Friday, October 28, 2011

Gonio and the Black Sea

We traveled to the Georgian Black Sea Coastal towns of Kobaleti and Batumi this past weekend. Batumi is the summer destination of choice in Georgia, and the place really hops from the beginning of July through the beginning of September; jazz festival, operas, Sting even came thi year. October though, is pretty quiet. Batumi is in the Adjara region of Georgia, a contested peice of property for the past few thousand years, from Colchis to Rome, to Byzantium, to Georgia, to Ottoman Turkey, to Russia, and finally back to Georgia (and those are only the big players, there have been numerous small land grabs).

Lovely place with an entertaining mish-mash of architectural styles.

I mention Colchis, most people don't realize that the destination of Jason and the Argonauts was the faraway land of Colchis, and the quest for the golden fleece. That was Georgia. There are regions in Georgia where one still pans for gold by laying a weighted-down sheep fleece out in a bend in the river, the gold flakes gather in the wool, and the panner dries and burns the fleece, sifting the gold from the ash. There is some contention that this is the source of the golden fleece myth. Batumi has embraced this and erected a statue to Medea (the colchis princess that helped Jason out).

No visit to Adjara is complete without a trip to Gonio. This is a remarkably intact Roman fortress, circa 50AD. It was established here around the same time the Apostle Andrew was preaching the gospel in the west of Georgia. Also alleged to be the site of the martyrdom and burial of the apostle Mathias (Judas' replacement) though every Georgian I asked said it wasn't true, he was killed north, probably in Abkazia...

I really enjoyed the fortress. They have a very nice little museum with artifacts from Colchis, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman occupants. The archeological excavations have been ongoing for about 15 years, though not much before. During the Soviet occupation the grounds of the fortress were a tangerine orchard! This in spite of the fact that Henrich Schleimann (the guy who found Troy) did some intial digs back in the 19th century.

Another cool fact about Gonio (not found in wikipedia- for shame) is that it used to be named after Apsyrtus, the brother of Medea. As local legend has it, this is the spot where the peices of his body were brought to be buried (after Jason killed the poor guy, chopped him into pieces and threw his body into the sea- making poor king Aeetes of Colchis have to stop in pursuit of his treasure and wayward daughter to bury the guy. When told from the the other side, Jason seems more like a thug and pirate than a hero, doesn't he?).

The border for turkey (last picture) is another ten minute south and west past Gonio. Georgian's can go across easily (there's a slow line) but Americans need a visa that they can get at the border. Comin gth eother way were hundreds
of turkish trucks, shipping goods all over Georgia.

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