Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is over 1500 years old. Tbilisi, and Georgia as
a whole, although surrounded mainly by Muslim countries, has always leaned
towards its Christian neighbours. This is why Georgia preferred being enslaved
by Russia to being incorporated into the Muslim world. Tbilisi's rich
architectural heritage has traces of the most powerful empires: Greek, Roman,
Byzantine, Turkish and Persian, yet it retains its own peculiarity and
originality, its own independent place in the world’s cultural heritage. Whilst
this aspect of its architecture is well known to international scholars, the
architecture of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries has not yet been as
extensively studied as earlier periods.
Despite Georgia being a colony of Russia, thanks to its favourable geographical
location and proximity to the Black Sea, Georgia also established close contacts
with other parts of Europe. Georgians travelled to Europe, mutually beneficial
relationships developed, and young Georgians began to attend European
universities. As a result, Art Nouveau, which had conquered European
architecture by the end of the 19th century, appeared in Georgia at the
beginning of the 20th century. As in Russia, it became known as "Modern". The
slow development of capitalism, economic backwardness and a nearly non-existent
construction industry contributed to a thriving Georgian craftsmanship that
persisted for a longer period than in the rest of Europe, and reflected the
popular character and taste as well as local customs, traditions and lifestyle.
Georgian craftsmen and artisans formed a corporate body in Amkari, which even
existed in the medieval period.
Owing to Georgia's unhampered contacts with Europe, the new style spread
rapidly, not merely to the capital, Tbilisi, but also to other towns in Georgia:
Batumi, Poti, Sokhumi, Gagra, Kutaisi, Kobuleti and Dusheti. The style of Art
Nouveau became very popular at this time. Even a superficial overview of the
impact of Art Nouveau in Georgia reveals that it was a style that became equally
popular amongst the rich and poor, architects and constructors alike. Although
the houses of wealthy citizens naturally differ from those of ordinary people in
terms of the use of expensive building materials and their prestigious
locations, they are all equally beautiful.
There are numerous examples of Art Nouveau style buildings in Tbilisi. Although
most surviving works are residential dwellings, other types of buildings can
still be found: for example the “Apollo” cinema (1909), a school (1910), a
shopping complex (1903), and a bank (1902). Amongst the residential dwellings
are: 1, Al. Chavchavadze St. (1913); 12, Chonkadze St. (1905); 4, Chonkadze St.
(the beginning of the 20th century.); as well as a technical college (1913).
Further examples include residential dwellings and other buildings: 3/5,
Galaktioni St. (the beginning of the 20th century); 6, Javaxishvili St. (the
beginning of the 20th century); 4, Kikodze St. (the beginning of the 20th
century); 3, Kodjori St. (1905); as well as a conservatory (1904); and a
maternity ward (1912); a house 10, Krilovi St. (the beginning of the 20th
century); a theatre (1907); 37, Rustaveli St. (the beginning of the 20th
century); 28, Ninoshvili St. (1904); a tobacco factory (1909); a house 39,
Tcinamdgvrishvili St. (the beginning of the 20th century); and a children’s
According to documents and photos from the historical archives, the first
example of Art Nouveau was a pavilion commissioned by the oil-rich Nobel
brothers for the Jubilee Exhibition of Agricultural and Industrial Products in
Tbilisi in 1901. It was designed by famed artist and sculptor Jacob Nicoladze.
Unfortunately, this pavilion no longer exists.
The traditional wooden balconies of Tbilisi's 19th century houses were
originally located on the main façades; however, as Art Nouveau spread, these
balconies moved to the back of the houses and adopted some non-traditional
decorative elements of the new style. The existence of these rear balconies
illustrates both local influences on the predominantly international style of
Art Nouveau as well as the harmonious coexistence of European and traditional
Art Nouveau was so popular in Georgia that the reconstruction of the facade of
Tbilisi's oldest caravanserai (built in 1650, but subsequently destroyed and
rebuilt several times) was carried out in Art Nouveau style. Some of Tbilisi's
traditional 19th century houses were also reconstructed in this style during the
beginning of the 20th century
Unfortunately, many buildings were damaged during the Soviet period or fell
victim to major repairs or natural calamities. We have lost doors, gates,
mosaics as well as stained glass from many houses. Sometimes there are clear
traces of alteration. The difficult political and economic conditions in Georgia
make it difficult to preserve and save these buildings. Neither the poor tenants
nor owners can take proper care of them. Many wonderful works have already been
lost without trace, and many continue to be lost.
Art Nouveau architecture in Georgia is part of Europe's cultural heritage;
however, due to a lack of care and attention this heritage may disappear before
the European public even learns of its existence.