With a population of about 160.000, Rustavi is Georgia''s third city, after Tblisi and Kutaisi. The city is the largest in the Kvemo Kartili region, where Azeris are the largest ethnic group, not only in the Rustavi but also in the Marneuli, Bolnisi, Gabardini, Tsalka and Dmanisi areas. Numbering about 630.000, most of the Azeri population in Georgia is rural. These settlements first appeared in Georgia in the 14-th century after the invasion by Turkmen tribes from Central Asia. Though Turkophones in Georgia are of varied historical origin, most of them today define themselves as Azeris, and are considered as such by the Georgian government. Unlike other minorities, Azeris have maintained a good relationship with the Tblisi authorities. Most azeris in Georgia are Shia, with a Sunni minority.
The city is located 40 kms southeast of Tblisi, on the Kura river, near the site of the ancient town of Rustavi, which was destroyed by Timur (''aka'' Tamerlane) in the end of the 14th century. Rustavi was developed after 1948 as part of Stalin''s accelerated industrialization process (much like Sumgait), with ironworks, steelworks, chemical plants and an important railway station on the Tbilisi-Baku line (Rustavi is about 50kms from the Azeri and Armenian borders).
A bridge connects the residential section of Rustavi on one side of the Kura River with its industrial center on the other side. However the river does not isolate the city from the environmental problems brought by industrial development, translated in water, air and soil pollution. As is the case of numerous cities around the former Soviet Union some of the industries relied on materials from other Republics. With the collapse of the infrastructure, work in some of the factories dried up and Rustavi suffered the consequences, like high unemployment, crime and poverty.
Rustavi gained some notoriety abroad by way of the Georgian folk songs of the ''Rustavi Choir''. The city is base for the Rustavi TV company, which has had a troubled relationship with the government. The area west of the city produces excellent wines an the city also produces the ''Rustavi'' vodka, and has its own brewery. The local soccer team is F.C. Gorda.
Should you want to visit the Rustavi area probably you will need a Georgian Visa (Required by all except nationals of Bulgaria, CIS, P.R. of China and Poland). See images of Georgia.

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