Tbilisi was my home base in Georgia for nearly two months. I rented a renovated apartment in a Soviet building with a crumbling facade and a cramped elevator that required a coin deposit every time I needed it to escort me to the 10th floor.
The city of roughly 1.5 million has a long history of invasions and has only relatively recently begun to emerge from many bleak years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Police stations now feature glass walls as a symbol of Georgia’s efforts toward transparency and away from the corruption of the past.
In between dental appointments and mountain getaways, I walked the city’s streets, where nearly every day the sun left soft spots of light on sidewalks, walls and flowers. I people-watched in parks, bought tiny pears at outdoor markets and fell for the gentle street dogs that slept in any available shade. Several afternoons I studied the city’s rich architecture, peering in courtyards to see the glassed-in balconies called shushabandi and peeking behind heavy doors to glimpse spiral staircases with marble steps and delicate ironwork. These photos are some of what I saw along the way.
One of Tbilisi’s stand-out features is its diverse architecture, including buildings in Persian, Russian classical and art nouveau styles. Among the highlights are wooden balconies displaying intricate latticework.
The original owners of some buildings used the entryways to show off their wealth, adding elaborate murals and grand staircases. Today, the murals are faded and torn, and the staircases are often dark and dusty.
There is enormous renovation potential in the city, and some work is underway. Conservationists have expressed concerns about renovations in the old town of Tbilisi that have destroyed original details and offered more of a facelift than an authentic preservation. Many have also been critical of recent glass-and-steel additions to the city’s architectural landscape. (Jump to end of post for more details, including a link to an architectural tour guide in Tbilisi.)
Tbilisi has several large markets that are fun to wander, including the fruit and vegetable stands at the Dezerter Bazaar near Station Square. The Dry Bridge flea market is in the old town and offers anything and everything, including artwork, rugs and jewelry.
Almost every day in Tbilisi was dry, making it great for walking and people-watching, as well as enjoying the way the sun filtered through the trees onto the city landscape.
If you are visiting Tbilisi, you can learn more about the city’s architecture on a half-day
tour with Joseph Alexander Smith, who also wrote this article for The Guardian that is a good guide to the city.
These articles are several years old but still make for interesting reading on recent Georgian history, as well as the architecture in Tbilisi:
The Guardian, 14 October 2012: “Letter from Tbilisi: Georgia Embraces Democracy But Destroys Its Past”
The New York Times Style Magazine, 1 November 2013: “In Tbilisi, Georgia, Bold New Buildings Rise from the Ruins of Dead Empires”
Have you visited Tbilisi before? Share some of your memories below!