Bordering the peaks of the Caucasus to the north, the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east, Georgia has been a hub of exchange between the four corners of the sky for thousands of years. Already in ancient times, travellers crossed the Caucasus through the Darial Gorge, later the route was developed into the "Georgian Army Road". Trade caravans travelled through Georgia on side routes of the Silk Road, and oil pipelines have been crossing the country for a good hundred years.
Georgia's mineral resources were exploited early on. Some researchers count the country among the first cultures that knew how to smelt copper in prehistoric times. The ancient legend of the Golden Fleece recalls the extraction of gold at the edge of the Black Sea. The Georgian Bagratids, who ruled a short-lived kingdom in the 18th century, began the systematic promotion of mining. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian tsars incorporated it into their empire, intensified trade, imported the coveted Georgian raw silk and began mining hard coal in Tkibuli.
Then the European industrial nations' hunger for energy triggered a rapid development: To secure the region's oil, the most powerful banking and entrepreneurial dynasties came to Georgia. Walter von Siemens, brother of the inventive entrepreneur Werner von Siemens, built the first drilling towers in the Russian Empire to extract Georgian oil. Ludwig Nobel, brother of the dynamite inventor Alfred, oil magnate in (then Russian) Baku on the Caspian Sea, built the first tanks in Batumi on the Black Sea and shipped the "black gold" from there to the Mediterranean. In 1883, Alfons Rothschild had a railway line built between Baku and Batumi in order to be able to supply his refinery on the Adriatic Sea on a large scale. In 1892, Marcus Samuel, co-founder of "Royal Dutch Shell", finally sent an oil tanker from Batumi on its journey to the Far East. Planning then began for a pipeline between Baku and Batumi, which was opened in 1907. Today, a museum in Batumi documents the history of the oil industry.
At the same time, both the Russian Tsar and the German Krupp concern invested in the mining of the important manganese deposits in the gorge of the Kvirila River. This is how the mining town of Chiatura came into being. Silk production developed from a peasant trade to an industry, supported by the "Caucasian Institute for Silkworm Breeding" founded in Tbilisi in 1887. Today, a museum in the building commemorates Georgia's defunct silk production. Along with the industries, a self-confident workforce developed that played an important role in pre-revolutionary Russia.
After the First World War, which left severe damage in its wake, and the 1918 revolution, Georgia declared itself independent, but in 1921 the Soviet Union annexed the country and launched a major industrialisation. The use of hydroelectric power began in 1927 with the power plant in Avchala near Tbilisi, and the plant on the Rioni River near the expanding industrial city of Kutaisi generated electricity from 1933. To expand the transport of crude oil from Baku - now in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan - the government commissioned another pipeline to Batumi in 1930.
In 1933, the ironworks went into operation in Sestaponi, processing manganese from the mines of Chiatura into special alloys. In Rustavi, the new centre of heavy industry, the largest steelworks in the Caucasus produced seamless pipes from 1950. Of the chemical factories there, the fertiliser manufacturer "Azot" is still active, and several of the cement plants are now operated by the "HeidelbergCement" group. In Tbilisi, a factory for the production of fighter planes was built in 1941, and in Kutaisi, KAZ trucks rolled off the assembly lines of a large car factory from 1951. A silk production combine was also established there, textile factories opened in Tbilisi and the processing of foodstuffs such as tea, grapes and citrus fruits was also expanded.
However, the temporary successes of industrialisation were bought with severe environmental damage and fatal interdependence between the Soviet republics. As a result, Georgia, which declared independence in 1991, has suffered dramatic shortages since the collapse of the USSR, especially in the supply of energy and raw materials.