Batumi (Georgian: ბათუმი, formerly known as Batum) is a seaside city on the Black Sea coast and capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic in southwest Georgia. With a population of 180,000 (2008 census), Batumi serves as an important port and a commercial center. It is situated in a subtropical zone, rich in agricultural produce such as citrus fruit and tea. While industries of the city include shipbuilding, food processing, and light manufacturing, most of its economy revolves around tourism. Since 2010, the face of the city has been transformed by the construction of new high-rise landmark buildings and the renovation of the Old Town.
Batumi is located on the site of the ancient Greek colony in Colchis called Bathus or Bathys – derived from the Greek phrase bathus limen or bathys limin meaning «deep harbour». Under Hadrian (r. 117–138 AD), it was converted into a fortified Roman port later deserted for the fortress of Petra founded in the times of Justinian I (r. 527–565). Garrisoned by the Roman-Byzantine forces, it was formally a possession of the kingdom of Lazica until being occupied briefly by the Arabs who did not hold it; in the 9th century it formed part of the Bagratid monarchy of Tao-Klarjeti and at the close of the 10th century of the unified kingdom of Georgia which succeeded it.
From 1010, it was governed by the eristavi (viceroy) of the king of Georgia. In the late 15th century, after the disintegration of the Georgian kingdom, Batumi passed to the princes (mtavari) of Guria, a western Georgian principality under the sovereignty of the kings of Imereti. A curious incident occurred in 1444 when the Burgundian flotilla, after a failed crusade against the Ottoman Empire, penetrated the Black Sea and engaged in piracy along its eastern coastline until the Burgundians under the knight Geoffroy de Thoisy were ambushed during their landing raid at the port of Vaty, as Europeans then knew Batumi. De Thoisy was taken captive and released through the mediation of the emperor John IV of Trebizond.
In the 15th century in the reign of the prince Kakhaber Gurieli, the Ottoman Turks conquered the town and its district but did not hold them. They returned to it in force a century later and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Georgian armies at Sokhoista. Batumi was recaptured by the Georgians several times, first in 1564 by prince Rostom Gurieli, who lost it soon afterwards, and again in 1609 by Mamia Gurieli. In 1723 Batumi again became part of the Ottoman Empire. With the Turkish conquest the Islamisation of the hitherto Christian region began, but was terminated and to a great degree reversed, after the area was re-annexed to Russian Imperial Georgia in the mid 19th century.
In 1878, Batumi was annexed by the Russian Empire in accordance with Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (ratified on March 23). Occupied by the Russians on August 28, 1878, the town was declared a free port until 1886. It functioned as a center of a special military district until being incorporated in the Government of Kutaisi on June 12, 1883. Finally, on June 1, 1903, with the Okrug of Artvin, it was established as the region (oblast) of Batumi placed under the direct control of the General Government of Georgia.
The expansion of Batumi began in 1883 with the construction of the Batumi-Tiflis-Baku railway completed in 1900 and by the finishing of the Baku-Batumi pipe-line. Henceforth Batumi became the chief Russian oil port in the Black Sea. The town expanded to an extraordinary extent and the population increased very rapidly: 8,671 inhabitants in 1882, and 12,000 in 1889. By 1902 there were 16000 in the port, 1000 worked in the refinery for Baron Rothschild’s Caspian and Black Sea oil company.
During 1901, 16 years prior to the Russian Revolution, Joseph Stalin, the future leader of the Soviet Union, lived in the city organizing strikes. Unrest during World War I led to Turkey’s re-entry in April 1918, followed by the British in December, who stayed until July 1920. Kemal Atatürk then ceded it to the Bolsheviks, on the condition that it be granted autonomy, for the sake of the Muslims among Batumi’s mixed population.
When the USSR collapsed, Aslan Abashidze was appointed head of Adjara’s governing council and subsequently held onto power throughout the unrest of the 1990s. Whilst other regions, such as Abkhazia, attempted to break away from the Georgian state, Adjara maintained an integral part of the Republic’s territory. However, due to a fragile security situation, Abashidze was able to exploit the central government’s weaknesses and rule the area as a personal fiefdom. In May 2004, he fled the region to Russia as a result of mass protests sparked by the Rose Revolution in Tbilisi.
Batumi today is the main port of Georgia. It has the capacity for 80,000-tonne tankers to take materials such as oil which is shipped through Georgia from Central Asia. Additionally the city exports regional agricultural products. Since 1995 the freight conversion of the port has constantly risen, with an approximate 8 million tonnes in 2001. The annual revenue from the port is estimated at between $200 million and $300 million.
Since the change of power in Ajara, Batumi has attracted several international investors with real estate prices in the city trebling since 2001. Kazakh investors have reportedly invested $100 million to purchase more than 20 hotels in the Ajara region of Georgia. Several new new hotels opened after 2009, first the Sheraton in 2010 and the Radisson Blu in 2011. The Trump-tower and the Kempinski will open 2013.
Batumi was also host to the Russian 12th Military Base. Following the Rose Revolution, the central government pushed for the removal of these forces, and in 2005 an agreement with Moscow was reached. According to the agreement, the process of withdrawal was planned to be completed in the course of 2008, but the Batumi base was officially handed over to Georgia on November 13, 2007, ahead of planned schedule.
In July 2007, the seat of the Constitutional Court of Georgia was moved from Tbilisi to Batumi in an attempt to further facilitate the regional development.