Telavi (Georgian: თელავი [tʰɛlɑvi]) is the main city and administrative center of Georgia's eastern province of Kakheti. Its population consists of some 21,800 inhabitants (as of the year 2002). The city is located on foot-hills of Tsiv-Gombori Range at 500–800 meters above the sea level.
The first archaeological findings from Telavi date back to the Bronze Age. One of the earliest surviving accounts of Telavi is from the 2nd century AD, by Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus, who mentions the name Teleda (a reference to Telavi). Telavi began to transform into a fairly important and large political and administrative center in the 8th century AD. Interesting information on Telavi is provided in the records by an Arab geographer, Al-Muqaddasi of the 10th century, who mentions Telavi along with such important cities of that time's Caucasus as Tbilisi, Shamkhor, Ganja, Shemakha and Shirvan. Speaking about the population of Telavi, Al-Muqaddasi points out that for the most part it consisted of Christians.
From the 10th until the 12th century AD, Telavi served as the capital of the Kingdom of Kakheti and later Kingdom of Kakhet-Hereti. During the so-called Golden Era of the Georgian State (12th-13th centuries), Telavi turned into one of the most important political and economic centers of the Georgian State. After the disintegration of the united Georgian Kingdom in the 15th century, the role of Telavi started to decline and the city eventually became an ordinary town of trade and crafts. Telavi re-gained its political importance in the 17th century when it became a capital of the kingdom of Kakheti. By 1762, it turned into the second capital (after Tbilisi) of the united Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti. The reign of King Erekle II, who was born and died in this city, was a special epoch in the history of Telavi. During this period (1744–1798) it grew into a strategic and cultural centre. Erakle II established there a theological seminary and founded a theatre. Erekle II's reforms touched upon all aspects of life in the country. They changed fundamentally the political, economical and cultural orientation of Kartli-Kakheti and, subsequently of the whole Georgia. His name became a symbol of freedom and national independence of the Georgian people. Erakle II is still called affectionately "Patara Kakhi" (Little Kakhetian), and his heroic deeds are described in folk literature.
In 1801, after the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti was annexed by the Russian Empire, Telavi lost its status as a capital. In the 19th century, the city was given the status of an administrative center of an uyezd within the Tbilisi Gubernyia. During that period, the economy of the city was mainly composed of small-scale industries (leather painting, pottery production, wine-making, etc.), commerce and agriculture. The town's population was about 12,000 in the end of the 19th century (including about 9,000 Armenians and 2000 ethnic Georgians).
Telavi and its surroundings are rich in historical, architectural and natural monuments. The most important heritage monuments preserved within the city limits include:"Dzveli Galavani" (old walls) - fortress of the first Kakhetian kings (9th-10th centuries AD);
Church of the St. Mary (16th century AD);
Church of the Holy Trinity (6th century AD);
Fortress "Batonis Tsikhe" (fortress of master) built in 17th century AD - this is one of the only well-preserved medieval royal palaces in Georgia;
"Korchibashishvilebis Tsikhe" - castle of the local noblemen named Korchibashishvilis (16th-18th century AD);
"Vakhvakhishvilebis Tsikhe" - castle of the local noblemen named Vakhvakhishvilis (18th century AD).
Telavi is the only city in Georgia where four different fortification monuments from different historical periods remain relatively intact. Due to this reason, architects, scholars and art historians consider Telavi as the most "medieval" city in the country. Another curious sight in Telavi is a 900-year-old sycamore (45 meters high, 12.4 meters around the trunk).Other notable landmarks around Telavi include the Alaverdi Cathedral (11th century AD) - the second highest cathedral in Georgia after the newly built Tbilisi Sameba Cathedral, the Ikalto Academy (8th-12th centuries AD) - where the famous Georgian writer Shota Rustaveli studied, the Church of St. George (dedicated to the patron saint of Georgia, where it is said that there are 365 churches named St. George), ruins of the city and castle of Gremi (the former capital of Kakheti from the 15th-17th centuries AD), Shuamta - a complex made up of three churches of different periods - 6th, 7th and 8th centuries in a highland forest, Akhali Shuamta ("New Shuamta" in English) - the monastery close to Dzveli Shuamta ("Old Shuamta" in English), built in the 16th century, the stunning Tsinandali Gardens (the residential Palace of Noblemen Chavchavadzes family) and many others.
The landscape of Telavi is scenic. The city is wrapped in picturesque landscapes from all sides. Telavi faces the Tsiv-Gombori Range to the south and south-west and borders on the Alazani Valley to the north and east. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, which runs to the north of the Alazani Valley, can be seen from most of Telavi.
At present, the city of Telavi is connected with Tbilisi by two highways. The most widely traveled (and better-paved) highway runs through the rural areas of Kakheti and is longer (the overall length of the highway is approximately 156 km) than the route, which runs through the highlands of the Gombori Mountain Range. The shorter route (approximately 96 km) is quite scenic, but is less used due to the reconstruction works that are being carried out there.
Because of its beauty, historical monuments and most importantly, the hospitality and the reputation for kindness of its residents, the city is a popular tourist destination in Georgia.
Telavi serves as the hometown of the Georgian bush pilot Mimino (Vakhtang Kikabidze) in the 1977 Soviet comedy Mimino.