Kutaisi is a very ancient city that has played several key roles in the Georgian drama. It was one of the main cities of ancient Colchis, and a settlement has existed here for nearly 4000 years.
In the 3rd century BC Apollonius of Rhodes referred to ‘Kutaia’ in a poem about the Argonauts, and some scholars believe this was the city of King Aeëtes, father of Medea.
At the end of the 8th century AD Leon II, Duke of Abkhazia, renounced Byzantine suzerainty and declared himself king of Abkhazia, transferring his capital from Anakopia (in modern Abkhazia) to Kutaisi. In 1001 Abkhazia’s King Bagrat III inherited the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli, effectively uniting western and eastern Georgia under one rule for the first time in many centuries. It was in Kutaisi that David the Builder was crowned Georgian king in 1089. These two famous rulers left great architectural monuments in the shape of the Bagrati and Gelati cathedrals. Kutaisi was the political, economic and cultural centre of Georgia until 1122, when Tbilisi took over after David liberated it from Arab rule.
Kutaisi resumed its role as capital of the western region when Georgia was again divided in the 15th century after the invasions of the Mongols and Timur.
In the early 17th century Giorgi III of Imereti developed the left bank of the Rioni, but the city suffered a 101-year Ottoman occupation from 1669, during which Bagrati Cathedral was blown up. In 1770 the city was recaptured by Georgian and Russian forces.
Under the Soviet regime Kutaisi became Georgia’s second most important industrial centre, and its population grew significantly, only to shrink again with the decline of its industries after Georgian independence.