The Garden has a long history. Narikala, the Medieval fortress of Tbilisi, occupies the Sololaki ridge on the northern border of the Garden and in the Middle Ages, the area was covered with the orchards of Georgian kings. The French traveller Jean Chardin, who spent several months in Tbilisi in 1672, wrote that in the royal garden, along with fruit trees, he saw beautiful large trees which created shade and coolness. In 1701, the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort observed that plants were well-kept in the royal garden. In the late Middle Ages, a Muslim cemetery appeared next to the garden.
On the plan of Tbilisi made by Prince Vakhushti Bagrationi in 1735, a garden occupies a long and narrow area on the right bank of the Tsavkisistskali river between the present Queen Tamar’s Bridge and the former Muslim cemetery. On the map, it is labelled as the “fortress garden”, which may mean that it no longer belonged to the royal family.
These maps also indicate that a route existed through the current area of the gardens, from east to west, crossing the Narikala Fortress, which formed part of the Silk Road. Another route joined it, within the boundary of the current garden, called the Anatolia Road, connecting Tbilisi with Turkey.
After the annexation of Georgia by the Russian Empire in 1801, the garden became a state property and a municipal garden was established growing fruit and vegetables. During the 19th century, it was kept and managed by various state organisations and saw several periods of decline and renewal. In 1845, Mikhail Vorontsov, the Russian Viceroy of the Caucasus established the Tbilisi Botanical Garden, expanding the garden into the valley, including the former Muslim cemetery, which occupied rising ground on the right bank of the river, in the vicinity of the current Pantheon of Eminent Azerbaijanis, Rose Garden, North American and East Asian Collections.
In 1872-3 ornamental gardens with trees, shrubs and flowers were created in the area around the Museum building (monument number 010507275) and the ‘French Orangerie’. The Botanical Garden became an academic body in the 1890s, and in 1896 occupied approximately 6.5ha on the southern slopes of the Sololaki range, from the current entrance to the waterfall. By the end of the 19th century, the Botanical Garden was expanded to the west and south-west and its collections grew significantly and it was organised in bio-regional groupings from 1897.
Expansion of the garden
By 1903, the Garden had expanded to the Kojori highway (in the vicinity of the present-day Institute of Botany and the surrounding slopes), and later further land was added on the left bank of the river above the waterfall, in the area of the Mediterranean Collection. Many new plants were introduced and an irrigation system was created. Along with decorative and horticultural functions, the Garden was used as a nursery of Caucasian flora. In 1925 the site was expanded further, and in 1946 the area of the Ornamental Herbaceous Plants Collection, above the sulphur waterfall, was added.
Expansion of the area of the gardens continued to the south of the river in the Soviet period and, in 1956, 28ha was added on the Tabori slopes above the Nursery. Directors and conservators of the Garden Karl Heinrich Scharer, Adolf Christian Roloff, Yuri Voronov and others made considerable contribution to its development. They established cooperation and exchange with many botanical gardens and parks all over the world. In the Soviet period, the Garden acquired new lands reaching 128ha in the 1960s. Special attention was paid to the creation of new collections through plant propagation by both seeds and cuttings.
Independence of Georgia
Since the Independence of Georgia was declared in 1991, a new period began in the history of the Garden. After the economic and political difficulties of 1990s, the situation improved in the 2000s and 2010s and in 2000, the gardens were taken over by the city.
Along with its unique collections of plants, the Botanical Garden has a rich cultural heritage and each phase of development of the Garden can be traced in the landscape, buildings, structures and planting that remain today. A number of these are designated cultural monuments and other more recent features, such as the parterre garden, have become distinctive features of the gardens in their own right.