The city serves as a residence of Metropolitan of Zugdidi and Tsaishi Eparchy of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
The name "Zugdidi" (ზუგდიდი) first appears in the 17th century. Literally it means "big hill" in Mingrelian language ("Zugu/ზუგუ" - hill, "didi/დიდი" - big). An alternative version of the name recorded in old sources is "Zubdidi" (ზუბდიდი) with same meaning from Megrelian. Local Georgian (Megrelian) residents of historical provinces of Megrelia and Abkhazia also uses "Zugidi" (ზუგიდი), which is a shortened form. The name was given to the town because of a hill situated in the eastern part of the city, where the some small remains of an ancient fortress are still visible.
Historically Zugdidi was a capital of the Principality of Mingrelia (Odishi) until 1867, when the principality was abolished by the Russian Empire. After then Zugdidi was an administrative center of Zugdidi Uyezd as a part of the Kutais Governorate till 1918, when it became a part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. From 1930 the center of the Zugdidi Raion of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic and then Independent Georgia (from 1991).
Between 17–19th centuries, Zugdidi was one of the important political and cultural center of Mingrelia and whole Georgia. A famous Georgian medieval epic poem The Knight in the Panther's Skin has been rewritten by Mamuka Tavakalashvili here at the court of Prince Levan II Dadiani in 1646.
During the Crimean War (1853–1856) Ottoman forces with Omar Pasha seized Zugdidi in 1855. At the end of the 1855 and beginning of 1856 city was liberated by Mingrelian Militia commanded by Major General Prince Grigol Dadiani. By the order of Iskender Pasha Ottomans plundered, burnt and destroyed the whole city, especially palaces and botanical garden. Many buildings were heavily damaged during the Georgian Civil War 1992–1993 as well.
In 1993, there were located administration of the first President of Georgia Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia as well.
Architectural sights of the city are the Queen's palace and Niko's palace (now the Dadiani Palaces museum, both of the 19th century), as well as Cathedral of the Blachernae Icon of the Mother of God (1825–1830) and Mantskhvar-kari (10th–14th centuries) church. Napoleon’s death mask is on display in the Dadiani Palace Museum in Zugdidi, but the main treasure of this museum is a Holy Robe of Mary the mother of Jesus. Other notable attractions are the old Botanical Garden (Queen's Garden) and the city boulevard, planned by Prince Raphael Eristavi (19th c. as well) and the Cathedral of Iverian Theotokos (under construction).
This theater's first performance, Molière's Le médecin malgré lui (The Doctor Despite Himself), was staged on 11 April 1869 by Anton Purtseladze. The Drama Theater was founded in 1932. in 1959 the theater was named after the famous Georgian novelist and theatrical actor Shalva Dadiani (1874–1959).
Zugdidi Botanical Garden was established in the 19th century by the Prince of Mingrelia David Dadiani and Queen Ekaterine, near the residential palaces. Currently, the garden is a branch of Tbilisi Central Botanical Garden and is administered by the Georgian Academy of Sciences. The garden covers 26 hectares.
Historically Zugdidi is known as a distinctly mono-ethnic city with a vast majority of Georgians. By the 2002 state census 98.97% (166,039) of its total population (167,760) were ethnic Georgians (for both city and municipality).
In the second half of the 1850s, due to the short Ottoman occupation, the town population decreased from 2000 to 800.
The 1950s-1970s were an important period for Zugdidi's development, which affected the growth of population, while the last 20-year growth was mainly caused by refugee displacement. After the Russian-Georgian war in Abkhazia (1992-1993) a large number of internally displaced peoples from Abkhazia were forced to move to Zugdidi. As a result of this, according to the 2002 state census, Zugdidi became the fifth most populous city in Georgia, ahead of Sokhumi, Poti, and Gori. As of the 2014 national census, the population of Zugdidi decreased to 42,998 inhabitants, making it Georgia's sixth most populous city after Gori.
Historic population of Zugdidi:
Zugdidi is a regional center of education. Institutes of higher education are:Shota Meskhia State Teaching University – the main institution of higher education founded in 2007 on the basis of Zugdidi Branch of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Zugdidi Professional Lyceum and Senaki Agro-economic College. The University has three faculties of Humanitarian, Business Administration and Law and Health.
Zugdidi Teaching University European Academy, founded in 1991
Besides this Zugdidi has 13 public and 3 private schools, as well as kindergartens.Alexander Gurtskaya Gymnasium – GG – one more place of interest and unique educational space. Was founded in 2011, on the basis of Presidential Decree instead of former Public School №7. Today, GG is an innovative educational environment where each individual has a wide selection, capability and motivation of intellectual, physical and spiritual development and wonderful opportunities for achieving success in the global competitive society. The Gymnasium welcomes its students and guests with its unique, original facade, which is made as randomly-spaced books on the shelves.
Library tradition in Zugdidi dates back to the reign of Prince (Mtavari) David Dadiani (1812–1853) of Mingrelia, who collected a large number of handwritten and printed books. The first public library in Zugdidi was established in 1887. After this, in 1899 new reading-room was rearranged, which turned into library in 1912 with its own building. Currently, the library is called Zugdidi City Municipal Library.
The main annual event in Zugdidi is Vlakernoba (Georgian: ვლაქერნობა - The day of the Blachernae's Virgin Mary) - an Orthodox Christian feast celebrated every year, on July 15. On this day, the robe of the Blessed Virgin Mary is taken from the Tower of Virgin of the Queen Palace (now a museum), where it is kept, to the Cathedral of the Blachernae Icon of the Mother of God. During the feast thousands of the faithful from all over the world are able to venerate the holy relic upon the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.
From 2012, during the event, the holy robe was carried into the new cathedral of Iberian Theotokos. Vlakernoba is celebrated since the 1990s.
Zugdidoba (Georgian: ზუგდიდობა - the day of Zugdidi) is a newly reestablished public festival, featuring various cultural, sport and educational events in Zugdidi, mostly in October. The festival is managed both by Zugdidi Municipal City Hall and Zugdidi Municipality Government.FC Mglebi Zugdidi
FC Dinamo Zugdidi
FC Baia Zugdidi
FC Lazika Zugdidi
Andria Dadiani (1850–1910), Georgian nobleman and a chess player
Otar Patsatsia (1929–), 3rd Prime Minister of Georgia (1993–1995)
Nona Gaprindashvili (1941–), chess player, the sixth women's world chess champion (1962–1978), first female Grandmaster
Otar Gabelia (1953–), retired football player, goalkeeper of FC Dinamo Tbilisi and Soviet Union national football team