Art for Architecture. Georgia. Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960-1990

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Art for Architecture Georgia Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960 to 1990

Art for Architecture Georgia Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960 to 1990 Nini Palavandishvili and Lena Prents




Nini Palavandishvili The Urban and Architectural Development of Tbilisi: A Short Overview


Nini Palavandishvili

Soviet Modernist Mosaics in Tbilisi

Culture and Education


Sport and Health


Leisure and Relaxation


Science and Technology










Soviet Modernist Mosaics in the Regions

Sports complex in Zugdidi (detail)

Culture and Education


Sport and Health


Leisure and Relaxation










Person Index Place Index About the Authors Credits, Literature, Glossary Maps

266 267 268 271 272

Nini Palavandishvili

In Georgia, Soviet-period mosaics, colourful works of art, have become such an integral part of our daily visual culture that we no longer notice them. We even neglect them to the extent that we paint over or glue adverts on top of them. My admiration for this art form ­s tarted with one particular structure on the shore of the Black Sea: the former Café ­Fantasia, commonly called the ‘­Octopus‘. Once a fully functioning ­c afé, this sculpture is entirely covered with mosaic ­pieces and stands against a background of rippling blue sea and azure sky, where its colourful smalti tiles capture one’s gaze. When I first became aware of this place, it was already abandoned and in poor condition. In the more than ten years that have passed since then, I have ­dedicated an exhibition to the ­Octopus – Time F­uture in the Time Past (Batumi, 2011) – con­ ducted extensive research on the topic of ­Soviet-period mosaics in Georgia, collected a vast amount of material from personal archives, docu­mented the majority of the mosaics that still exist in Georgia (around 250), organised three different exhibitions at home and abroad, published a book – Lost Heroes of ­Tbilisi: Soviet ­Period ­Mosaics (2014)1 – and engaged in actions to preserve these very special artworks. This publication is the first to cover the monumental-decorative mosaics that were created in public spaces throughout Georgia from the late 1960s up until the 1980s. Currently, many of these works are under threat of obliteration. Some have already been destroyed.

Unfortunately, at the moment there is no real interest in conserving them – no broad political intentions, no deliberation from the professional community, and no great public concern for them. This book aspires to bring the topic to wider audience, to put the mosaics in their historical and cultural context, to show their beauty and importance, and to help lead to their preservation and maintenance. The Problem After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this field of architectural art was completely neglected. Georgia’s economy was in poor shape, because of the country’s political instability. The 1990s were marked by civil war and regional conflicts that resulted in difficult con­d itions for much of the population. Parts of hotels, resorts, and health and edu­ c ational complexes were, and sometimes still are, inhabited by internally displaced persons (IDP); the majority of industry and enterprise was privatised. Survival was the main concern of the population at the time. Accordingly, nobody cared much about art in g­ eneral, or mosaics in particular. The production of monumental art was discontinued for a long while, and existing works were ­e ither dismantled, robbed for materials, or turned derelict.­ The active ideological fight against everything ‘Soviet’ only started ­ after 2004, with the change of political rule led by Mikheil Saakashvili,2 a sup­porter of Western politics who openly declared Russia to be the country’s main

enemy. In 2011, the Freedom Charter (თავისუფლების ქარტია) was passed by the Georgian p­ arliament, banning totalitarian communist symbols. However, this did not affect the country’s mosaics, as they almost ­never directly depicted symbols such as the hammer and sickle, or ­Stalin, Lenin, or any other communist ­leader – just a few stars and CCCP (‘USSR’ in ­Russian) written in small letters here and there. The intensive urban ­changes, the boom in the free market economy, and the selling off of public spaces to private owners which took place over almost 30 years, all contributed to the increase in damage to these artworks and left them under threat. Moreover, the new owners of the mosaics simply do not care about them. Very few of these entrepreneurs appreciate art; they see it as a burden. In general, the unsystematic transformation of the environment and amateur interventions that have shaped the look of cities and villages, as well as façade ‘beautifications’, have led to the destruction of mosaics. While mural paintings were mainly used for decorating interiors, mosaics were the best fit for exteriors and façades because of their resilience. Mosaic panels were placed not only in central areas of the cities, but also in the country’s regions, small villages, and settlements. For the most part, they were used on the façades of public buildings and/or industrial enterprises, though they were also frequently seen inside canteens and conference or concert halls. In urban environments they often stand as independent decorative fountain pools and wall structures. The former Café F­ antasia in Batumi Boulevard and the ‘bus ­pavilions’ in Abkhazia are unique examples of functional architectural forms fully c­ overed in mosaic tiles. Small towns still have mosaic-decorated bus stops, while resort areas present complex, three-­ dimensional compositions, such as those in Bichvinta (Pitsunda) or K ­obuleti. The authors of these works were frequently the leading artists of the time. Today, mosaics ­f rom the Soviet era constitute an integral part of public space. The monumental-­decorative art of this ­period, especially that made from the

1960s to the 1980s, is typically connected to i­deological propaganda: the friendship of nations, the victory of the proletariat in the struggle for socialism, the expansion of industrial society and urbanisation, are common themes. Often reflected in public buildings, these subjects form part of the architecture. The development of mosaic art in ­Georgia is strongly linked to the artist Zurab Tsereteli. Born in 1934 in T­ bilisi, ­Tsereteli laid the foundation for the reuse of monumental-decorative ­mosaics in Georgia – in particular through his works in the seaside resort of B ­ ichvinta (1967), which is likely the most ­complex mosaic-decorated territory in what was, back then, part of the Soviet ­ Union. These works probably also started the widespread belief that most mo­s aics in Georgia are by Tsereteli – a myth that found its way through the vernacu­ lar to diverse digital media posts3 and ­reportage, as well as essays about art from the Soviet p­ eriod.4 The main reason for this inaccuracy is that despite the popularity and spread of mosaic art in Soviet Georgia, no systematic studies had been conducted on the subject until a colleague and I s­ tarted research in 2002. It is almost impossible to find information about the mo­saics in the standard institutions. The ­only sources in this field lead to publications about Tsereteli and his oeuvre. Unlike other areas of Soviet art, mo­s aic art is not researched; artworks are not col­ lected, classified, and archived. Therefore, information regarding author­ ship and dates of creation usually does not exist. Data collection has been ex­ tremely difficult: neither the Georgian Union of Artists nor archives nor libraries hold the necessary information. Sometimes, identifying authors or simply obtaining general information about the mo­s aics has only been possible through ­other, still living artists and their personal r­ ecords. In most c­ ases I have had no choice but to trust the memories of these people. This problem is particular to ­Georgia as a country, as in talks with my colleagues who research similar ­t opics in other former republics, such an issue is never highlighted.




parties were spared the bureaucratic process that prevailed within the Union of Artists. In such c­ ases, the design was constructed using the ceramic tiles produced in the ­Navtlughi C­ eramics Factory in ­T bilisi. Sometimes the commissioned artists would redirect the work to their students, which for the students was a way to earn money during the summer and a chance to complete the mandatory training. This system made the creation of mosaics into a ‘production line’ and at times led to low-­quality implementation. Surprisingly enough, the majority of the artists and authors did not regard their mosaic designs as serious works of art, and so overlooked their artistic v alue and historical significance. This ­ goes some way to explaining the lack of information on the subject. However, this criticism may not apply to all of the mosaics that exist in G ­ eorgia. Many of these pieces still overwhelm with their artistic and technical accomplishments. Among them, are the mo­ saics on the grounds of the Expo Georgia Convention Centre (Guram Kalandadze, Leonardo Shengelia), the decorative frieze on the Laguna Vere Swimming Pool Complex (Koka Ignatov), the diorama on the way to Kazbegi (George C­ hakhava, Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, N ­ odar Malazonia), and the mosaic ­w all p­ anel at the Abastumani Resort (Zaurmag ­Ghambashidze), which is unfortunately quite damaged today. A History of Mosaics in Georgia The art of making mosaics is about 4,000 years old, and began with the use of kilndried clay pieces as surface decorations. From 1971 to 1977 archae­ ological excavations in the vicinity of the village of ­ Dzalisi unearthed mosaic flooring from the second century at the ­Temple of ­ D ionysus. Between 1952 and 1954, the archae­ ological expedition of the Ivane Javakhishvili Institute of H ­ istory, Archae­ology and Ethnography revealed a three-nave basilica from the fourth century in Bichvinta. Its floor was covered with mosaic patterns from the fifth century. The mosaics on the apses of the altar and on the stoa ⁄ gate, as well as some fragments in different locations of the

building, were relatively well preserved (currently in the Museum of Fine Arts of Georgia). The samples of mosaic patterns were preserved in the altar apses of the Mtsire Jvari Church in ­Mtskheta. The mosaic in the Tsromi Church dates back to the first half of the seventh century. Most of the mosaics there have disappeared, but three relatively large p­ ieces are preserved in Georgia’s Museum of Fine Arts. The mosaics of the Gelati M ­ onastery, a masterpiece of Georgian monumental art, date back to the twelfth century.5 After the twelfth and thirteenth cen­ turies, the art of mosaic was largely overlooked in not only Georgia but also the whole of Europe, and was only revived in the late nineteenth and early twen­t ieth centuries. In Georgia this was influenced by the weak economic state of the country, as it constantly engaged in conflicts with its Mongol, Osman, ­O ttoman, ­Persian enemies. Mosaic became very popular again in socialist states, including C zechoslovakia, Poland, East ­ ­ Germany, and especially the Republics of the ­Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, mosaic art underwent its renaissance. From the 1960s onwards, public and residential buildings in Soviet cities were fre­quently decorated by state-­commissioned mosaic panels that reinforced the political messages of the time. The production of art in conjunction with government propaganda in the Soviet Union between the 1960s and 1980s was certainly influenced by Mexican muralism. Developing after the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), the movement corresponded to the country’s transformation from a mostly rural and illiterate soc­iety to an industrialised one. In the Soviet Union of the 1960s this stage had already passed. However, the belated popularisation of monumental art in the Soviet Republics was very much conditioned by the Committee and the Council of Ministers of the USSR’s resolution on the ‘elimination of redundancy in design and construction’. Issued in 1955 under Nikita K ­ hrushchev, this resolution criticised the ‘excessive use of decorative elements that gave buildings an archaic look’, and essentially prohibited any decoration that impeded cost-effectiveness. Only after

Khrushchev’s death, during the Brezhnev era (1964–1982), was monumental art again promoted. It then spread widely.6 There are different techniques for making mosaics. In Soviet times, smalti mosaics were considered the most valuable and of the highest quality. Smalti is an ­alloy of opaque, tinted glass that is fragmented into small pieces and then used for creating a mosaic. During the ­Soviet period, smalti was imported to ­Georgia, ­mainly from Ukraine and the Baltic countries, and then processed locally. Artworks were initially assembled in the workshop and mounted at their destination afterwards. Besides smalti, mosaics are made from pieces of cer­amic or pebbles with the method identical to the former one. In a few cases, mosaic compositions are mixed with chamotte and/or a c­ opper medium. A group of artists (­ Zurab K ­ apanadze, Zurab Lezhava, ­Nodar ­Malazonia) working with the architect George Chakhava developed a special method. They applied the traditional Georgian technique of ­cloisonné ­enamel to monumental works, and rather than smalti they used special tinted and burnt glass produced in ­Moscow at a glass factory named after Lenin (see 096). Iconography The impact of Mexican muralism on monu­ mental art in the USSR is not surprising. Two members of Los Tres Grandes, the main representatives of M ­exican muralism, developed tight bonds with the Soviet U ­ ­ nion. Diego Rivera and ­ David Alfaro Siqueiros both travelled to the ­ ­Soviet Union in the 1920s. In 1927 ­R ivera went to the Soviet Union as part of the official Mexican delegation to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the O ­ctober ­Revolution. In 1928, S­ iqueiros visited the ­Soviet Union to attend the Congress of Red Trade Unions. Later, in 1955, R ­ ivera and S­ iqueiros again travelled to M ­ oscow. Siqueiros spoke to the members of the USSR Academy of Arts.7 In his speech he criticised Soviet artists for ‘a certain drift towards formalism and “a mech­ anical realism, another form of cosmopolitanism” in Soviet Art’,8 yet he remained favoured by Soviet colleagues to the extent that he was awarded the



The System Meeting the artists ­greatly helped me with creating a general picture of how the system worked back then – namely, what precisely happened in the process from the ordering ⁄ commissioning of mosaics to their completion. The majority of the projects were commissioned by the state and carried out through the Union of Artists and its arts fund, though some individ­ uals, ­upolnomochniki (‘authorized persons’ in Russian) – who from a contemporary standpoint would be seen as ­managers – mediated between businesses and the Union of Artists, and a­lso brought in projects from all over the ­S oviet Union. Contracts were then awarded by a body within the Union of Artists and its fund. A special committee ran the competitions, so they could regulate the q­ uality of the work and place the project with a specific artist, based on the standard required and the level of sophistication of the task to be completed. Artists working on the mosaics were graduates of the Fine Art Academy of Georgia, and came predominantly from the fields of applied arts, graphics, and, rarely, from painting. The Monumental-­ decorative Art Faculty at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts was founded by Zurab Tsereteli in 1983, when he was no longer personally active in creating mosaics but still held the necessary influence. This seemingly fair structure was in ­reality rather hard to navigate. Artists had to line up to obtain their desired assignments, since mosaics were considered the easiest way to earn money with art. The value of the work was determined according to its com­positional and artistic complexity, as well as by its vivid combination of colours. My research has ­also revealed that in many cases there was no plan or system for placing the mosaics in public areas. Occasionally, they were placed on existing structures that offered enough blank space for putting up monumental pieces of art (for example, the Railway Workers’ Association House of Culture, Khashuri). An ­e asier and less ­costly way, though, was a ­d irect order from the business to the artist. That way, both

a variety of socialist achievements and technological advances, and appealed to the national heritage, were treated lo­ cally, away from the centre of ­regulations. The specific theme of a mosaic was predominantly determined by the function of the building it was attached to: for example, mosaics on businesses were elaborated in praise of technological and scientific progress and labour. Even though female figures have a dominant role in mosaic motifs, I have only found two mosaics that feature women as cosmonauts. During the 1960s, the Soviet U ­ nion ex­ ulted in the achievements of cosmonauts, as, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, and l­ ater, in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman), went into space. There is no evi­ dence that the two female cosmo­ naut motifs in ­Georgia (in the former ­Gantiadi Furniture Factory and on the decorative wall at a junction in M ­ elani) are con­ nected with those achievements timewise. Also, the function of those ­edifices does not show any relation to cosmonautics. Except these two buildings in Tbilisi there is, to my knowledge, only one stained glass mosaic that features a female cosmonaut and that is in the planet­ arium of the ­ cultural and edu­ c ational centre named after Valentina Tereshkova in Yaroslavl, Russia. The iconography of cultural, e­ ducational, and some independent structures is saturated with national symbols and ⁄ or depicts domestic heroes and fables: a decorative panel on Gulia Square, ­ T bilisi, with a hunting scene by ­Kukuri ­Tsereteli originated from the medieval ­ epic ­poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli; a mosaic by ­Nugzar ­Medzmariashvili in the reading room of the National Scientific Library, Tbilisi, is derived from the myth of Prometheus – Amirani, Prometheus’ partial equivalent in Georgian mythology, is often used as a symbol of Georgian nation, its ordeals and its struggle for survival. Unsurprisingly, the most ­ f requently encountered national symbol in mosaic art, regardless of its location, is a bunch of grapes on the vine. Con­s idered as a symbol for the ­ V irgin Mary, this was trad­ itionally de­ picted in Georgian church archi­ tecture and iconography.

Under Soviet iconography, however, it was translated into a na­tional agricul­ tural symbol. It is important to mention the topics of religion and the Church here. Though these institutions were forbidden during the Soviet regime, from the beginning of the 1980s, as the system started to w ­ eaken and signs of nationalism strengthened in various republics, religious images also entered into mosaic iconography (for example, in the decoration on the former cinema at ­Bolnisi and Lilo Distillery by Vazha Mishveladze; the Tbilisi Factory of Instruments for Locksmith Installation and the decorative structure at the entrance to the Tianeti region, both by unknown ­artists). The small pavilions created as bus stops on the territory of the breakaway region of Abkhazia deserve a special mention here. Designed by the architect George ­Chakhava in collaboration with the aforementioned artist group of ­ K apanadze, Lezhava, and Malazonia, these structures count as the expression of free a­ rtistic creativity and imagination – objects incomparable to any created before or ­after in the territory of the ­Soviet ­Union. The pavilions respond formally to A ­ ntoni Gaudí’s mosaics in Park Güell, ­Barcelona, but, unlike Gaudí’s creation, they are ­f ully functional sculptures. Even though abstractionism was not recognised by ­Soviet art until l­ater, such works facilitated the conveyance of abstract thinking through art. Still today, the quality of these artworks indicates the mastery of their authors. The Present During my research, I have encountered objects that were restored by their new ‘owners’. Among these are mosaics at various locations: Expo Georgia (as previously mentioned), the interior of the swimming pool at the Neptune Sports ­ Complex, inside the ­ grocery store at 7 Tsintsadze Street (for­merly S­ aburtalo Street), on the façade of the ­Saburtalo Fire Station, and in the interior of the ­T bilisi Fire Service Museum (the protection of which required a lot of e­ nergy and risk-taking from the head of the service in the 1990s). Alarmingly, most of the mo­ saics remain in a state of uncertainty.

At the moment, the fate of one of the best examples of such mosaics – the L­ aguna Vere Swimming Pool Complex by K ­oka ­Ignatov – is unclear. This privatised edi­ fice has been closed to the public for over four years now, under the pretext of ­performing renovations. However, rumours of its demolition are still in the air. Unfortunately, time, private interests, and nihilism allowed important artworks to go to ruin, ones such as those that were at the Aragvi ­Restaurant, the Lagidze Waters Shop, the Hydro-Meteorological Institute, the entrance to Rustaveli Underground Station. In contrast, though, after many years of struggle, protests, and petitions against its demolition, the former Café ­Fantasia in Batumi is currently being renovated and will open again in 2019. Sim­ilarly, the efforts of small group of people who have been arguing for the preserv­ation of the memorial dedicated to the ­Treaty of ­Georgievsk, near Gudauri, proved successful and the memorial has been renovated for the first time since it was erected. (Both of these instances are ­ works by the architect George ­Chakhava and the artists George ­Chakhava, ­Z urab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, ­ Nodar ­Malazonia). These two very recent examples show the importance of civil engagement, of raising awareness, and of the state bearing responsibility for the maintenance of heritage from Soviet times. The most effective way forward is to understand this history – to view and assess it as objectively as possible, ­r ather than to ignore it. No matter how ‘bad’ the Soviet system was, it remains a part of Georgia’s history and the demolition of the forms and images associated with it cannot erase the past. By preserving architecture, forms, and artworks from the Soviet period, I aim to comprehend and appreciate their artistic v­ alue. I very much hope that the two cases ­c ited above will become precedents and find appreciation.



Lenin Peace Prize (1966) and received the ­title of ­Hon­orary ­Member of the ­Soviet Academy of Arts (1967).9 ­Apparently, ­ ­Siqueiros went to USSR again at the beginning of the 1970s, as he was captured in a photo with ­Zurab ­Tsereteli in front of the latter’s mosaic in Adler (a district in the S­ochi munici­ pality). S­iqueiros’ appreciation of his ­Soviet colleague’s work is also mentioned in several publications: ‘­Tsereteli’s work was comparable to the cream of the oeuvre of Mexico’s monumental artists including the great ­D iego Rivera.’10 A great influence on Georgian artists was also a 1965 book entitled Monumental Painting in Mexico and written by Larissa ­Zhadova,11 who travelled to Mexico and met the artists there. Georgian mosaic art’s relation to its ­Mexican counterpart is clear. Certainly, there is a difference in iconography, but formal and stylistic cor­respondences between mosaics in the two countries are evident. The mosaic in the yard of N ­ ursery No. 1 on Paliashvili Street resembles the work of Carlos Mérida, who himself was influenced by Joan Miro. ­ David ­ Alfaro Siqueiros’ Palace of Culture in Mexico ­ City is echoed in those by Aliko G ­ orgadze and Tezo A ­satiani at the entrance to ­E xpo Georgia. Siqueiros’ bas-­relief mosaics resonate in the Samgori Railway Depot in Tbilisi by Malkhaz G ­orgadze, or even with the works by Koka Ignatov at ­L aguna Vere. A composition by ­Zurab Tsereteli on the Trade ­Union Palace of Culture identically repeats the famous exterior mo­saic of the Central Library of the N ­ ational A ­ utonomous University of ­Mexico by Juan O ­ ’Gorman. Based on the information I have so far, the mosaics at ­E xpo ­Georgia12 were the very first to be created, appearing even before ­Tsereteli ­started his career. ­Later, artists working on mosaics in Georgia would develop their own style, taking inspiration in part from national motifs and church iconog­ raphy. For instance, a female cosmonaut in former the Gantiadi Factory mosaic bears features of Queen Tamar in the ­f resco at Vardzia M ­ onastery. The iconography of mosaics in ­Georgia provides an example of how the set characters and themes, which included

Nini Palavandishvili

Aragvi Restaurant, artist: Zurab Tsereteli, 1972 (demolished 1978)

Acknowledgements I would like to express my gratitude to those artists who employed mosaic techniques during their artistic ­c areers for the pleasure we enjoy through their work. I would like to thank them for sharing their memories and archive ­material. Also, my appreciation goes to everybody who enthusiastically helped me in collecting the ­material, discovering the mosaic artworks, documenting them, identifying the authors, contributing with images, reading the texts, and making this publication possible.

1 Nini Palavandishvili (ed.): Lost Heroes of Tbilisi. ­ Soviet Period Mosaics, Tbilisi 2014. 2 President of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. 3 4 Oliver Wainwright: ‘Soviet Superpower: Why Russia Has the World’s Most Beautiful Bus Stops’, The Guardian, September 2015. 5 ხელოვნების ენციკლოპედიური ლექსი­კონი [Georgian-Soviet Encyclopedia], Vol. VII, Tbilisi 1984, p. 65. 6 See chapter on the urban history of Tbilisi, editor’s note, pp.  13 – 15. 7 David Alfaro Siqueiros: Open Letter to the Painters, Sculptors and Engravers of the Soviet Union, 8 Tobias Rupprecht: Soviet Internationalism after Stalin: The USSR and Latin America in the Cultural Cold War, Florence 2012, p. 167. 9 Ibid. 10 Oleg Shvidkovsky: Zurab Tsereteli, Moskow 1985, p. 15. 11 Larissa Zhadova: Monumental Painting in Mexico, ­Moscow 1965. 12 Former VDNKH – Exhibition of the Successes of ­t he Georgian National Economy. The pavilions were built between 1961 and 1971.

Founded in the fifth century AD, T­ bilisi was made the capital of the Eastern ­Georgian Kingdom of Iberia in the sixth century AD. Since then it has maintained its status of the chief city of e­ ither Eastern Georgia or a United ­Kingdom of ­Georgia. Its location on the edge of ancient and modern empires (Persian, B ­ yzantine, A ­ rab, M ­ ongol, Ottoman, ­Russian), and on major trade routes, rendered the city geo­politically and economically significant – even if this status only guaranteed a continuous struggle for survival. At the dusk of the Middle Ages, Georgia, the only C­ hristian enclave that retained its statehood in an otherwise Muslim region, found itself squeezed between hostile powers: the Persian and Ottoman Empires, and North Caucasian tribes. This meant the country had to seek protection from the growing Russian Empire to the north. The first formal alliance between G ­ eorgia and Russia took place in 1783, when, as a last attempt to deal with r­epeated O ttoman and Persian invasions, King ­ Erekle II (Heraclius II) of Eastern G ­ eorgia signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with ­C atherine II of the Russian ­Empire. ­Russia guaranteed Georgia’s territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning Bagratid dynasty in return for prerogatives in the conduct of ­ Georgian foreign affairs. Under the terms of the treaty, ­ C atherine and her heirs were to defend Georgia against enemies. Though the t­reaty was to have permanent ­v alidity, Emperor Paul I’s manifesto

of 18 December 1800 unilaterally declared the annexation of Eastern G ­ eorgia (Kingdom of Kartli-­K akhetia) to Russia, and on 12 September 1801 his successor, ­Alexander I, for­mally reaffirmed this determination. Having spent more than a century as part of the Russian Empire, Georgia regained independence in 1918 and the First Republic was established. In 1921 Georgia was invaded by Red ­Army troops. The occupation led to the ­Sovietisation of Georgia, and in 1922 the country became one of the republics of the Soviet Union. This l­asted until 1991, when the country regained i­ ndependence. Obviously Tbilisi’s present spatial structure is a product of a long historical process and development. The city‘s territorial expansion mostly occurred during the Soviet era. As the following publication concerns Soviet-period mosaics, this text focuses on Tbilisi‘s stages of development during that time. Between 1921 and 1991, Tbilisi expanded sixfold in terms of ­population and tenfold in terms of territory. In 1988, the Georgian capital‘s population counted 1,203,000 inhabitants. Over the years, the city developed according to master plans that were drawn up in 1934, 1952, and 1970. The first master plan (1934) con­centrated on the reconstruction and improvement of existing areas, as well as the planning of new housing estates, next to building new residential houses. New types of archi­ tectural constructions such as workers’ clubs, nurseries, and cultural ­


Source: Irakli Tsitsishvili: Tbilisi, Leningrad 1985


The Urban and Architectural Development of Tbilisi: A Short Overview


14 View of Tbilisi, early twentieth century

and recreational parks entered Tbilisi. Next to a few constructivist buildings, ­Stalinist Empire-style architecture dominated through its pretentious neo-­ classical to neo-baroque look, monumentality, and decoration. The second master plan (1952) looked at expanding Tbilisi and building new streets, avenues, and embankments, mainly along the river and from east to west. The 1950s were pre­ dominantly characterised by taking over free land ­ for new mass housing areas ­ erected with indus­ trially prefabricated concrete ­panels. S­talinist architecture was replaced by a large-scale housing programme to ­construct ­Khrushchyovkas – the five- or six-storey apartment buildings that became ubiquitous throughout the Soviet Union. In 1955, under Nikita Khrushchev – the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the S­ oviet Union – the Committee and the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued a resolution on the ‘elimination of redundancy in design and construction’. This resolution criticised the ‘excessive use of decorative elements that gave buildings an archaic look’, referencing among its negative examples the Gruzugol (Georgian Coal) administrative building (now the Georgian ­National Academy of Sciences; architects: M. C­ hkhikvadze, K. ­Chkheidze; 1953) and the façade decoration of the ­ Ministry of Agriculture of the Georgian SSR (­later the Sakartvelo Hotel; architects:

View of Tbilisi, early twenty-first century

N. Pirtskhalaishvili and G. ­Tavdgiradze; ­1949 – 1956), both in Tbilisi. It con­cluded: ‘Soviet architecture should be characterised by simplicity, rigour of form, and the cost-effectiveness of decisions.’ The resolution gave rise to a standardised modular functionalism. In 1964 Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev replaced ­Khrushchev. During this ­period, ­Georgia and Tbilisi were under the rule of V­asil Mzhavanadze, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist ­ Party (1953–1972). Though the Brezhnev era (1964–1982) is referred to as the ‘Era of Stagnation’, ­Tbilisi and its architecture prospered during the time of B ­ rezhnev and ­Mzhavanadze.1 In 1966, ­Tbilisi became the fourth Soviet city, following Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev, to gain an underground metro system, meaning that, by this time, Tbilisi would have had one million inhabitants. Most of the industrial infrastructure, as well as administrative, sport, culture, and leisure facilities, was planned and constructed during the last three decades of the Soviet epoch. In terms of architecture, the most remarkable buildings from late Soviet modernism date back to the era of Brezhnev and M ­ zhavanadze. This was the period when functionality convened with high aesthetic and technical qualities, when the synthesis of monumental art with architecture was intensified, and when decorative design became a habitual and inseparable part of the planning process. It is not only buildings

of state importance, but those for housing, that stand out in both form and appearance. During these years, mo­saic art ­strongly entered into the field of construction adornment – sometimes as decoration on structures for industry and culture, where it tended to point out the function of the building, and, in the best ­c ases, as an indivisible part of architecture (the Trade ­Union Palace of Culture, the House of Political ­Education, and ­the Laguna Vere ­Swimming Pool Complex, and various bus stops). In Soviet Georgia, the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s were marked by the extensive use of mosaics. This e­ nded when Brezhnev died and, soon after, Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard S­hevardnadze, ­ the former first Secretary of the ­Georgian Communist Party (1972–1985) and ­later the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union (1985–1991), started the ­ process of liberalisation of the ­ Soviet ­Union (­Perestroika). Following the dissolution of the USSR, Shevardnadze became the President of Georgia from 1992 to 2003. U ­nder his leader­ ship, Georgia fell into its worst p­olitical and economic state of the past 100 years. Regional conflicts with A ­bkhazia and S­amachablo (South Ossetia), civil war, disorganised insti­ tutions, and corruption led the country into economic p­overty and desolation. ­ Georgia turned away from planned ex­ pansion in f­avour of offshore real-estate ­markets and spontaneous, nepotistic, and

partially non-­transparent developments. The process of privatising public goods and industry facilities that has flourished for approximately the past 30 years has its roots in Shevardnadze’s rule. In Georgia today, the word ‘­maintenance’ has become a foreign term. ­ Neither the state nor private owners look after the preservation of historic buildings. The ­Soviet legacy is particularly out of ­favour. Counted as outdated, ugly, and associated with the totalitarian regime, ­edifices from that period are either private property, meaning no state law controls their future, or have already been demolished. In a few cases, a small group of individuals who appreciate the quality of the works, though not necessarily the ­Soviet system, have managed to affect the decision makers and save one or another artwork through protests and petitions. The same applies to mosaics, which continue to shine colourfully on abandoned or significantly altered buildings.

1 Mzhavanadze himself became a symbol of corrupt, ­in­e fficient governance. He was accused of auctioning jobs, pocketing state funds, and running illegal fac­ tories for his own benefit.

The following illustrations offer a small taste of the rich range of ­Soviet-period mosaics in Georgia. W ­hether during her everyday life in ­T bilisi or on extensive journeys through the country’s regions, Nini P­ alavandishvili has been con­ stantly on the lookout for these remains of a bygone era. She documented them with the help of obliging photographers. ­Lena Prents chose and contextualized the ­final list of works shown here. The selection o­ wes much to the art and cultural-­ historical importance of ­individual ­pieces, subjective preferences, and the range of such mo­saics that still exist today.


Soviet Modern Mosaics in Tbilisi

The authors and publisher would be glad to receive professional reflections or further information from the artists and archi­tects involved in creating the ­mosaics. Despite a large amount of careful research, we cannot rule out the pos­ sibility of some inaccuracies in the details on the works. Corrections and additions are therefore most welcome. We wish readers the utmost joy discovering and admiring these works of art. In devoting their attention to this subject, they too are allies in the struggle against the senseless destruction of S­oviet archi­ tectural heritage.

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Former Gantiadi Furniture Factory in ­Tbilisi (detail)

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001 B Former Trade Union Palace of Culture Vazha Pshavelas gamziri 43 Architects: G. Metonidze, T. Natsvlishvili, Shalva Davitashvili Artist: Zurab Tsereteli 1968 – 1969

After the artist Zurab Tsereteli established his reputation as a master of largescale wall designs through his embellishment of the resort town of B ­ ichvinta (Pitsunda) in 1967 (051), he received numerous commissions for m ­ osaics in both Georgia and Russia. His artworks on buildings had a lasting effect on his

c­ areer: ­Tsereteli was a­ warded the S­ oviet Union’s highest honour, the Lenin Prize, and in the 1970s he designed the USSR Foreign Ministry in Moscow. In 1974 the Mexican muralist painter D ­ avid A ­lfaro Siqueiros publicly acknowledged the ­ works of his young Soviet colleague, which led to T­sereteli becoming inter­ nationally known. ­ Tsereteli’s reticence with regard to Soviet Realism made him especially appealing for the West. The subject of the mosaic on the former Trade Union Palace of Culture in T­ bilisi is unclear yet fascinating. U ­ nder the t­ itle The Human ­Being, The Work – Purpose and the Beauty of Existence, the artist created

craftsmanship. The former Trade U ­ nion Palace of Culture (now the Centre for Trade Unions) is a three-­ s torey, elongated building with an asym­metrically placed cube on top of it. The shape of the building resulted from the interior layout. The building ­houses a spacious auditorium with a stage; the gridiron ­ above the stage neces­sitated the cube set on the roof. The ­mosaic e­ ffectively harmonises the oversized superstructure with its surroundings and offers the

otherwise unfussy complex a lofty and celebratory quality. ­However, contemporary architectural critics have pointed to the missed opportunity for a ­somewhat stronger interplay between the art on a ­building and the city archi­t ecture: the cultural centre on Vaja P­ shavela Prospekt stands in a­xis to ­ Mikheil T­amarashvili Street, but the cube deviates ­strongly from this a­ xis. As a ­result of this, ‘the mosaic tower l­ oses its role as a city planning landmark’.


disc. The motif of the brown-orange sun had been used before by Tsereteli in his mosaic at the ­Aragwi Park ­Restaurant – an attractive modernist terraced building from the 1970s that was demolished in 2008. Biographers of the artist ­always refer to the immense importance of his wide-ranging ethnographic ­t ravels through Georgia held for his career. On these excursions he immersed himself in the mythologies of different peoples, exploring folk tales and traditional

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a strange and ambiguous world that is full of yearning. In the midst of a dense and ornamental floral landscape are r­ eal and fantastical animals. These creatures previously appeared in his m ­ osaics in ­Bichvinta. The centre of the ­image is domin­ ated by two giant symmetrical twin rabbits who seem to be pregnant with ­ t iny beings. Between these two long-eared conies, a human figure with outstretched arms reaches upwards, holding the sun inside a glowing golden

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Because of its function, the House of ­Political Education had to have a suitably prestigious appearance while a­ lso standing out ­ w ithin a heterogeneous nineteenth-­ century building development. ­Ultimately, a ­compact, ­elongated rectangular building was created, with two different and creative street-­f acing ­façades. Both of the ­lower floors have glass fronts. Above them is a windowless structure, which once contained two auditoriums and an exhibition room. From a distance, ­Z urab ­Tsereteli’s monumental mosaic which adorns the façade of the structure comes to the fore. Originally envisaged for this massive 2 × 42 ­metre surface was a mosaic by ­ Konstantin Makharadze, depicting marching Red ­ ­Army soldiers, an enormous ­worker, and Lenin pointing the way forward. Among the drafts from the planning phase there is also an abstract drawing. Ulti­mately, ­Tsereteli c­ reated a delicate and abstract relief ­mosaic that takes away the heaviness of the huge a­ rea. N ­ umerous diverse patterns in changing colours unfold

between protruding and receding geo­ metric forms. The height of the relief fluctuates between 20 and 80 centi­ metres, leading to a strong play of light and shadow on the façade. T­ ypologically the house is ­s trongly reminiscent of the ­Juridicum (­Faculty of Law) building in Bonn from 1967. There, a mosaic technique inspired mural by Victor V­ asarely adorns the 12 metre long, windowless façade. And there, as well as in the House of ­Political Education, well-­calculated sobriety and clarity characterise the archi­ t ecture. The interplay of trans­ parent and closed volumes, glass and art is attractive and breaks up the surface. In both buildings, art is an important design accent and also remains strong in ­i tself. Tsereteli often emphasised that he strove for unity with archi­t ecture in his works for buildings. He came closest to this goal of bringing together architecture, sculpture, painting, and vegetation in a mutually enriching way in the House of Political Education (which is today the Mosaic Business Centre).


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Source: Architektura SSSR (Architecture of the USSR), No. 3 – 4  ∕  1983


Former House of Political Education David Agmashenebelis gamziri 61 Architects: Vakhtang Abramashvili, Guram Mirianashvili, S. Melashvili, Giorgi Salukvadze Artist: Zurab Tsereteli 1978

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Decorative Wall Gulias moedani Artist: Kukuri Tsereteli Late 1960s

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National Science Library, Former Reading Room Merab Aleksidze kucha 1 ∕ 4 Architects: Giorgi Lejava, Ilia Liberman Artist: Nugzar Medzmariashvili 1968 – 1971

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The large wall mosaic in the f­ormer ­reading room of the National Science L ibrary presents an interpretation of ­ the myth of Prometheus. In Soviet ­iconog­raphy, the image of the romantic ­fighter from Greek ­m ythology, who brought ­humanity fire and with it civilisation, stood for emancipation, the liberation from superstition, and the conscious redesigning of life. In this way the ­legend embodied the new ­S oviet people. At the centre of the mo­s aic are the blazing fire, two oversized h ­uman hands, and an open book, a symbol of knowledge and enlightenment. Attracted by

the p­ ower of the flames, men and w ­ omen move from the right and left towards the middle of the picture. Though the b­ asic idea can be deduced quite q­ uickly, the details throw up some puzzles for the v iewer. Should the two halves of the ­ ­zodiac seen at the centre of the wall point out that ­ P rometheus was supposed to have taught ­h­umans astronomy? Are the cryptic a­ ttributes of the figures shown to indicate their jobs? The wide open eye over the book references ­Christian i­conography – the eye of God above holy scripture. In combination with the subdued tones of the mosaic surface, which is pun­ ­ c tuated by bright, colourful accents, the i­mage ­itself creates a magical, contemplative effect that draws in the beholder. The work as a whole is intended to unambiguously help c­ reate a symbolic space that attunes the visitor with the sublime and the spiritual.


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Former Institute for Engineering Anna Politkovskaias kucha 9 Artist ⁄ year unknown

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The entrance to this building (today Sokhumi State University) has a colourful mosaic on each side. Portraying tech­ nology in the service of nature in an ­almost playful manner, the two artworks ­subvert the soberness of the former engineering research institute. Everything in the images flows, curves, and bends: the undulating lawn from which the curling vines rise, the silhouettes of the snowcapped mountains in the distance, and even the backs of the mechanics. As the figures in them have austere, angular ­f aces and an upright posture, the mo­s aics seem to be an ironic interpretation of depictions of Socialist heroes. For a suit­ able comparison, see the mosaics at ­E xpo Georgia (020) or the former f­oundry at ­4 4 Marneuli Street (023). Here, though, we see anti-­heroes who appear to have come straight out of a cartoon.

In 1941, the Tbilisi Pioneer Palace (­today the National Youth and Children’s P­ alace) was housed in the former ­ Vorontsov ­P alace. Built in 1807 and then rebuilt in 1869 by the German Renaissance ­Revival architect Otto Simonson, the palace was originally the residence and ­ reception building for the Russian governor of the Caucasus, Count Mikhail Semyonovich ­Vorontsov (1782 – 1856). It was laid out in a ­fittingly prestigious manner: behind the respectable façades lies an ­enfilade with lavishly designed rooms, which still shine in their (restored) splendor. Since the archi­tecture of the palace had to con­ sider the whole complex – from the imposing main front on today’s Schota ­Rustaveli Boulevard to the steep ground slope of the rear area – the front to the west fell significantly lower. A two-storey service building in the immediate v­ icinity of the main building completes the ensemble. There, hidden in a backyard and ­largely unnoticed by visitors is this mo­ saic, which depicts two young traffic assistants. In 1973, at the highest level of the ­Soviet ­Union state – the central council of the communist youth u­ nion organisation ­ Komsomol, the Ministry of the Interior, and the ­Ministry of Edu­c ation – ­adopted a decree establishing troops of young traffic officers. The objectives of this order were to promote road s­afety and to stren­ g then general ­ education on the subject. In the following years, companies of these young officers were formed across the ­Soviet Union, with the troops eventually developing into a mass movement. These assistants to the traffic police each received their own uniform and badge. The first posts were filled by students recruited from those who visited the Pioneer P­ alaces. The mosaic at the Tbilisi Pioneer Palace may have ­arisen from this innovation, though the exact


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circumstances of its creation are unclear. Its ­ relatively small area and unobtrusive location suggest that this piece had a more routine function – for example, as a guide to help individuals learn mo­ saic techniques. The work also might have been a preliminary design for a ­larger work that was never realised. One factor that points towards this is the rela­t ively large and irregular stones, which were typically used for mosaics set at a ­greater distance from the viewer. The girl and boy on the ­mosaic, the young traffic officers, stand against the background of the new, modern, socialist Tbilisi. We do not see the distant past of the Vorontsov Palace – the home of the Pioneer Palace – but a sleek car, a symbol of the rapid traffic; the grid frontage of the new seat of the government; and some factory chimneys that represent the industrialisation of G ­ eorgia. Also clearly recognisable are the top station of the funicular railway built on Mount Mtatsminda in 1938 and the TV tower built in 1972 as a new landmark for the city of Tbilisi.

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Former Pioneer Palace Shota Rustavelis gamziri 6 Artist unknown 1979


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Source: the architect‘s family archive

Nursery No. 63 Shalva Nutsubidze kucha 42 Architect: Giorgi Lekvinadze Artist: Levan Mchedlidze 1980s


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Nursery No. 1

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Zakaria Paliashvilis kucha 34 Artists: Gennady Roitich, Valeri Kocharov 1985

The mosaic in the courtyard of N ­ ursery No. 1 merits a mention as it differs stylistically from all of the other mosaics in T­ bilisi. It is possible that the artists were inspired by Joan Miró’s colourful matchstick figures. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Spanish artist’s drawings were immeasurably trivialised through their use as motifs for posters, T-shirts, bookmarks, and other bizarre sundry items. The images may have reached the ­Soviet ­Union through the production of these objects. On this mo­saic in a ­T bilisi nur­ sery we can see Miró’s signature fine lines and black contours, as well as the divi­s ion of ­bodies into ­several segments through contrasting hues. The picture is of a polychromatic procession of mythical animals, atop which ride joyful children. The whole mosaic was com­pleted using only twelve shades, with some tones, such as green, com­pletely missing from the lively work.

009 B

The Neptune Sports Complex was built in 1965. Its centrepiece is the 25 metre long and 12 metre wide swimming pool, which is separated from a children’s pool by a bridge. The transparent roof over the whole complex can be opened so the ­area can be transformed from an indoor swimming hall to an outdoor one in a short time. While the wall on one side of the pool provides access to the fun­c tional rooms, the wall on the opposite side is covered with a relief mosaic. This artwork is not just the most eye-catching aspect of the sports complex; it also makes up the multi­coloured background for the relaxation area. From a sun lounger, one can contemplate the organic-looking

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Neptune Sports Complex Ilia Chavchavadze gamziri 49a Artist: attributed to Zurab Tsereteli 1980s


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abstractions. Circles, triangles, and flowing geometric shapes form fanciful, amorphous figures that can be read as fish, flowers floating on ­w ater, or tadpoles, depending on the angle of view. The design of the mosaic is just as diverse as the motif it depicts – water, an everchanging e­lement. Over the artwork’s entire length of 42 ­metres, there is not a single repetition. Along with the relief, the circular and wavy a­ rrangement of the colour-­coordinated and carefully arranged tiles makes the piece a three-­ dimensional feast for the eyes. Fortunately, the mosaic wall was treated with care and included in the reno­v ations that have taken place in recent years.


Source: R. Kiknadze family archive


010 C Leninsky Komsomol Central Water and Sports Complex Merab Kostavas kucha 34 Architect: Guram Abuladze, Ramaz Kiknadze, Shota K­ avlashvili Artist: Koka Ignatov 1976 – 1978

Plans for the construction of a l­arge swimming pool complex in a physical culture park on the right bank of the M ­ tkvari ­R iver originated in 1965. In collaboration with Ramaz Kiknadze and ­ Guram A buladze, the then-chief architect of ­ ­Tbilisi, Shota ­K avlashvili, designed the facility, which was for professional as well as amateur swimmers. Construction began in 1968 but was soon inter­r upted, ­e ventually resuming in 1976. Works then only ­ l asted two years until the grand opening, which took place in O ­ctober 1978. With its three swimming pools, striking brutalist ­t owers, grandstand for 5,500 spectators, and functional ­spaces on the three ­ lower floors, the sports complex was the first such facility in the ­C aucasus. The pool met all of the international standards and became a venue for national and international competitions. In 1982, the architects received an award for the building from the Council of ­Ministers of the ­Soviet ­Union. The entrance area on Merab ­Kostava Street is lined with local yellow tuff stone. Above that is a long, windowless façade, behind which were booths for sports commentators. A relief mosaic by Nikolai (Koka) I­gnatov adorns this façade, and it could ­likely be called the longest ornamental mo­saic in Georgia. The artist’s

designs render visible his search for a piece that does not reproduce the function of the complex in a ­banal way and that makes the e­ longated façade diverse. In 2000, the development – which was renamed ­L aguna Vere in the 1990s – has been a plaything in the hands of its various owners. In 2014, it was closed without any clear reason s­ tated. Since then, the imposing sports complex has been in a state of decay and its future uncertain. The Georgian arm of Docomomo (the International Committee for the Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement) and the ­GeoAIR platform for cultural projects at­tempted to include the site in a list of building ­heritage for preservation – but unfortun­ ately this proved unsuccessful.

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Mosaic on the north faÇade

Koka Ignatov: sketch for the north faÇade

Source: K. Ignatov family archive

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Laguna Vere, 2014

In the Soviet Union, sport was an important part of the way in which the state was represented – both outside and inside the country. Naturally, this theme found its way into art for buildings in T­ bilisi. In sports motifs in mosaics and reliefs, there is an strong impression of ­ dynamism. This could be created through a composition of geometric shapes alone, as on a wall on the Kakheti Motorway, or by the stretched figure of an athlete, as on the façade of the Tbilisi Centre for A ­ thletes (012). Usually such representations are somewhat schematic and of an almost

tortured seriousness. The three swimmers on the decorative wall in front of the National Training Centre for Olympic Reserves, on the other hand, are neither monumental nor emblematic of the state. One can only call these three charming graces representative in the sense that they were then, as now, a popular motif in product design. Not only do the three swimmers make their way through the ­w ater – the fish, sun, and octopus at the corners of the mosaic also move their fins, rays, and tentacles in tune with the arching curves of the three athletes.

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Centre for Athletes Akaki Tseretelis gamziri 95 a Kukuri ­Tsereteli 1978

011 B

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National Training Centre for Olympic Reserves Tianeti Motorway 25 Artist unknown Year unknown

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The Golden Fleece Former International Youth Recreation Centre


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013 B

In the Soviet Union there were two large tourism associations which special­ ised in receiving and looking after ­ f oreign guests. Intourist was mainly responsible for adults who visited in USSR and ­Sputnik took care of youth groups. ­Founded in 1958 as an initiative of the Komsomol youth organization, Sputnik had a clear and obvious goal: to v­ ividly demonstrate the ‘successes of the Soviet people in building communism’ to young tourists and foreigners. Both t­ ravel services maintained their own hotels, which were located near buildings of his­toric importance or natural points of in­terest and which offered services that far exceeded the local standards. The G ­ olden Fleece Youth Recreation Centre was built on a hill paral­lel to the Tbilisi Sea, an arti­ficial lake constructed in the 1950s in the north-east of the capital. The higher up sports fields and boat hire down by the

shore are both harmoniously integrated into the hillside scenery. Slippage on the sloped ground prevented the perimeter walls from being continuously adorned with mosaic – at the top are fine ceramic tiles, and below, close to the water, are luminous smalti. The character of the complex – a resort offering a diverse range of sports to young people – is underlined in the mosaic design. The maritime motifs refer to the reservoir. Reduced in a ­cubist manner and shown in movement, the figures portray the ideal of sporty young individuals living in harmony with nature. With their rhythmic dynamic, the dominant abstract forms defy the monotone quality of the wall. The mosaics are flat yet also work in combination with the projections of the reliefs – in a similar way to the design on the wall of the re­ laxation area near the swimming pool in the N ­ eptune Sports Complex (009).

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Vanatis kucha, Tbilisi Sea 1971



has served as accomodation for internally displaced persons.

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Since the 1990s the former Golden Fleece International Youth Recreation Centre



Gogilo Bathhouse

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A curious attraction awaits visitors in Tbilisi’s old town – the Sulphur Baths. Underground, below the baths, lie hot sulphur springs. It is possible that mosaic-­ decorated bath houses stood here as early as the first and second centuries. In the thirteenth century, there were 65 sulphur baths in T­bilisi. Today, the oldest one dates from the ­seventeenth  ⁄  ­e ighteenth century. Over the centuries, these bathhouses have undergone several transformations, including in the S­ oviet era and most recently during the privatisation of the 1990s and 2000s. Nonetheless, their structures have retained the typical features of Persian or ­O ttoman archi­t ecture. The brick baths are located underground, with only the characteristic hemispheres of the domes protruding from the earth. Hot steam escapes through slits and openings, and daylight enters the in­ teriors through recessed panes of glass. The exterior look of the above-ground superstructure of the former G ­ogilo Bathhouse, which was built around

the nineteenth cen­ t ury, is u­nusual: mushroom-shaped turrets with eight ­ or ten sides spring up from the ground. They have hefty shafts topped with an ­attached ‘cap’. The mo­s aic ­deco­r ation on their sur­f aces is presumably from the 1970s. The ornamentation on the ‘mushrooms’ does not seem to have had any special role m ­ odel, though when seen in connection with the colours – ­orange, blue, and green – it appears ­oriental. ­Gogilo is said to have belonged to one of the most famous bathhouse owners at the beginning of the twentieth century. ­Today, o­ nly a few remnants of his bathing empire still ­e xist. These are well hidden in the A ­ vlabari district and are best viewed from the opposite bank of the ­Mtkvari River, in the ­A banotubani district. This area – in Georgian, abano means ‘bath’, and ­ubani means ‘district’ – is where most of the Tbilisi’s sulphur baths are situ­ated. For well-preserved mosaics with a clear iconog­raphy dedi­ cated to the ­element of water, visitors are advised to go to B ­ athhouse No. 5.

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Ketevan Tsamebulis gamziri 35 Shota Kavlashvili, Ramaz Kiknadze Artist: Kukuri ­Tsereteli Reconstruction 1977

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Vake Park Fountain

015 B Ilia Chavchavadze gamziri 76 Architects: Vladimir AleksiMeskhishvili, Otar Litanishvili, Kiazo Nakhutsrishvili; Sculptor: Gogi Ochiauri (1985); Artist: Zurab ­Tsereteli (original from 1973)

This park from 1946 was originally called ‘Victory Park’, a name that stood for the solidarity of the Soviet people in the struggle against German occupation during the Second World War. Once wasteland, the area became the site for the largest greening project in ­T bilisi. The aim was to create a dignified area for remembrance in the central zone of the park. ­Accordingly, the area underwent some transformations over the following decades. A cascade was created on the 7 ­metre natural slope in the 1970s: water flowed down over several steps and collected in a ­basin, at the middle of which burned an eternal flame. In 1973, ­Zurab ­Tsereteli designed the background for the flame on the semicircular part of the basin. He created a series of

closely flying mosaic flags in red-brown tones similar to those in his mosaic at the Central Bus ­Station (028). The flags can be inter­preted as a symbol of vic­ tory, and their dense juxtaposition as representing the unity of the Soviet Republics in the fight against the enemy. Once again, here Tsereteli ­ demonstrated his ­finesse when taking on state-­sponsored tasks: he did not question the ideology, yet he also did not exaggerate ­creatively or in terms of content when expressing it. Between 1980 and 1985, the cascade was rebuilt and a vic­tory statue added at the top. T­ sereteli’s mosaics fell victim to the fountain’s redesign in 2006, when Georgian five-cross flags replaced his ­ ­reddish-­brown ones.

Original design, 1973

New design, 2014

Source: Nodar Janberidze: Zurab T­ sereteli, Tbilisi 1975

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Ilia Chavchavadze gamziri 21 Artist: Zurab ­Tsereteli 1985

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Former Tea Processing Plant, Fountain David Sarajishvilis kucha 6 Artist ∕ year unknown

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Main Office of SaGES Hydroelectic Power Co., Fountain Energetikis kucha 1 Artist ∕ year unknown

018 B

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Mziuri Park


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Decorative Wall Melani V Turn Artist unknown Year unknown

020 B Former Complex for the Exhibition of the Successes of the Georgian Economy (VDNKH); today Expo Georgia Akaki Tseretelis gamziri 118 Architects: D. Papinashvili, Levan Mamaladze, Vladimer Nasaridze, W. Peykrishvili 1960 – 1971

Artists: Guram Kalandadze, 1961 Leonardo Shengelia, 1963 Aliko Gorgadze, Tezo Asatiani, 1960s Kukuri Tsereteli, 1970s

The building works for the Exhibition of the Successes of the Georgian E­ conomy (VDNKH) in Tbilisi began in 1960 and lasted around 11 years. The unremarkable industrial district of Didube-­ Chugureti was to be upgraded; a new well-designed area was to bring some green to the previously dusty spaces; and the fairs, conferences, and events held in the development were to attract local and international visitors. At the same time, the days of the ­P avilion of the Georgian SSR on the Moscow site of the Exhibition of the ­Successes of the USSR Economy – a 1930s neo-­c lassical Stalinist building overloaded with ­ façades, columns, and porticoes – came to an end; it was demolished in 1965. Just five years after Khrushchev’s momentous decree on eliminating the ex­ cesses in planning and building, the

VDNKH in Tbilisi set the standard for a completely ­d ifferent archi­t ectural style: light, straight­f orward, open, and with a few deliberately used, dominant features such as the arch above the main pavilion. ­ O ther accents, consisting of sculptures and works of art intel­ligently placed in the v­ icinity of the p­ avilion, helped guide strolling visitors along charming paths between small ponds and lush g­ reenery. It is in this context that the mo­s aics should be considered. They are part of a com­p ositional whole: different lines of sight create new perspectives on the artworks themselves, as well as on the landscape and architectural context. The stylistic diversity of the mo­s aics – from abstract (poorly preserved at present) to lavish, exag­gerated real­ism (seen in the ­Terrace Restaurant in ­Pavilion No. 3) and a streamlined,

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Source: L. Shengelia’s private archive


reduced figurativeness (seen in P­ avilion No. 8) – shows that no one aesthetic had to be followed here. Only the ‘serious­ ness of the subject matter’ and the appropriateness for the location had to be considered. In terms of content, the themes presented correspond to the modern programme: science and technology are at the heart. These subjects take on a playful, fantastical note at the location where the successes of ­S oviet space travel take c­ entre stage. The representations – often referred to as the ‘dreams of the com­munists’, based on the title of a work by the East G ­ erman artist Walter W ­ omacka – shift the f­ocus from socialism’s achievements to human­ity’s bright future. ­ L unar rovers, ­ sputniks, spaceships, and ‘tamed’ ­a toms surround human figures – and in between extend the in­finitely wide spheres of the unexplored. The Acapulco design chairs, which the current tenants of P­ avilion No. 8 put on the terrace in front of the mosaic in good weather, a­lso act as a symbol today – a reference to another former place of longing: Mexico.

Expo Georgia, Pavilion No. 8, artist: Leonardo Shengelia, 1971

Science and Technology



Science and Technology




Science and Technology

74 Expo Georgia, Pavilion No. 3, artist: Guram Kalandadze, 1971


021 B

The architectural structure of the ­f ormer laboratory building for the Ministry of Forestry (today the Georgian ­ National Assessments and Examinations Centre) – a horizontal connecting to a vertical – is extremely simple and its grid of windows even verges on being monotonous. A tall, narrow strip of mosaic above the entrance breaks up this uniformity and provides the viewer with a clue to the previous use of the building. The work by an unknown artist depicts a fairytale scene. At the centre is a tree, a symbol as well as the habitat for human beings, plants, and animals. The ­various different costumes on the figures suggest that there is an instructive aspect to the imagery: the diverse natural and cul­ tural landscape is home to many different peoples and e­ thnic groups – and even ­includes mythical characters.

Science and Technology


Former Laboratory Building for the Ministry of Forestry Elizbar Mindelis kucha 9 Architect: Levan Jandieri Artist unknown 1980

The decorative mosaics on the façade of the administrative building of the T­ bilisi TV Broadcasting Tower may be the last such work of the Soviet era. The v­ iewer’s focus is directed towards the dark-grey, three-dimensional group of figures made of metal. The vibrant relief mo­s aics form a kind of frame – a colourful contrast to the cool, monochrome ­metal. On ­closer inspection – possible from the fence at the side – the image has a certain h ­ umour to it. Cosmonauts in heavy space suits float on the left and right sides of the


022 C

façade. In between, a young couple and a youthful family can be seen – com­ pletely naked and with their physicality emphasised. Looking at the figures from below involun­ t arily makes the v­iewer ­into a ­voyeur. Just as the cosmonauts at the sides are stripped of their ter­r itory, the people at the centre of the work are removed from time: they could belong to Christian iconography, but also to a perpetual socialist universe, where the ­ erotic is clearly seen as socially ­acceptable in ­public spaces.

Science and Technology


Administrative Building of the Tbilisi TV Broadcasting Tower Mtatsminda Park Architect ∕ artist unknown; 1986


Industry 023 B


Former Foundry Marneulis kucha 44 Artist: Iden Tabidze 1970s




Art on the faรงade of a former foundry in Marneuli Street, Tbilisi; artist: Iden Tabidze






The Microelectronics Research ­Institute, with its affiliated production plant ­Mioni, was one of the elite facilities where high-tech electronic components were ­developed for purposes that included the military industry. Mioni provided an excellent working environment and a variety of leisure activities for employees, as well as first-rate infrastructure with apartments, an in-house nursery, and recreation facilities outside of Tbilisi. Of course, no expense was spared when ­decorating the main building. Kukuri Tsereteli’s vibrant

watercolour design with its prevailing blue tones was translated almost unchanged into a ­mo­saic. The image is of a fascinating world of tech­nology, in which easily recognisable symbols of progress and abstract elements are c­losely interwoven. The results of t­ ech­nological innovations – blocks of flats, a hydro­electric power station, and a space ­rocket – are presented not as a ­banal picture of the achievements of a particular social o­ rder, but as a work of human reason itself. ­Today, various tenants use the building.


024 B

Source: the artist’s family archive

Original sketch by Kukuri Tsereteli, 1970 (above), and detail photographs (below)

Former Microelectronics Research Institute and Mioni Electronic Plant Akaki Beliashvilis kucha 8 Artist: Kukuri Tsereteli; 1970s



025 B

Former Shoe Factory Kakheti Motorway 67 Artist unknown End of the 1980s

026 B

Former Gantiadi Furniture Factory Kindzmaraulis kucha 5 Artist ⁄ year unknown

027 B


Mitana Factory Giorgi Chkondidelis kucha 26 Artist unknown End of the 1980s





Source: Nodar Janberidze: Zurab Tsereteli, Tbilisi 1975



Photo from 1973

Central Bus Station Dmitri Gulias kucha 1 Architects: Shota Kavlashvili, Vladimer Kurtishvili, Ramaz Kiknadze Artist: Zurab Tsereteli 1973

028 C

The elegant reception building for the Central Bus Station in the O ­ rtachala district was completed in 1973. It is composed of simplified forms. An elon­gated roof, cantilevered on every side, holds together two different-sized cubes of ­ concrete and glass. The windowless façade oriented towards the bus stops was ­g iven a relief mosaic designed by ­Zurab T­sereteli. Wheels are the primary motif: small and large, as parts of classic cars (the main objects shown), or as standalone items to draw the eye. In addition, two not quite so circular hot air balloons are integrated into the composition. All of the presented objects have rounded, almost organic forms. One could almost name the composition ‘All About Wheels’ if there were not already a classic story­book by Ali M ­ itgutsch from 1975 with the title. Zurab Tsereteli skillfully plays with a variety of shades of ­orange

and brown – a typical 1960s colour combination whose popu­larity did not stop at the Iron Curtain. The play of colours supports the lively, dynamic feel. ­However, the mosaic’s motif seems ­r ather ­antiquated and does not quite fit with the bright, transparent, and modern station building. A look at the bus station in ­Kiev in Ukraine – constructed in 1963 and decorated entirely with mosaics inside – ­illustrates the dif­ferences. In Kiev, the representation of traffic is even more ­abstract: new, modern means of transport dart over the mosaic walls in the form of silhouettes; the interplay of architecture and art is much s­tronger. By contrast, Tsereteli’s relief mosaic, with its irregular contours and rectangular cutouts, looks like a brooch pinned onto a collar, albeit a very ­pretty one. From the terrace at the back of the bus station one can see the mosaic at ­Ortachala Fire Station (030).




Original sketch by Givi Kervalishvili, 1981


029 C

Source: Kote Natsvlishvili’s collection

Saburtalo Fire Station Sulkhan Tsintsadze kucha 6 Artist: Givi Kervalishvili 1980s





Source: Kote Natsvlishvili’s collection




030 C

In the Catholic and Orthodox ­Churches, the patron saint of firefighters is Saint Florian. Often depicted as ­larger than life, he protects the village shown ­e ither at his feet or in the background and pours water out of a bucket over a burning church and houses. The main mo­s aic on the façade of Ortachala Fire Station contains religious reverence ­ and/or creates a new guardian: a gigan­ tic, energetic fireman is poised at a moment of high tension, holding flickering flames in his hands. ­Behind him, a pano­ rama of Tbilisi stretches out. Buildings from various historical ­p eriods can be clearly identified: the Sioni Cathedral,

erected between 575 and 639; the Metekhi Church from the thirteenth ­ century; the top station of the furnicular railway built in 1938; the ­Rustaveli ­National Theatre from 1887; the ­Opera and Ballet Theatre from 1896; the Georgian branch of the Marx-Engels­ Lenin Institute con­structed from 1936 to 1938 (today the Baltimore Hotel); the so-called ‘Eleven-storey House’ from 1939; the Tbilisi circus building from 1940; the Palace of Sports from 1961; the former Iveria Hotel from 1967 (today the ­R adisson Blu Iveria Hotel ); and the ­Boris Paichadze N ­ ational Stadium completed in 1967 (now the ­Boris Paichadze ­D inamo Arena). Fantastical architecture can a­ lso be seen. This does not represent concrete buildings but picks out design elements typical in Tbilisi. It is striking that ostensibly prestigious buildings

are represented in this depiction of the city. This picturesque juxtaposition of ­ Persian, ­ B yzantine, classicist, and modernist architectures updates the ­ ­t opos of T­ bilisi as a metro­p olis between the ­Orient and the ­Occident, perpetuating an image that has been ­handed down for centuries through books, letters, and pictures. The depiction strengthens

the creation of an identity for this city in the C­aucasus, whose size, wealth, and ­h istory form the basis for modern p olitical and cul­ ­ t ural aspirations. To avoid discussions with security guards about entering the grounds of the the fire station, visitors can enjoy the mosaic from the back terrace of the neighbouring Central Bus Station (028).




Ortachala Fire Station Vakhtang Gorgasalis kucha 34 Artist: Givi Kervalishvili 1979


031 B

Former Railway Depot Kakheti Motorway 5 Artist: Malkhaz Gorgadze 1982

032 B



Car Repair Garage No. 16 Merab Kostavas kucha 106 ∕  Kakheti Motorway Artist ∕ year unknown

Source: artist’s private archive

Original sketches by Radish Tordia, 1979 (top and below); photo from 2014.

Archive photo from the 1980s

Tbilisi has had an underground since 1966. The fact that this was the fourth metro built in the Soviet Union underlines the importance that the ­Kremlin attached to the capital of the C­ aucasus. However, the design for this subway was less grandiose than that of those in ­Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. In 1979, a second line was opened in Tbilisi, and was even clearer in structure and simpler in terms of decor. Only the front ends of the underground stations were adorned with large decorative murals, reliefs, embossed metal, and mosaics. Not all of these works survived the modernisation of the subway which took place at the beginning of the 1990s. The platform of the Polytechnic Institute Underground Station (now the Technical University; ­Teqnikuri Universiteti in Georgian) was covered by a column-free vaulted ceiling with a cellular pattern. In this way, large, easy to discern areas were created at each end of the station. In them, elaborate mosaic pictures with inte­ grated sculptures were developed. The subject of these works referred to the nearby


Polytechnic Institute. It shows young people in a para­disiacal landscape, d­ oing research, performing creative activities, working in the agricultural sector, exercising, or simply relaxing outdoors. In this world, paranormal pheno­ mena and tangible scientific knowledge coexist peacefully side by side, and things imposed by communism sit alongside universal emancipatory ideas: winged cosmo­nauts and winged ­horses, ­churches and angels, dolphins, and single-­ sex pairs who appear as equals. It is an infinite space of unlimited possibilities. This image was by no means uncontroversial in the Artists’ Union, as Radish ­Tordia, one of the artists responsible for the work, recalls. The group of four artists – Iden Tabidze, Radish Tordia, Apolon Kharebeva, and Tamaz T­skhomelidze – succes­ s fully resisted the proposals to show a fist, a ­p istol, or a spear in order to give the picture a clear revolutionary impetus. They also found a ­clever way to compensate for the shortcomings of the smalti they were g­ iven: in a com­plicated firing process, they themselves produced the twenty-eight shades necessary from the existing nine. All of the tiles are small, delicate, and l­ightly r­ounded. Under a particular lighting scheme – ­ a concept by the artists – the colours of the mosaic should impres­s ively come into their own, but the relevant authorities cur­rently lack the will to implement this.


Source: the artist’s private archive


033 C Technical University Underground Station Merab Kostavas kucha 73 ∕  Pekinis gamziri 4 Artists: Iden Tabidze, Radish Tordia, Apolon Kharebeva, Tamaz Tskhomelidze 1979





034 B



Former Police Academy M. Ippolitov-Ivanovs kucha 22 Artist unknown Year unknown



The 1970 master plan for Tbilisi formed the basis for the construction of the Gldani microraion (or microdistrict) in the north-west of the city. The plan scheduled the development of a central axis in the direction of the Tbilisi Sea. Today, Gldani, with its 430,000 inhabitants, is the largest microraion in the Georgian capital. Exiting the underground at Akhmetelis Teatri (­Akhmeteli Theatre) Station, the last stop on the Akhmeteli-Varketili Line, one immediately notices a prefabricated building with brown-beige stone cladding and shortly afterwards the top of a residential building ornamented in bright blue. The districts emerged at the beginning of the 1970s and repre­sented friendship between nations. The nine-­ storey residential buildings are each supposed to represent a Soviet Republic by reproducing something characteristic of it: brown tuff references to ­Armenia; four housing blocks dec­orated with mo­s aic evoke ­Uzbekistan; two narrow bars of Azerbaijani provenance span the elongated blocks that symbolise ­Moscow and the Ukraine. The designs for the U ­ zbek façade mosaics come from

the artist Nikolai Sharski, who at that time worked in Tashkent, and who designed over 200 façades for the capital of the U ­ zbek ­S oviet Socialist Republic. In 1966, a devastat­ing earthquake damaged Tashkent. The city’s subsequent transformation into a ­S oviet model city facilitated a special state programme, under which thousands of architects, civil engineers, and builders from all over the Soviet Republics were sent to the Uzbek capital. Out of gratitude and solidarity, residential blocks were erected in ­T bilisi. In 1972, the periodical ­Architektura SSSR published i­mages of new buildings in Tashkent which were strikingly similar to those in Tbilisi: these edifices featured oriental-­looking ornamentation on the front ends and patterned concrete ­p anels for the loggia screens. However, critics complained of the ‘over­p owering refinement’ of the buildings and advised against employing them too fre­quently in a street. At any rate, in ­T bilisi, o­ nly these four ornate housing blocks were constructed. Mo­ saic as a decorative ­e lement on residential housing is ­a typical for a ­Georgian metropolis and is seldom seen.


035 B Housing Blocks Omar Khizanishvilis kucha 49–52 Artist: Nikolai Sharski 1973




Housing block with Uzbek decor on the faÇade, in the Gldani microraion of Tbilisi


Soviet Modernist Mosaics in the Regions

Culture and Education


Sport and Health


Leisure and Relaxation










< Ferroalloy Plant, Zestaponi, artist: Demur Basheleishvili, 1981

Black Sea and the peculiarities of the ­Adjarian ­Autonomous Soviet ­Socialist Republic (Adjarian ASSR; now known as Adjara or the Autonomous R ­ ­epublic of Adjara): ­anglers and a worker from an oil processing plant greet passers-­ by, amateur sportspeople train outdoors, and l­adies take their large hats out for a walk. The rural idyll encom­ passes graceful tea pickers and dashing gen­ tlemen in ­Adjarian costumes performing ­t rad­itional dances. In the mosaic on the former house of culture in Tskhvarichamia, musical instruments and masks embedded in the billowing fabric of a stage curtain refer to the function of the building. Some thea­ tres were intended to be mixed-use buildings. This was the case in the former ­K aribche Cinema in Mtskheta: here, a ­c inema hall and a collection of archaeological finds were united under one roof. The ­c inema is now closed, but the archaeological museum remains open to visitors today. Inside, the mosaics depict scenes from Berikaoba (improvised folk theatre performed in masks). The architecture of the former cinema in Bolnisi takes a more modern form, meaning the mo­saics on the façades appear anachronistic at first glance. However, the work conjures up the traditions of the surrounding area. In contrast, the Memorial to the Great Patriotic War in Arboshiki – one of the few memorials of such dimensions in the countryside – reminds the viewer of more recent local history. This monument is ­located on a hill near the village cemetery. In the mosaic on the exterior, a Red ­Army soldier with stern, coarse features casts his gaze down over the com­munity. Inside, another mosaic adds a touch of compassion: against the backdrop of a waving red flag, ­Soviet soldiers, a pietà, and a standing ­f emale figure symbolising vic­tory make up an ­allegory of struggle, grief, and ­optimism.

Culture and Education

Under the USSR’s city planning policies, the development of regional town centres was given high priority. The periodi­ cal ­Architektura SSSR regularly published arti­cles on the character and design of centres for small towns and villages. One of the important components of this point was the house of culture or, more specifically, the village club. If t­ oday the remnants of these cultural institutions, with their seemingly oversized presence in regional areas, surprise, then this is m ­ ainly due to the shrinking of the structurally weak regions over the last decades and less to a supposed gigantomania of socialist urban planning. The idea of the Soviet house of culture goes back to the social reform movements of nineteenth-century industrialised Europe, which aimed to offer workers access to education, cultural participation, and the opportunity for gatherings outside of the church and the public house. Under socialism, in these h ­ ouses ­workers were to be introduced to culture, in the form of creative leisure activities, in ­order to discover their hidden potential and to improve themselves – an objective formulated in the spirit of the Enlight­en­ment. Furthermore, there, individuals could learn about local folklore and trad­itions, albeit within a politi­ cally justifiable framework. The mission of the ­houses of culture is reflected in the themes of the art on their buildings. In the ­imagery, l­ocal customs, festivals, and attractions, as well as representational aspects of r­ egional crafts, are as­ sociated with the modern, creative person. For exam­ple, in the mosaic inside the Railway Workers’ Association House of Culture in Khashuri shows the pros­perity of the country being built, while also picturing regional wine and fruit. In Batumi, the mosaics of the house of culture in Gogol Street portray the sophisticated flair of the port city on the


Culture and Education



036 A

The bearded old man at the centre of this mosaic represents Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (1658–1725), an Enlightenment philosopher, diplomat, and monk who came from a village in the area. Below him are sights from around the region. The story told in the mosaic was edited: it presents the image of an unbroken Georgian identity in the locality while ignoring the founding of the place by Swabian emigrants in 1818.

037 A Former Karibche Cinema Mtskheta Architects: F. Andguladze, K. Memanishvili, Gia Tskhakaia, Grigol Jabua Artists: Irakli Gabashvili, Vladimir Gelashvili, Rodam Melikidze, Romuald Tsukhishvili 1973

Culture and Education

Former Cinema Bolnisi Artist: Vazha Mishveladze 1984



038 A

Railway Workers’ Association House of Culture Khashuri Artist unknown; 1975

039 A

Culture and Education

Former House of Culture Tskhvarichamia Artist unknown Year unknown



040 A

House of Culture Gogolis kucha, Batumi Artist: David Mgeladze, Merab Tabagua; 1980s

041 D

Culture and Education

Amphitheatre Central Park, Poti Artist unknown Year unknown


Culture and Education

126 Interior of the house of culture in Batumi (David Mgeladze, Merab Tabagua, 1980s)


042 A

Culture and Education


Memorial to the Great Patriotic War Arboshiki Artist unknown; 1970s

043 A

State School Viktor Dolidze kucha 27 Ozurgeti Artist unknown; 1975

045 A

State School Makhinjauri Artist: Vazha Bjalava, Zaur Tsuladze; 1980s

044 A

State School Rukhi Artist unknown Year unknown

046 A

Culture and Education



State School Khulo Artist unknown Year unknown


047 A

Culture and Education


Nursery Naruja Artist unknown 1970s


048 A

Culture and Education


Nursery Natanebi Artist unknown 1970s

Culture and Education



with it they should continue the race. The brashness of this ‘You can do it!’ message is tempered by the runner’s r­ather more shallow surroundings: various implements from sports played by a­mateurs in their free time are scattered over a vibrant landscape. Both the main mo­saic and the narrow mosaic strip at the opposite end are more likely to r­ efer to the ­uses of the buildings than to be serious and insistent calls for people to engage in physical activity. By contrast, the mosaics on the building belonging to today’s Rustavi International Motorpark played a much more ideo­logically charged role. The track in Rustavi, a city 20 kilometres from Tbilisi, opened in 1978. The USSR’s champion­ship races were held there u­ ntil 1989. In the Soviet Union, car racing enjoyed some popularity, but in g­ eneral motor­sport led a shadowy existence in the USSR’s sport system. However, a regional branch of the Volunteer Society for ­Cooperation with the Army, Air Force, and Navy (­DOSAAF) managed to erect this track on its base in Rustavi. As members of DOSAAF, a mass organisation ‘promoting patriotism and preparing for military service’, young people could engage in coveted activities such as motorsport, gliding, sky­ diving, sport shooting, or amateur radio. DOSAAF was the successor ­organisation to ­OSOAVIAKhIM, the Union of ­Societies of Assistance to Defence and Aviation-­ Chemical Construction, which existed from 1927 to 1948. Both acronyms can be seen in the mosaic on the left wing of the building on the racetrack. The por­t rayals emphasise the contribution both associations made to defending the country and socialism through the training of the younger generation for the ­Soviet air force, a­ rmy, and n ­ avy. Con­versely, the mosaic on the right wing of the building’s shows the motor­sport of the time in ­dynamic, almost ­f uturistic ­images.

Sport and Health

‘The flags of Soviet sport wave ­higher! The step from one record to the next is faster! We came from fields and factories; the strength of our people lies in our muscles!’ goes a 1951 song known as the March of the Physical Culturists. This song expresses the idea at the core of the state’s attitude to exercise: as a mass fitness movement, physical training was supposed to cultivate sections of the population and promote the development of a Soviet identity. In the ­early years of the USSR and until the end of the Stalin era, people who were toughened up through sport were regarded as indispensable in the fight against the foreign ­enemy. ­L ater, Olympic ⁄ international successes of Soviet athletes were supposed to demonstrate the superiority of their system over the West. However, the fitness movement in Soviet mass society was an expression of, if not quite ­equality, then at least the similarities between genders. Visual communication placed an important role in this. Enormous financial resources were made available for the propa­ganda of physical culture and sport. It is therefore no wonder that sport-based motifs also feature in art for architecture. Examples of mosaics in sports and health facilities in the regions of Georgia illustrate the various approaches to popularising exercise. For the working people of the paper mill in Zugdidi, the capital of the Mingrelia-Upper Svaneti (Samegrelo-­ Zemo Svaneti) region in the west of the country, a house of culture and a sports complex were built near one another. At the centre of the main mo­saic on the façade of the sports complex is a muscular runner. Against a colourful background of flags with no ­specific club or state affiliation, he raises the O ­ lympic flame in his hand over a wide running track that leads directly to the ­v iewer. If seen under a symbolic ­analogy, the torch should be taken by the viewer and


Sport and Health

Autodrome Rustavi Artist unknown 1980s

050 A


049 A

Sport and Health


Sports Complex David Janashias kucha 2, Zugdidi Artist ⁄ year unknown

Sport and Health



concrete elements were erected in an earthquake prone ­area. The synthesis of (modernist) architecture, art for buildings, and sculptures in public spaces led the way for the projects that followed. Favoured building types were those that were produced in series and did not immediately catch the eye. The outward appearance was supposed to be simple yet expressive; the spatial planning unified and easy to read yet comfortable. The integration of architecture into nature, or rather, into topography, was considered important because, through this, harmony between the natural and the built was constituted. To an extent, art on buildings also reconciled harsh modernist forms with the lush surrounding landscape and the desire for a cosy home away from home. In pleasing images, the mosaics show not only the typical socialist subjects, such as the remarkable results of human creative work, but also the beauty of Georgia’s nature and its picturesque costumes and traditions. Ter­ restrial animals, fish, and, oc­c asionally, mythological creatures delight the eye of the beholder. These decorations come without difficult to interpret symbolism and pathos. Only in the mo­saics of the ­pioneer camps did the children, in their red scarves and other pio­neer garb, ­remember that, beyond the bliss of their holiday, everyday life in the Soviet U ­ nion, with its formal procedures and other impositions, still existed. The Soviet concept of a comfortable, beautified place included ‘small architectural forms’: flowerpots, ‘bus pavilions’, and little decorative walls with and w ­ ithout a function. We e­ncounter this bizarre, mosaic-decorated ­ species in ­ A bastumani, at the D ­olphinarium at B ­ atumi, in a children’s play park in Gagra, and in the animal sculptures in a recreational park in Rustavi. Unfortunately, though, today’s images of these once-magnificent leisure and recreation facilities in many places reveal rundown buildings and damaged mosaics.

Leisure and Relaxation

In this chapter we encounter mosaics in resorts that are both still in use and no longer functioning, sanatoriums, parks, and young pioneer camps. Because of the favourable climate and the multitude of thermal and mineral springs, there were already many fashionable resorts in G ­ eorgia by the nineteenth century. ­During the Soviet era, the ­nomenklatura (the USSR’s bureaucratic elite) relaxed in stately homes from the times of the Tsars and in modern luxury villas. Rest and ­recuperation for ordinary people was ­also taken care of. According to a statement from 1972, ‘By freeing working ­people from exploitation, socialism affirmed their right to free time. It creates the a­ ppropriate conditions for the exercising of this right.’ Government investment in rec­reational buildings steadily increased from the mid-1950s onwards. With the increasing industrialisation of the building trade, the location and number of these establishments multiplied. The possibilities introduced by prefabrication and standardisation accelerated the construction of new facilities for tourists. The success of these places within G ­ eorgia itself, as well as their international recognition, had, in turn, an effect on the construction programme for health and recreation resorts. With its climatic diversity and attractive landscapes, ­Georgia was predestined for the development of a network of sanatoriums. For every ailment there was a location with the wondrous, healing forces of nature: in A ­ bastumani a­ sthma and anaemia were treated; in Tskaltubo rheumatism and allergies were helped; and the mineral water of Borjomi, with its high iron content, was supposed to combat disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, the liver, and the ­pancreas. Created in the 1960s, the spa complex in Bichvinta (­P itsunda) on the Black Sea – the biggest in the USSR – was cele­brated as manifesting a new engineering and archi­tectural expression. For the first time, 15-­s torey spa buildings made of prefabricated


Leisure and Relaxation

Restaurant in 1967

Bar in 1967 (top) and 2017 (above)


with deer antlers, and prancing people in brown-orange and blue-green. The image of a well-built yak (pre­sumably) in a restaurant hall reveals remarkable combinations of different mo­ s aic techniques: through the use of round p ieces, the depiction of the animal ­ stands out from the background. Motifs of ­u­nusual beasts and schematic human figures ­b ecame Tsereteli’s q­ uickly recognisable script – later the artist used it in a modified form in the design for the trade union building and the Aragvi ­Res­t aurant in Tbilisi. He never made use of the c­ anon of ‘recommended’ symbols for art on buildings – such as friendship between nations, peace, and socialist achievements – but he often replicated his own forms and subjects.

Leisure and Relaxation

The design for the art at the resort of ­B ichvinta was Zurab T­ sereteli’s first big commission – and it made him f­ amous in one fell swoop. In the late 1950s, it was decided in ­Moscow that the settlement at Bichvinta, in A ­ bkhazia, on the Black Sea, should be expanded ­into a ­na­t ional spa resort. Over the decades that followed, a series of ambitious ­v illas for the Party elite, as well as ­s even 15-­s torey apartment buildings – borrowing from

assembled a team of artists, crafts­ people, and sculptors. The façade of each apartment house was provided with its own emblem – each one embossed in metal and thus individualised. In the ­v icinity of the spa buildings, contemporary sculptures and copies of well-known ancient Georgian reliefs were e­ xhibited, conveying the spirit of national cul­t ural history. Additionally, small walls were spread over the grounds. These optical design elements without any function were completely decorated with mosaic. ‘Sculptures and mosaics come together in the ensemble of the complex like a polyphonic chorus,’ praised the critics of the time. T­sereteli’s own mosaics are abstract representations of trees, birds, fish, mythical creatures

Le ­ Corbusier – for ordinary holiday­ makers, were erected in the town, which lies between pine forests and sandy beaches. Mikhail Posokhin, ­ Moscow’s chief architect and high-ranking official in the state construction industry, participated in the design for B ­ ichvinta and personally selected artists for the creation of the facility. Of course, this was also about the synthesis of all of the arts under architecture. Z­ urab ­Tsereteli was supposed to have been noticed by the guest from ­Moscow because of his ­designs for a children’s cinema. He was appointed as the key person in charge of the artistic design for this m ­ ajor project in Bichvinta. Tsereteli d­eveloped the overall concept, made drawings for the mosaics and stained glass, and Source: Oleg Shvidkovsky: Zurab Tsereteli, Moscow 1985

051 A

Source: Nodar Janberidze: Zurab T­ sereteli, Tbilisi 1975


Bichvinta (Pitsunda) Resort Pitsunda Architects: Mikhail Posokhin, Ashot Mndoyants, Vladimir Svirsky, U. Popov Artist: Zurab Tsereteli 1967

Leisure and Relaxation



Bichvinta (Pitsunda) Resort Park; built in 1967, photos from 2017


052 A

Leisure and Relaxation


The Hunt Decorative Wall Borjomi Central Park Artist: Zurab Tsereteli 1975 (restored 2018)


053 D

Leisure and Relaxation

Architects: N. Abashidze, D. Kadjaia Artists: Zaur Tsuladze, Vazha Bjalava 1974 – 1975, 2011 (reconstruction)

Source of image on page 153: Shota Davitadze: Adjara, Moscow 1986


Dolphinarium Shota Rustavelis gamziri 51, Batumi

Drawing from the original design (right); photo from the 1990s (below)

The structure of Café ­Fantasia is a grid shell on eight supports – the octopus’s arms – separated by arched openings. The iron construction was shaped and assembled dir­e ctly on site. Smalti tiles were inserted into the plastered meshwork. Other vivid and expressive sea dwellers grow out of the octopus structure: dolphins (the symbol of Batumi), seahorses, starfish, sea snakes, and fish. The city council’s intention to sell the café in the interests of an investor led to nationwide protests. Café ­Fantasia is one of the few examples where Georgian civil society managed to take a stand against the authorities. The café is currently being recon­structed and is expected to reopen in 2019.


Café Fantasia in Batumi is often called the ‘Octopus’ because of its u­nusual ­shape. After an eight month construc­ tion period, it opened in 1980, and quickly gained a renown that spread far beyond Georgia’s borders. The café even made it into a film, an episode of the popular Soviet comedy from 1984 entitled Love and Doves (original Russian ­t itle: Lyubov i golubi). The chief architect for the sculptural structure was George Chakhava, who is known to Western connoisseurs of Soviet modernist architecture primarily through the Ministry of Highway Construction administrative building in Tbilisi. Chakhava appears to have had a fondness for finicky technical solutions and playful structures.

Leisure and Relaxation

054 D

Source: Z. Kapanadze’s family archive


Former Café Fantasia Batumi Boulevard Architect: George Chakhava in collaboration with Zurab Jalaghania Artist: Zurab Kapanadze 1980

Café Fantasia in the 1980s Source: Shota Davitadze: Adjara, Moscow 1986

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Original sketches

Leisure and Relaxation

Source: Z. Kapanadze’s family archive




Leisure and Relaxation

Source: Otia Ioseliani: Tskhaltubo, Tskhaltubo, undated


055 A Former Aia Sanatorium Guramishvilis kucha 2, Tskaltubo Architects: F. Quparashvili, R. Kakhashvili, Ts. Khufarashvili, M. Chutkerashvili 1970 – 1985


057 A Former Mountain Valley Sanatorium Borjomi Architect: Ioseb (Soso) Zaalishvili Artist unknown 1984

Leisure and Relaxation


Former Sakartvelo Sanatorium 056 A Tskaltubo Architects: Merab Chkhenkeli, Rezo Janashia Artist unknown 1974 – 1983


Leisure and Relaxation


Children’s Play Park Gagra Artist: probably Zurab Tsereteli Year unknown

058 A


Leisure and Relaxation


Source: S. Ghambashidze’s family archive

Decorative Wall Abastumani Artist: Zaurmag Ghambashidze 1970s

059 A

Original sketch from the artist‘s archive


060 A

Leisure and Relaxation


Fountain Kobuleti Artist unknown Year unknown


061 A

Leisure and Relaxation


Former Administration IV Government Sanatorium Likani Artist: probably Zurab Tsereteli 1980s


062 A

Leisure and Relaxation


Recreational Park Shota Rustavelis kucha 32, Rustavi Artist ⁄ year unknown

Former Teahouse Nikeas kucha 44, Kutaisi Artist: Nodar Malazonia 1987

064 A


063 A

Leisure and Relaxation


Former Tsiskari Pioneer Camp Tskhvarichamia Artist ⁄ year unknown

Original sketch Source: N. Malazonia’s private archive

Leisure and Relaxation



plant in Zestaponi, the wine factory in Akhmeta). Regardless of their role, the women are richly endowed with feminine attributes and graceful postures, with full hair, curved eyebrows, and, above all, clearly accentuated breasts. A comment on the stereo­typical male gaze cannot be resisted here, since the artists were ­e xclusively male. As the majority of factories and production facilities no longer operate ­today, their mosaics bear eloquent witness to the cultural history of work in ­Soviet ­Georgia. They show how clear the gender roles were in many professions. ­Women were m ­ ainly employed on the tea plantations and in the tobacco industry. On the façade of the former tea fac­ tory in ­K akhati, for instance, tea pickers in large hats wander leisurely through the fields and effortlessly stoop down to the plants. In the mosaic at the tobacco factory in B ­ atumi, three women hold a string threaded with tobacco leaves like a decorative necklace. Conversely, the mo­ saic on the ferro­alloy plant in Zestaponi ­underlines men’s heavy work at the ovens and in the workshops. Another significant detail of this cul­tural history is the emphasis on inventions: a Russian inscription, ‘­A skangel F’, is incorporated into the mosaic on the façade of the former askanite processing plant in Ozurgeti. Askanite is a natural clay mineral blend, which is named after the place where it was found in western G ­ eorgia and which was mined from the 1950s onwards. At the beginning of the twentieth cen­ tury, Askangel was used as a clarifying and precipitating agent in wine­making; the ‘F’ ­probably stands for the name of the product’s ­inventor, ­F ilatov. Only twice does one encounter a design variant that is indispensable in contemporary façade designs – the advertisement: in the chic logo of the Georgian tobacco industry on the façade of the ­tobacco fac­tory in Batumi and in the surprising multi-­lingual mosaic at the former tea factory in Tsalenjikha.


Under the Soviet Union’s industrialisation policy, between 1921 and 1990, the ­Soviet Republic of Georgia transitioned from an underdeveloped agricultural a­ rea to a state with a developed industrial sector and an efficient agricultural ­economy. New industries were established, including chemical and petro­ chemical, and electronic, energy, and mechanical engineering. Light manufacturing and ­ the food industry brought in substantial revenues for the state budget. In 1990, industry made up almost 60 per cent of ­Georgia’s gross national product. According to statistics, about 1,200 indus­trial enterprises existed in Georgia shortly ­before independence. With their windowless, or ­ practically window­ less, grey façades, new industrial buildings were perfectly suited to carrying generous, creative images – ­spatially as well as financially. Commissions for art for industrial buildings were con­ s idered lucrative and often also brought follow-­up orders. Through mosaics, large façades, freestanding walls, flower containers, and (drinking) fountains were upgraded. The work was was solid and by contract, with the themes mostly ­related to the industrial or agricultural sector concerned. In contrast to mosaics on recreational buildings or bus pavilions, which can be marvelled at by a broad public, mosaics on in­dustrial structures ­manage without any particularly noteworthy experiments with materials and production techniques. The themes are concretely figurative and sometimes more, sometimes less abstract. First and foremost, these are positive representations of people at work. With few exceptions, male ­workers are accompanied by female figures, in the form of colleagues (the metallurgical plant in Rustavi, the Kapremont office block in Kveda S­ akara), partners (the former tobacco f­actory in Batumi, the former tea factory in ­Tsalenjikha), caring mothers (the former Askanit processing plant in Ozurgeti), or allegories (the ferro­ ­ alloy






065 D Former Tobacco Factory Tbel-Abuseridze kucha 11, Batumi Artist: probably Vazha Bjalava, Zaur Tsuladze 1970s (partial demolition 2015)




Former Askanite Processing Plant Ozurgeti Artist ⁄ year unknown

066 A

Former Tea Factory Kakhati Artist unknown 1980s

067 A

Former Electromechanical ­Factory Gugunavas kucha 1, Kutaisi Artist ⁄ year unknown

069 A


068 A



Former Tea Factory Tsalenjikha Artist unknown 1980s

Former Champagne Factory Terjola Artist unknown Year unknown

071 A


070 A



Former Cotton Factory Chiatura – Sachkhere Motorway Artist unknown Year unknown


072 A



Kapremont Office Block Kveda Sakara Artist unknown Year unknown




Former Haberdashery Factory Borjomis kucha 2, Khashuri Artist: Victor Chumburidze 1970s

073 A

074 A




Ferroalloy Plant Zestaponi Artist: Demur Basheleishvili 1981, 1983 (partially demolished 2015)


075 A



Metallurgical Plant Merab Kostavas gamziri 8, Rustavi Artist ⁄ year unknown

Winery Entrance Napareuli Artist: Bidzina Asabashvili 1980s

077 A


076 A



Rustavi Steelworks Rustavia – Gardabani Motorway Artist unknown Year unknown




Wine Factory Akhmeta Artist unknown Year unknown

078 A




landscape on the southern slopes of the Greater C­aucasus, with its unique ­flora, is presented. The people on the ­mosaics of the bus stops in Batumi and Tsinsvla wear traditional Ajarian cos­ tumes – similar to the mo­s aic inside the house of culture in ­Batumi (see ­pages 126–127). The village of S­aguramo in ­ the Mtskheta-­ Mtianeti region was the residence of the poet and journalist ­Ilia Chavchavadze (­1837–­1907), who is considered one of the leading figures of the G ­ eorgian nationalist movement of the late nineteenth century. At the bus stop in ­S aguramo, an unknown artist translated archive photos depicting Chavchavadze and his circle of fellow ­ campaigners into a mosaic. An integrated signature image of Chavchavadze is intended to impart the depiction with an added au­t henticity. At the bus stop in ­Tsikhisdziri, another beacon of Georgian (cultural) history is immortalised. Here, Shota ­Rustaveli’s (­1172–1216) ­courtly epic The Knight in the ­Panther’s Skin – Georgia’s n ­ ational epic – is taken up in pictures (riding scenes) and text. Passengers waiting for their buses can ponder the edifying verses: ‘A friend should spare himself no trouble for his friend’s sake ⁄ He should give heart for heart, love as a road and a bridge.’ (­Shota ­Rustaveli: The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, trans­ lated from the Georgian by M ­ arjory Scott Wardrop, 1912). In general, the further away the mo­ saics are from Tbilisi, the more their ­e ducational purposes come to the fore: whether as a quote, in the embracing of ­national history, or as a bridge between the past and the socialist present – such as in the bus station in Gurjaani, where the mosaic portrays gender-­ neutral S oviet cosmonauts alongside female ­ figures kneeling by containers of grape juice and flour, making the ­ Georgian sweet­­ Churchkhela according to the ­t rad­i tional method.


Georgia’s mosaic-decorated bus stops have, quite rightly, impressed many travel­lers. In their architecture, as well as their ambitious construction details and diverse embellishments, they represent original objects. These bus stops – or ‘bus pavilions’ as they were called in specialist literature – were the results of debate on the comfortable design of urban spaces among Soviet architec­ tural circles in the 1960s. For example, in the August 1966 issue of the periodical ­Architektura SSSR stressed that special attention should be paid to the bus pavilions because they were in the im­ mediate vicinity of the observer. It was supposed to be bad if the structures did not protect those waiting from oblique rain- or snowfall. On top of that, simple constructions with three blind façades and a street-oriented opening were seen as unattractive, unfashionable, and having a severe and heavy a­ ppearance. While waiting, one could uncomfortable in the darkness and could not watch the traffic. A distance of 15 to 20 metres to the road and the entrance to the bus or the car was also perceived as being too far. Architects and designers in ­ Georgia seem to have taken these points to heart. A special administrative department for the maintenance of ­national roads was entrusted with bus stops and service stations. These structures were not produced in series, but rather as objects that were unique in construction and design. Particularly worth mentioning is the role of George Chakhava – the inventor of a modular building system and a passionate experimenter with shell structures and ceramic mosaics – as the texts by Nini Palavandishvili in this chapter vividly demonstrate. Thematically, the mosaics on bus stops ­refer to regional characteristics. Sailboats and muscular swimmers decorate the rest area in Kobuleti, a popular seaside resort. In Kakhati, the



Bus Stop Abasha Artist unknown Year unknown

080 A


079 A



Bus Stop Gurianta Artist unknown Year unknown

Bus Stop Khelvachauri Artist: Tamaz Diasamidze Year unknown

082 A


081 D



Bus Stop Batumi Artist: Vazha Bjalava, Zaur Tsuladze; Year unknown



083 A


Bus Stop Kobuleti Artist unknown Year unknown



084 A

Bus Stop Meria Artist unknown Year unknown

085 A

Bus Stop Tsinsvla Artist unknown Year unknown

086 A

Bus Stop Naruja Artist unknown Year unknown

087 A


Bus Stop Kakhati Artist unknown Year unknown

Bus Stop Rukhi Artist unknown Year unknown

089 A


088 A



Bus Stop Boriti Artist unknown Year unknown

George Chakhava is known to many archi­ tecture lovers thanks to his administrative building for the former M ­ inistry of Highway Construction in Tbilisi. No less important in his oeuvre are structures made up of panel elements and so-called shell pavilions – both of which function as bus stops. Panel element bus stops can be seen in Borjomi, Qanda, and Tezera. The fourth one, on the road from Nigoza to K ­ odistskali, was demolished in 2017. Chakhava invented the use of elements of reinforced concrete as a building material for different kinds of architectural structures. Pre-fabricated panels assembled in various shapes and forms have infinite possibilities, on a small or large scale. These structures are autonomous and do not require additional reinforcement. Apart from their technical specifications, the buildings are remarkable from an archi­tectural point of view, as they are not repetitive: although they share the same modular elements, each example is made on a different scale. Every building

is both unique and at the same time a constituent member of the same system. The patent for this invention was ­granted to Chakhava in 1981 under the name ‘Building Elements’. Each one of the pavilions is completely different. Some are planned more symmetrically than o­ thers. They also differ in size, their roofs are flat or curved, and different colours were used for painting the panels. Apart from the one in ­Tezera, all of the bus shelters were adorned with mosaic tiles depicting floral and animal patterns. It can be assumed that the same artist(s) decorated the shelters, though unfortunately there are no remaining documents that reveal the name(s). Thanks to the effort of some architecture lovers (Nino Tchatchkhiani, Eliso Sulakauri, Nanuka Zaalishvili, and Nini Palavandishvili) in 2017 the Borjomi pavilion and in 2018 the Qanda and T­ ezeri ones were awarded the status of immovable cultural heritage monuments. This status is particularly important if we take into consideration that only two constructions from late Soviet modernism have cultural heritage status in Georgia: the aforementioned former Ministry of Highway Construction (now the head office of the Bank of Georgia) and the former philharmonic hall (now Tbilisi Event Hall) in the Georgian capital. NP


090 A



Bus Stop Borjomi Architect: George Chakhava Artist unknown 1970s


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


091 A


Bus Stop Natakhtari Architect: George Chakhava Year unknown


Photo source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Original sketch

Bus Stop Tsikhisdziri Architect: George Chakhava Artist: Zurab Kapanadze 092 A 217

Source: Z. Kapanadze’s family archive


Bus Stop Saguramo Artist unknown Year unknown

094 A


093 A



Bus Stop Sajavakho Artist unknown Year unknown


095 A



Bus Station Gurjaani Artist: Leonardo Shengelia, Enriko Kopadze 1985

As this memorial was commissioned to celebrate the friendship of Russia and Georgia, the appointed artists decided to create a composition where the two nations would appear as equals. The compositional structure of the central motif – a mother and child – is very similar to Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. Their ethinicity cannot be precisely determined

by looking at their facial features and clothing. At the sides, the two nations are displayed separately (Georgia on the left; Russia on the right), and can be recognised by their national costumes, architecture and scenes from real life, and fables and fairy tales. According to Nodar Malazonia, this artistic interpretation of the theme of friendship between nations was not favoured by the Moscow officials who came to celebrate its opening. For the same reason, the work was not mentioned in any periodical or other media from that time, meaning that the ‘big brother’ was offended. Special mention should be made of the original material and technique used here, which was


096 A

employed for the first time by the artist collective of Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, and Nodar Malazonia. The use of partitions in order to separate colours is derived from cloisonné, an ancient method that is used worldwide, mainly for jewellery and small objects. Enamel cloisonné was and still is very familiar in Georgian artisanry, with some works dating back to the eighth to the twelfth centuries. But its use on such a scale and especially in monumental art was a unique idea. Also, the material differs from traditional smalti in its structure: it is not completely monochrome – from a short distance away one can easily see coloured sprinkles, which give the motifs a distinctive look. Apparently, the

artists received a copyright certificate for their invention, but, unfortunately, like many other documents, this can no longer be found in any of the archives. The same technique and material is used in the former teahouse in Kutaisi (064) and bus stop in Tsikhisdziri (092), which were created by the individual members of the artist collective in collaboration with George Chakhava. There are some other bus stops decorated with the same mosaic technique, but according to family members of the artists who were part of the collective, none of these stops counts to their oeuvre. It is highly possible that the method became popular and was employed by fellow artists. NP



Memorial to the ­Treaty of ­Georgievsk Motorway to Stepantsminda Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1983


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Source: Z. Kapanadze‘s family archive



Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Eduard Shevardnadze, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, visiting con­ struction works. The architect George Chakhava is the fourth from the right, in front.

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Sketch for configuring the layout of the mosaic

Building work, 1982 – 1983

Photo from 1923


the artist collective of ­Zurab ­K apanadze, Zurab ­ ­ Lezhava, and Nodar Malazonia ­also played a significant role. Chakhava ini­ t iated the following ­ sculptural constructions, which took the form of fish, ­elephants, snakes, octo­puses and ­other creatures, while the artists worked on the ­graphic and colour composition of the surfaces. Malazonia recalls that working on these structures was such a ­novelty that they would improvise on the spot, both formally and a­rtistically. Even ­today the works still fascinate with their ­colours and forms. NP

Farbe und Raum journal, VEB Verlag für Bauwesen Berlin (Ost), No. 3 ∕ 1979


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


Equally as important as the panel ­element bus stops by George Chakhava (090) are the shell-type pavilions along the road from Bichvinta (Pitsunda) to Gagra and Café Fantasia (the O ­ ctopus) in ­ Batumi (054). From 1967 to 1987, Chakhava was Deputy Minister for Road Construction in Georgia and the Chief Architect of ­ GuSchosDor (the administration for ­highways). E­ ssentially, he was the person who both commissioned and carried out the work. Chakhava used his position to realise his most unconventional dreams and original ideas. His collaboration with


097 A

Original sketch


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


The Shell Bus Pavilion Akhali Atoni Architect: George Chakhava Artists Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1967

Photos from 1967 (above and below)

231 Photos from 1967 (left and above)


098 A

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


The Fish Bus Pavilion Gagra Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1967


099 A


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

The Saddle Bus Pavilion Motorway to Bichvinta Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1970s


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


100 A


The Elephant Bus Pavilion Motorway to Bichvinta Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1970s


101 A


Bus Pavilion Motorway to Bichvinta Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1970s

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Artist collective: Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia, Zurab Kapanadze (from right to left)


102 A


Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


Bus Pavilion Motorway to Bichvinta Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1970s



103 A

Source: G. Chakhava’s family archive


Bus Pavilion Bzipi Architect: George Chakhava Artists: Zurab Kapanadze, Zurab Lezhava, Nodar Malazonia 1970s

Therefore, in the themes of the image and the quote, Georgia’s special and authentic aspects of are emphasised, while the solidarity with the ‘big brother’ and the country’s involvement in a wider political context is also brought out. During the Soviet era, the village of Rukhi was a place for meetings and exchange between young people from different regions: the Enguri River constitutes a border. Just as large shopping and medical centres are being built here today to foster inter-ethnic relations, ­e fforts were perhaps made to c­ reate an attractive architectural a­tmosphere in the Soviet period. A decorative concrete wall surrounds this three-­ s torey former homeware shop in Rukhi. T­owards the street, the wall is made up of a succession of boxy, e­ longated rectangles. The mo­ s aics embedded in these rectangles appear like framed pictures. The concept for their content does not follow a ­specific narrative. People dressed in traditional costumes are seen amidst mountainous landscapes and lush flora and ­f auna. V­ isualising the unity of ­human ­beings and nature was possibly the main aim of the artists who ­c reated these ­ mosaics. The stylistic hetero­ geneity of the pictures attests to the fact that there were several actors involved. ­P articularly w ­ orthy of note is a group of works in which several figures appear against the background of blue-grey mountain slopes. The people are faceless, simplified, and c­learly picked out by dark contour lines. The plants have a similar ­s ilhouette. Representation has not been fully abandoned, but it highly abstract. The colours are restrained but broken up by strong accents. One is reminded of ­European painting or woodcuts from the early twentieth cen­ tury – and yet the ­artistic expression is absolutely individual and unique among mosaics in G ­ eorgia.


Mosaics on service buildings represent a relatively small group of works. Nevertheless, it is useful to take a look at them – if only to complete the picture of art for architecture in Georgia. Three different functions can be discerned with regard to the way in which these mo­ saics were employed. Primarily, the artworks reference the use of the building. All of the motifs on the petrol station on the ­Chiatura to Sachkhere ­Motorway take up the theme of traffic. Sets of traffic lights, a pump nozzle, and classic cars similar to those created by Zurab ­Tsereteli for the Tbilisi Bus Station (028) combine with wheels, roundabouts, and an amorphously blazing sun and create a loose compositional whole. The statement is clear and the ideas simple, yet the e­ xecution in small ceramic tiles is still careful and accurate. In contrast, the mosaic in a shopping centre in Natanebi, a city in the Guria region, has nothing to do with the use of the building. The work was meant to convey the humanist ideals and values of ­socialism – the pursuit of a humane existence, the development of every f­acet of one’s character, and the open advancement of one’s creative abilities. A relief of a standing woman holding a laurel branch projects from the middle of the image: the laurel unequivo­ cally announces the victory of these ideals. References to old and new activities and cultural technologies are scattered associatively across the vast field of the mosaic. As, according to a socialist under­ s tanding, humanist aims can only be achieved once the conditions for the exploitation and oppression of the poor have been removed, a quote from Leo Tolstoy has been incorporated into the picture. In this, the ­Russian author honours the Gurian peasants’ revolutionary uprisings of 1905 and expresses his ­solidarity with the insubordination.




104 A



Former Petrol Station Chiatura – Sachkhere Motorway Artist unknown Year unknown


105 A



Shopping Centre Natanebi Artist unknown Year unknown



106 A


Decorative Wall Near a Homeware Shop Rukhi Artist ⁄ year unknown







reality and the people’s ­ emancipatory participation in the change. Work is no longer torture – it has become a pleasurable and honourable ­activity and is balanced out with numerous leisure activities. Female figures are represented in diverse roles and a­lways as e­ xemplary figures: simple ­ working ­ women from farming stock, muscular l­ abourers in industrial contexts, attentive mothers, and, last but not least, eye c­ andy for the opposite sex. One mo­s aic on a housing block in Borjomi reveals a ­c urious scene. Two women kneel in front of a young girl, holding out fl ­ owers to her. Dark clothes cover the bodies of the older women com­ pletely and they have headscarves over their hair. In contrast, the young girl with her long, flowing t­ resses and short white dress seems almost ­ f rivolous. A crown and a veil grace her ­dainty head. The girl ­evidently embodies the fountain of youth; the ­older ­women pay homage to her youth and beauty. Since no such ­r itual exists in Georgian tradition, it can be assumed that this is a somewhat ­peculiar male fantasy put forward by the mosaic artist.


While there are hardly any mosaics on residential buildings in Tbilisi – unless they are part of an urban concept (see 035) – the situation changes as soon as one leaves the capital. In the regions of Georgia, mosaics cover the entire front ends of buildings, in smaller formats they decorate house entrances, and they are attached to house walls as a kind of patch. The mode of execution and the style of the images outside Tbilisi reveal that their creators were familiar with the strong examples in the metropolis – in particular the works of Zurab Tsereteli. The featured motifs give prominence to the cultural landscape of the regions: the beauty of nature in a s­ pecific area meets myth and legend; the iconography of ­Soviet people mingles with scenes from Georgian rural life. The lively, people-­ filled large-format mosaics on residential buildings in ­Kutaisi and Abasha and the decorative walls in ­Chkhorotsku g­ lorify Soviet construction and do not hold back on their use of symbols of the new era. Cosmonauts, machines, n ­ ovel modes of transport, and the accomplishments of science demonstrate the new, dynamic



Decorative Wall Shota Rustavelis kucha, Borjomi Artist ⁄ year unknown

108 A


107 A



Housing Block Shota Rustavelis kucha 69, Borjomi Artist ⁄ year unknown



109 A

Decorative Walls Chkhorotsku Artist unknown Year unknown

110 A


Housing Block Abasha Artist unknown Year unknown

Housing Block Chavchavadze gamziri 62, Kutaisi Artist ⁄ year unknown

112 A


111 A



Housing Block Chavchavadze gamziri 44, Kutaisi Artist ⁄ year unknown

Housing Block Chavchavadze kucha 93, Senaki Artist ⁄ year unknown

114 A


113 D



Housing Blocks Akhmetelis kucha 1, 7, 9, Batumi Artist ⁄ year unknown

Place Index

A Lezhava, Zurab 096 – 103 053 004 Abashidze, N. Liberman, Ilja 002 015 Abramashvili, Vakhtang Litanishvili, Otar 010 Abuladze, Guram M 015 064, 096 – 103 Aleksi-Meskhishvili, Vladimir Malazonia, Nodar 037 020 Andguladze, F. Mamaladze, Levan 077 007 Asabashvili, Bidzina Mchedlidze, Levan 020 004 Asatiani, Tezo Medzmariashvili, Nugzar 002 B Melashvili, S. 074 037 Melikidze, Rodam Basheleishvili, Demur 044, 053, 065, 081 037 Bjalava, Vazha Memanishvili, K. 001 C Metonidze, G. 041 Mgeladze, David Chakhava, George 054, 090 – 092, 096 – 103 002 Mirianashvili, Guram 056 036 Chkhenkeli, Merab Mishveladze, Vazha 073 051 Chumburidze, Victor Mndoyants, Ashot M. 055 Chutkerashvili, M. N 015 D Nakhutsrishvili, Kiazo 001 020 Nasaridze, Vladimer Davitashvili, Shalva 001 Diasamidze, Tamaz 082 Natsvlishvili, T. G O 037 015 Gabashvili, Irakli Ochiauri, Gogi 037 Gelashvili, Vladimir P 059 020 Ghambashidze, Zaurmag Papinashvili, D. 020 020 Gorgadze, Aliko Peykrishvili, V. 032 051 Gorgadze, Malkhaz Popov, U. 051 I Posokhin, Mikhail V. 010 Q Ignatov, Koka 055 J Quparashvili, F. 037 R Jabua, Grigol 054 008 Jalaghania, Zurab Roitich, Gennady 056 Janashia, Rezo S 021 002 Jandieri, Levan Salukwadse, Giorgi 035 K Sharski, Nikolai 053 020, 095 Shengelia, Leonardo Kadjaia, D. 055 051 Kakhashvili, R. Svirsky, Vladimir 069 Kalandadze, Guram T 041 Kapanadze, Zurab 054, 092, 096 – 103 Tabagua, Merab 010, 014, 028 023, 033 Kavlashvili, Shota Tabidze, Iden 029, 030 033 Kervalishvili, Givi Tordia, Radish 033 037 Kharebeva, Apolon Tskhakaia, Gia 055 033 Khufarashvili, Ts. Tskhomelidze, Tamaz 010, 014, 028 Kiknadze, Ramaz Tsereteli, Kukuri 003, 012, 014, 020, 024 008 001, 002, Kocharov, Valeri Tsereteli, Zurab 095 Kopadse, Enriko 009, 015, 016, 028, 051, 052, 058, 061 028 037 Kurtishvili, Vladimer Tsukhishvili, Romuald 044, 053, 065, 081 L Tsuladze, Zaur 004 Z Lejava, Giorgi 007 057 Lekvinadze, Giorgi Zaalishvili, Ioseb (Soso)

Tbilisi Akaki Beliashvilis kucha 024 012, 020 Akaki Tseretelis gamziri 005 Anna Politkovskaias kucha David Agmashenebelis gamziri 002 David Sarajishvilis kucha 017 028 Dmitri Gulias kucha 021 Elizbar Mindelis kucha 018 Energetikis kucha 025 Giorgi Chkondidelis kucha 003 Gulias moedani Ilia Chavchavadzes gamziri 009, 015, 016 Kakheti Motorway 026, 031, 032 Ketevan Tsamebulis gamziri 014 Kindzmaraulis kucha 027 023 Marneulis kucha 019 Melani V Turn 004 Merab Aleksidze kucha 010, 031, 033 Merab Kostavas kucha Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanovs kucha 034 022 Mtatsminda Park 035 Omar Khizanishvilis kucha 033 Pekinis gamziri 007 Shalva Nutsubidze kucha 006 Shota Rustavelis gamziri 029 Sulkhan Tsintsadze kucha 011 Tianeti Motorway 030 Vakhtang Gorgasalis kucha Vanatis kucha, Tbilisi Sea 013 Vazha Pshavelas gamziri 001 Zakaria Paliashvilis kucha 008

By project number



Person Index

By project number

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103 Bzipi 110 Chkhorotsku 058, 098 Gagra 079 Gurianta 095 Gurjaani 067, 084 Kakhati 039 Khashuri 073 Borjomis kucha 082 Khelvachauri 043 Khulo 060, 083 Kobuleti Kutaisi 111, 112 Chavchavadze gamziri 069 Gugunavas kucha 064 Nikeas kucha 072 Kveda Sakara 044 Makhinjauri 085 Meria Motorway: Chiatura– Sachkhere 070, 104 076 Motorway: Rustavia – Gardabani 099 – 102 Motorway to Bichvinta 096 Motorway to Stepantsminda 037 Mtskheta 047, 087 Naruja 077 Napareuli 091 Natakhtari 048, 105 Natanebi 066 Ozurgeti 045 Viktor Dolidze kucha 040 Poti 046, 089, 106 Rukhi 050 Rustavi 075 Merab Kostavas gamziri 062 Shota Rustavelis kucha 094 Saguramo 093 Sajavakho Senaki 114 Chavchavadze kucha 071 Terjola 068 Tsalenjikha 092 Tsikhisdziri 086 Tsinsvla 056 Tskaltubo 055 Guramishvilis kucha 038, 063 Tskhvarichamia 074 Zestaponi Zugdidi 049 David Janashias kucha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Abasha 080, 109 097 Akhali Atoni 078 Akhmeta 042 Arboshiki 081 Batumi 113 Akhmetelis kucha 054 Boulevard 041 Gogolis kucha 053 Shota Rustavelis gamziri 065 Tbel-Abuseridze kucha 051 Bichvinta (Pitsunda) 036 Bolnisi 088 Boriti 052, 057, 090 Borjomi 107, 108 Shota Rustavelis kucha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Nini Palavandishvili Curator and graphic designer. After study­ ing Communication in Social and Economic Contexts at the Berlin University of the Arts, Nini returned to her home country of Georgia in 2005. Since then she has been working on inter­national art projects. The Soviet legacy plays an important role in this, but instead of ­e xploring its exoticisation, Nini examines social and political contexts and their ­interpretation within cultural production. Her main focus is on artworks that use innovative forms to stimulate discourse on political and social issues.



About the Authors

Lena Prents Art historian and curator. She s­tudied ­German Philology in Minsk and Art His­ tory and German Studies in Berlin. Her ­research interests include the his­t ory of architecture, the art and culture of Eastern ­Europe during state socialism, and art and exhibition practice in combination with socio-political dis­courses. ­L ena’s engagement with ­Soviet modernism comes from a desire to counter the often mediated and one-­ dimensional image of socialism, and therefore to contribute to an appropriate under­ standing of this era.





Images Tamara Bokuchava, Gogita Bukhaidze, Oleksandr Burlaka, Anna Dziapshipa, Zura Dumbadze, Paula Durinova, Shota Gujabidze, Beso Gulashvili, Andreja Kalinova, Volha Kavalenkava, Amiko Kavtaradze, Manana Kveliashvili, Sophia Lapiashvili, Philipp Meuser, ­ David Mushkudiani, Nini ­Palavandishvili, Nino Siradze, Sophia Tabatadze, Vigen Vartanov, Philip Willcocks, Martin Zaicek.

Chamotte Ceramic raw material often used to add texture in sculpture or pottery.

Family Archives and Collections Demur Basheleishvili, family of George Chakhava, Omar Chitaladze, family of Zaurmag Ghambashidze, Malkhaz ­Gorgadze, Ketusia Ignatova, family of Zurab Kapanadze, family of Ramaz Kiknadze, Giorgi Lekvinadze, Nodar Malazonia, Vascha Mishveladze, Kote Natsvlishvili, Leonardo Shengelia, Radish Tordia, family of Kukuri Tsereteli. Special Thanks Nino Chachchiani, Data C­ higholashvili, Guliko Chumbadze, Goga D ­ emetrashvili, Nato Gengiuri, Uli Huemer, Vaso ­Nadiradze.

Literature Nodar Dzhanberidze: Zurab Tsereteli, Tbilisi 1975 Oleg Schvidkovski: Zurab Tsereteli, Moscow 1985 Irakli Tsitsishvili: Tbilisi. A ­ rchitectural Landmarks and Art Museums, Leningrad 1985 Shota Davitadze: Adjara, Moscow 1986 Otia Ioseliani: Tskaltubo, published by S. Dschanelidse, Tskaltubo, undated Architektura SSSR, 4 ∕ 1953 – 1  ∕ 1987

DOSAAF (Volunteer Society for C­ ooperation with the Army, Air Force, and Navy ) Soviet para­ military mass organisation, which was founded in 1951 as the successor to OSOAVIAKhIM.

Gamziri Georgian for ‘boulevard’, ‘prospekt’. Kucha Georgian for ‘street’. Moedani Georgian for ‘square’. Nomenklatura Designation for the group of individ­ uals who held leadership positions in the party, administration, and economy in ­ socialist countries. OSOAVIAKhIM (  Union of S­ocieties of Assistance to Defence and Aviation-Chemical Con­ struction ) paramilitary mass organisation founded in 1927; dissolved in 1948.

Queen Tamar (1160 – 1213), Queen of Georgia from 1184 to 1213. Modernised politics, the eco­n­ omy, and culture in the country. Rustaveli, Shota (ca. 1172 – 1216) Georgian poet who was one of the most important literary figures of the ­Middle Ages. Author of the ­Georgian national epic, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. Smalti Type of glass that has been used for mo­ saics since the B ­ yzantine p­eriod. Col­ oured glass is poured into long slabs, which have a thickness of about 1 cm. ­Individual tiles are then cut by hand.





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The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available at ISBN 978-3-86922-691-0

© 2019 by DOM publishers, Berlin This work is subject to copyright. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transferred, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, ­recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers. Sources and owners of rights are stated to the best of our knowledge; please signal any we might have omitted. Translation Amy Visram Design Nini Palavandishvili Cover Design Paul Meuser Map Design Katrin Soschinksi QR Codes Christoph Gößmann Printing L&C Printing Group, Krakow

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