Batumi developed in the late 19th century as the western terminus of a railway from Baku that then carried one-fifth of the world’s oil production to European markets. A pipeline and refinery built by Ludwig Nobel, brother of Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred, soon followed. Batumi went on to gain free-port status and became a fashionable resort at the southern tip of the Russian empire, but in Soviet times the border with Turkey was closed, making Batumi a bit of a backwater.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Adjara was run as an autonomous region by its strongman leader Aslan Abashidze, who while nominally accepting Tbilisi's rule, effectively ran the territory as a corrupt fiefdom. Following the Rose Revolution in 2003, Abashidze's power base began to diminish until he fled to Russia following mass demonstrations against his rule in 2004.
One of the first decisions of the post-Abashidze administration in 2004 was to make Batumi an attractive place to visit, a project that has notably succeeded. Batumi Boulevard and the old town inland from it have been tastefully renovated, new architectural additions including a small forest of eye-catching towers have sprung up, and Batumi has developed into one of the Black Sea's top resort magnets, with a great party scene in summer.