kakheti got into closer contact with the Turkish-Seljuks and they took the inner area of Kartli. Though as it was winter they left Georgia and as the enemy was leaving on the way home they took Tbilisi and Rustavi and gave them to Phadlon (Amira). This was the hardest period in the life of Rustavi. Its economy was ruined and it remained only as a military center. It had only a strategic meaning for Tbilisi.
In 1069 Bagrat the IV defeated Arnira Phadlon and joined the fortress Rustavi, Partskhisi and Agarani. On 24 November 1072, Bagrat the IV died and George the II came to the throne. He tried to fortificate Georgia, to join all its friends and enemies by sweet words and good behaviour, by presents and so on, rather than by sword. George the II gave the betrayer Ivane (Ohanes) Orbeliani Samshvilde, as for the King of Kakheti he was given Rustavi. The whole royal family was against the King George the II. They were not satisfied with him. So he was compelled to retire and in 1089 his 16-year-old son was called sanctified as a King. Later he was called David the Builder. Now the country developed again. It began to grow from Nikopsia to Darubandi.
In 1097 David the Builder stopped paying tribute to Turkish-Seljuks. In 1104 he joined Kakheti–Hereti. In 1105 he defeated the Amira of Ganja and the whole army of the enemy. Only Tbilisi, Rustavi, Samshvilde, Somkhiti and Agarani were in the hands of the enemy. In 1110 David took Samshvilde. In 1115 he took Rustavi. The enemy was excited as they lost Rustavi, as Rustavi and its surroundings were the pastures of their herds.
The famous Battle of Didgori took place on 12 August 1121. The Georgian troops (55600 warriors) defeated the Moslems, who numbered about a quarter of a million. In 1122 David the Builder took Tbilisi. The liberation and the consolidation of Georgia was over. In those big battles Rustavi took an essential part.
In 1220 another misfortune broke out. Georgia again fought against the enemy. This time Mongols invaded the whole east part of Asia and they reached Georgia. Berka Khan, the sovereign of the Golden Horde, reached the Caucasus in spring of 1265. Georgia fought at a time against two enemies—the Ilkhans of Iran and the Mongols. The Mongol leader Tamerlane completely destroyed Rustavi, and it became a desert.
Rustavi was rebuilt as a major industrial center during the Soviet era. The development of Rustavi was part of Joseph Stalin's accelerated industrialization process, and included ironworks, steelworks, chemical plants and an important railway station on the Tbilisi–Baku railroad line. Rustavi is the site of approximately 90 large and medium-sized industrial plants.
The core of the city's industrial activity was the Rustavi Metallurgical Plant, constructed in 1941-1950 to process iron ore from nearby Azerbaijan. Stalin brought workers from various regions in Georgia, specifically from the poorer rural provinces of Western Georgia. Rustavi became a key industrial centre for the Transcaucasus region. The industrial activity expanded to include the manufacture of steel products, cement, chemicals, and synthetic fibers.
May 1944 was a significant time in the history of modern Rustavi. Geologists began to define the soil of the place where the metallurgical works were to be built. The area was nearly empty, and there were only temporary lodgings and slums available. A lot of people arrived at Rustavi, coming from different parts of Georgia. The first newspaper came out on 30 August 1944. It was called “Metallurgiisatvis” (meaning "For Metallurgy" in Georgian).
Rustavi was celebrating frequent housewarming parties as a lot of people were migrating each day. In 1948 the first streets were “baptized” in Rustavi. The first street was named after the Young Communist League, the second one after the builders of Rustavi, and the third one after its ancient name Bostan-Kalaki.
On 19 January 1948, a decree of the Supreme Soviet of Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic declared Rustavi a town of republican importance. On 27 April 1950, the whole town celebrated the production of the first industrial Georgian steel. It was founded on the roots of the famous ancestors Khalibs.
German POWs who were captured in World War II were enlisted to build the city of Rustavi. Modern Rustavi is divided into two parts—Dzveli Rustavi (Old Rustavi) and Akhali Rustavi (New Rustavi). Old Rustavi adheres to Stalinist architectural style while New Rustavi is dominated by a multitude of Soviet-era block apartments.
The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 proved disastrous for Rustavi, as it also caused the collapse of the integrated Soviet economy of which the city was a key part. Most of its industrial plants were shut down and 65% of the city's population became unemployed, with the attendant social problems of high crime and acute poverty that such a situation brings. The population shrank from 160,000 in the mid-1990s to 116,000 in 2002 as residents moved elsewhere in search of work.
New York-based artist Greg Lindquist (b. 1979) has documented Rustavi's crumbling concrete factories in his paintings and installations, such as the exhibition "Nonpasts" in 2010. Lindquist has also worked with Georgian collaborators, such as artist Gio Sumbadze (b. 1976), in projects that address the current social, cultural and political significance of these architectures. In 2010, the Laura Palmer Foundation staged an exhibition at the Ministry of Transportation building (Tbilisi Roads Ministry Building) in which Lindquist and Sumbadze installed paintings addressing the history of Georgia's transportation system. This BOMB magazine interview with La Toya Frazier for the exhibition "Planet of Slums" addresses many of the complexities of Lindquist's work in the Republic of Georgia.
Georgian State Academic Ensemble “Rustavi”
Georgian State Academic Ensemble “Rustavi” was founded in 1968. During 35 years that passed from its foundation the Ensemble has performed over 3000 concerts, and traveled in more than 50 countries with great success. The largest concert halls all over the world have greatly appreciated and praised the Ensemble’s performing art. In all countries wherever the Ensemble has played concerts the newspapers gave high ranking to their performance.
The last of the racetracks built in the USSR. Competitions started in the end of 1979 and the track hosted eleven USSR Championship events until 1989. Until 2009 the track has not been reconstructed and got out of order. In 2009 the area was sold to the private company Stromos on the State auction. After total reconstruction of 2011-2012, the track hosts a number of racing events, such as Formula Alfa series, Legends championship, BMW Annual Festival, drag and drift competitions, amateur races and many more.
Rustavi is twinned with: Sumqayit in Azerbaijan
Ganja in Azerbaijan
Łódź in Poland (since 1995)