Culture
Tbilisi's rare Art Nouveau buildings at risk
27 November, 2017
Walking around Tbilisi, especially Sololaki or in Aghmashenebeli Avenue and the nearby area, it is worth lifting your eyes.

You will discover elegantly curved balconies, beautifully decorated window frames or multicolored tiled facades. These architectural germs belong to the style of Art Nouveau, an epoch of art, architecture and applied art.

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The earliest known example of Tbilisi's art nouveau can be found at number 4 Vartsikhe Street. (Photograph: Huffington Post)
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Left: Dwelling at 10 Krilovi St. Right: unknown. (Photographs: Nestan
Tatarashvili)


Tbilisi has a valuable Art Nouveau heritage that has recently begun to be recovered. The city has become a member of the Barcelona “Art Nouveau European Route.”

The association writes: “At the beginning of the 20th century, during the Art Nouveau era, politics in Georgia were directly controlled by the capital of the Empire, Saint Petersburg, and Russian influence was evident. Despite all this, Tbilisi's privileged location by the Black Sea, between Europe and Asia - that is, a city-bridge between two continents - helped to bring Art Nouveau inspired architecture, an unquestionable image of internationalism and modernity that was called Modern Style in Georgia.”

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Fragment of painting on ceiling of entrance hall to 3-7 Akchospireli St. and staircase in unknown building. (Photographs: Nestan Tatarashvili, Nona Tskrialashvili)
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Number 36 Aghmashenebeli Avenue dates back to 1903. (Photograph: Huffington Post)

Art Nouveau in Georgia was not a simple copy of European models though, but incorporated many local elements, as the association points out. This architectural treasure however, is in danger of becoming extinct. Most of the buildings are in a poor state of repair. In an article, an author of the “The Huffington Post” expresses her concern:

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S. Krichinski, 1907. Interior of Zubalashvili Theatre. (Photograph: Sh. Amiranashvili Museum)

„The art nouveau that was once immensely popular throughout Georgia has been forgotten, neglected and the conservation of Tbilisi’s art nouveau heritage has become a serious problem. Ever since the Soviet Regime, which considered the style bourgeois, art nouveau was condemned as “a crime of ornamentation.”

For this reason “stil modern” was never considered an important part of Georgia’s heritage, letting damp, poor maintenance and age erode these buildings until they fall into disrepair, ruin and are eventually pulled down or become subject to poor renovation work, where frescoes are erased by paint and ornamental plaster details are lost.“

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The Apollo Cinema before and after renovation. (Photographs: Huffington Post)

The article lists examples such as the poorly renovated Apollo Cinema or the residential house on the former Vartsikhe Street, now renamed Rome Street located just behind 36 Agmashenebeli Avenue. Even the World Monuments Fund has listed Georgia’s modernist buildings as some of the most important and endangered monuments in the world.

The author of the article finishes by appealing: „Tbilisi may be one of the great art nouveau cities of Europe, but it’s one that hasn’t received the recognition it deserves - and perhaps by the time it does, it’ll be too late.“

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Marjanishvili Theatre Café in Tbilisi. (Photograph: Huffington Post)
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Staircase in 17 Machabeli Street. (Photograph: Huffington Post)
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Staircase railing of the dwelling at 4 Kikodze St. and detail of door to dwelling at 6 Abo Tbileli St. (Photographs: Nestan Tatarashvili)
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