გაგრა (in Georgian)
Гагра (in Abkhazian)
Old Gagra
Old Gagra
Coat of arms of Gagra
Location of Gagra in Abkhazia
Location of Gagra in Abkhazia
Gagra is located in Abkhazia
Location of Gagra
Gagra is located in Georgia
Gagra (Georgia)
Coordinates: 43°17′N 40°16′E / 43.283°N 40.267°E / 43.283; 40.267
 • Mayor[note 2]Beslan Bartsits Acting
 • Estimate 

Gagra (Georgian: გაგრა; Abkhaz and Russian: Гагра) is a town in Abkhazia/Georgia,[note 1] sprawling for 5 km on the northeast coast of the Black Sea, at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains. Its subtropical climate made Gagra a popular health resort in Imperial Russian and Soviet times.

It had a population of 26,636 in 1989, but this has fallen considerably due to the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in Abkhazia and other demographic shifts during and after the War in Abkhazia (1992–93).

Gagra is the centre of the district of the same name. It is located in the western part of Region of Abkhazia, and river Psou serves as a border with Krasnodar Krai of Russia.


According to some Georgian scholars, Gagra is derived from Gakra meaning "walnut" in the Svan language.[2] According to the Soviet writer Bondaryev, the name of the city originates from the local Gagaa clan.[3] According to Professor V. Kvarchija, Gagra (< *ga-kʼə-ra) means ‘the holder of the coast’ in Abkhaz (Gagra was mentioned as Kakara, Kakkari on old maps).[4]


The town was established as a Greek colony in the kingdom of Colchis, called Triglite (Ancient Greek: Τριγλίτη), inhabited by Greeks and Colchians. Colchis came under the control of the kingdom of Pontus in the 1st century BC before being absorbed by the Roman Empire, which renamed the town as Nitica. Its geographical position led the Romans to fortify the town, which was repeatedly attacked by Goths and other invaders. The town and the whole region of Colchis remained part of Byzantine Empire.

It became a major trading settlement in which Genoese and Venetian merchants were prominent, trading in the town's main exports - wood, honey, wax and slaves. The name "Gagra" appeared for the first time on a map in 1308, on a map of the Caucasus made by the Italian Pietro Visconti, which is now in the Library of Saint Mark in Venice.

Gagra within the Russian Empire

Palace of the Prince of Oldenburg
Palace of the Prince of Oldenburg

In the 16th century, Gagra and the rest of western Georgia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The western merchants were expelled and the town entered a prolonged period of decline, with much of the local population fleeing into the mountains. By the 18th century the town had been reduced to little more than a village surrounded by forests and disease-ridden swamps. Its fortunes were restored in the 19th century when the Russian Empire expanded into the region, annexing the whole of Georgia. The swamps were drained and the town was rebuilt around a new military hospital. Its population, however, was still small; in 1866, a census recorded that 336 men and 280 women, mostly local families or army officers and their dependents, lived in Gagra. The town suffered badly in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, when Turkish troops invaded, destroyed the town and expelled the local population. Russia won the war, however, and rebuilt Gagra again.

View of Gagra's wharf sometime between 1905 and 1915.
View of Gagra's wharf sometime between 1905 and 1915.

In 1904 the town was discovered by Duke Alexander of Oldenburg, a member of the Russian royalty.[5] He saw the potential of the region's sub-tropical climate and decided to build a high-class resort there. Having raised a large sum of money from the government, he built a palace there for himself and constructed a number of other buildings in an eclectic variety of architectural styles from around Europe. A park was laid out with tropical trees, and parrots and monkeys were imported to give it an exotic feel. Despite the expensive work, the resort was not initially a success, although it did later attract a growing number of foreign tourists visiting on cruises of the Black Sea. Following the founding of the resort, the area was ceded from Sukhum Okrug to Black Sea Governorate in 1904.[6]

Gagra under the Soviet Union

In the Russian Revolution of 1905, a local uprising produced a revolutionary government in the town, which founded a short-lived Republic of Gagra. This was soon defeated and the revolutionaries arrested en masse. The First World War a few years later was a disaster for Gagra, destroying the tourist trade on which it depended. The Russian Revolution shortly afterwards saw the Bolsheviks take over the town; despite a brief French attempt to repel them during the Russian Civil War, the town was firmly incorporated into the new Soviet Union within Georgian SSR.

Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin issued a decree in 1919 establishing a "worker's resort" in Gagra, nationalising the resort that had been built by Oldenburg. It became a popular holiday resort for Soviet citizens and during World War II gained a new role as a site for the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. After the war, various state-run sanatoriums were built there. The resort grew and was developed intensively as part of the "Soviet Riviera". A 1985 musical film Winter Evening in Gagra further popularized the resort.

Gagra in post-soviet Abkhazia

In the late 1980s, tensions grew between the Georgian and Abkhazian communities in the region. All-out war erupted between 1992-1993 which ended in a defeat of the Georgian government's forces. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians were expelled from their homes in Abkhazia and thousands were massacred in an outbreak of mass ethnic cleansing.[7] Gagra and the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi were at the centre of the fighting and suffered heavy damage.

See also: Battle of Gagra


An early medieval church of the Protection of the Virgin
An early medieval church of the Protection of the Virgin

The chief landmarks of Gagra are:

International relations

See also: List of twin towns and sister cities in Georgia

Twin towns — Sister cities

Gagra is twinned with the following city:

See also


  1. ^ a b The political status of Abkhazia is disputed. Having unilaterally declared independence from Georgia in 1992, Abkhazia is formally recognised as an independent state by 5 UN member states (two other state recognised it but then withdrew its recognition), while Georgia continues to claim it as part of its own territory, designating it as Russian-occupied territory.
  2. ^ The Governor of Gagra District is at the same time Mayor of the Gagra municipality.


  1. ^ "Государственный комитет Республики Абхазия по статистике".
  2. ^ Topchishvili, Roland (2005), History of Georgian Mountain Regions: Svaneti and Its Inhabitants (Ethno-historical Studies) Archived 2012-03-10 at the Wayback Machine. National Parliamentary Library of Georgia
  3. ^ БОНДАРЕВ, Н.Д. (1981). В ГОРАХ АБХАЗИИ (In Abkhazian mountains) (in Russian). Moscow: Физкультура и спорт. Archived from the original on 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
  4. ^ Кәарҷиа В. Е. Аҧсны атопонимика — Аҟәа. 2002. P. 92
  5. ^ Saparov, Arsène (2014). From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the Making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh. Routledge. p. 134.
  6. ^ Saparov, Arsène (2014). From Conflict to Autonomy in the Caucasus: The Soviet Union and the Making of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh. Routledge. p. 134.
  7. ^ Human Rights Watch Arms Project. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki. March 1995 Vol. 7, No. 7. Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia’s Role in the Conflict
  8. ^ "Города Гагра и Владимир будут сотрудничать". Gagra District Administration. 14 May 2012. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2012.

Coordinates: 43°20′N 40°13′E / 43.333°N 40.217°E / 43.333; 40.217