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2 In Caucasus/ Georgia

Letting the Pictures Tell the Story: Tbilisi, Georgia

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.

A view of Tbilisi from the Narikala Fortress in the old town. The tubular steel pieces to the right of the Kura River are a stalled construction of a concert hall. One article I read called it the “dismembered legs.”

 

Architecture

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.)

This building in the old town of Tbilisi had a for-sale sign

Another part of the building above that is listed for sale. Imagine what could be done with a good renovation.

This building off of Rustaveli Ave. once belonged to Stalin’s personal physician

I loved the texture and grit of the old buildings, though I hated to see the graffiti on something that could be so much more

An example of shushabandi in a courtyard in Tbilisi

Apartments near the old town of Tbilisi

The staircase of a building in the Sololaki area

Every courtyard in Tbilisi is filled with lines of drying laundry

The Writers’ House of Georgia is an example of a well-done renovation in Tbilisi

The Peace Bridge, one of the newer architectural additions in Tbilisi

 

Markets

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.

A woman at her stand at the Dezerter Bazaar

Herbs are used heavily in Georgian cooking. This woman sold them at the Dezerter Bazaar.

The pieces at the top that look like candles/sausage are called churchkhela. It is a sweet snack made from grape juice, flour and walnuts. Delicious!

We all have to take a break now and then

A man at a stall at the Dry Bridge flea market

Old albums for sale at the Dry Bridge flea market

 

Street Life

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.

A woman relaxing between customers at her fruit and vegetable stand

Women sorting through clothes at a street-side stall. These appeared to be new clothes, but I saw more used clothing stalls and stores in Tbilisi than I have seen anywhere before.

Sun spots on a photograph hanging on a wall near a gallery in the old town

A flower stand near Sololaki

Enjoying the sun and shade in a park behind the National Gallery

The Lada is a Russian-made car that is popular for its cheap price and readily-available parts. This man used his to haul watermelons and peaches to a store in the Sololaki area.

Tbilisi has thousands street dogs (Dog Organization Georgia told me an estimate from a couple of years ago was 40,000). Many of the dogs have a colored tag clipped on one ear, which indicates they have been vaccinated and spayed/neutered.

 

Resources

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

Last, but not least, Dog Organization Georgia is a nonprofit helping the street dogs in Tbilisi. You can visit their Facebook page to learn more about adopting a dog from them or making a donation.

Have you visited Tbilisi before? Share some of your memories below!

 

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Marsha Brand
    February 8, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    I feel as if I was in Tbilisi for a short time this evening, that my horizon broadened a bit. Thank you so much

    • Reply
      bdemouy
      February 14, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you, Marsha!

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