Poti (Georgian: ფოთი; Mingrelian: ფუთი; Laz: ჶაში/Faşi; formerly known to the Turks as Faş) is a port city in Georgia, located on the eastern Black Sea coast in the region of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti in the west of the country. Built near the site of the ancient Greek colony of Phasis and deriving its name from the same, the city has become a major port city and industrial center since the early 20th century. It is also home to a main naval base and the headquarters of the Georgian navy. The Poti port area is planned to become a free economic zone within the framework of a Georgian-United Arab Emirates project inaugurated in April 2008.
The recorded history of Poti and its environs spans over 26 centuries. In Classical antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the area was occupied by the Greek polis of Phasis which was established by the colonists from Miletus led by one Themistagoras at the very end of the 7th, and probably at the beginning of the 6th century BC.
After many years of uncertainty and academic debate, the site of this settlement now seems to be established, thanks to underwater archaeology under tough conditions. Apparently the lake which the well-informed Ancient Greek author Strabo reported as bounding one side of Phasis has now engulfed it, or part of it. Yet, a series of questions regarding the town’s exact location and identification of its ruins remains open due largely to the centuries-long geomorphologic processes of the area as the lower reaches of the Rioni are prone to changes of course across the wetland. Phasis appears to have been an important center of trade and culture in Colchis throughout the Classical period. The section along the river Phasis was a vital component of the presumed trade route from India to the Black Sea, attested by Strabo and Pliny.
Between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC, the town played an active role in these contacts. During the Third Mithridatic War, Phasis came under Roman control. It was where the Roman commander-in-chief Pompey, having crossed into Colchis from Iberia, met the legate Servilius, the admiral of his Euxine fleet in 65 BC. After the introduction of Christianity, Phasis was a seat of a Greek diocese, one of whose bishops, Cyrus, became a Patriarch of Alexandria between 630 and 641 AD. During the Lazic War between the Eastern Roman and Sassanid Iranian empires (542-562) Phasis was attacked, unsuccessfully, by Iranian soldiers.
In the 8th century, the name Poti entered Georgian written sources. It remained a place of maritime trade within the Kingdom of Georgia and was known to medieval European travelers as Fasso. In the 14th century, the Genoese established a trading factory, which proved to be short-lived.
In 1578, Poti was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The Turks, who knew the town as Faş, heavily fortified it and made it into one of their Caucasian outposts which was also home to a great slave market. A combined army of the western Georgian princes recovered Poti in 1640, but the town fell under the Ottoman sway again in 1723. Another futile attempt to dispossess the Ottomans of Poti was made by Russo-Georgian forces in 1770 and 1771. Once Russia took control of most of principal Georgian lands in the 1800s, it again attempted to evict the Turkish garrison from Poti and succeeded in doing so with the help of Georgian irregulars in 1809, but was coerced to return the fortress to the Ottomans in the Treaty of Bucharest (1812). The next Russo-Turkish War resulted in the capture of Poti by Russia in 1828. The town was subordinated to the Governorate of Kutais and granted the status of a port town in 1858. The seaport was reconstructed between 1863 and 1905. In 1872, the town became the terminus of the Caucasian railway, whence the line led direct to Tiflis (Tbilisi).
Poti particularly grew in size and importance during the mayorship of Niko Nikoladze between 1894 and 1912. Considered to be the founding father of modern Poti, Nikoladze presided over a series of modernizing and construction projects, including a theatre, a large cathedral, two gymnasia, a power station, an oil refinery, etc. By 1900, Poti had become one of the major ports on the Black Sea, exporting most of Georgia’s manganese and coal. During the First Russian Revolution, Poti became a scene of workers’ strikes and barricade fighting in December 1905. At the beginning of World War I, on November 7, 1914, the Ottoman SMS Breslau appeared off the port of Poti and subjected the railway yards there to a bombardment that lasted three-quarters of an hour, without any direct results.
During a brief period of independence in 1918-1921 Poti was Georgia’s principal window to Europe, also serving as the portal of entry for successive German and British expeditionary forces. On May 28, 1918, a German-Georgian preliminary treaty of alliance was signed at Poti. On March 14, 1921, Poti was occupied by the invading Red Armies of Soviet Russia which installed a Soviet government in Georgia. During the Soviet era, Poti retained its principal function of a seaport and the town was further industrialized and militarized.
During the 2008 war with Russia Russian aircraft attacked the port. Although a ceasefire was declared on August 12, on the following day Al Jazeera reported «more and more Russian troops coming into the area» plus the destruction of several Georgian vessels.
On August 23, 2008, the Russians pulled out of most of Georgia following a peace deal to end the South Ossetia war. Russia has continued to keep a military presence in Poti, which they argue is within the remit of the peace agreement; many western nations on the other hand have stated that this contradicts the terms.