The FINANCIAL — American Friends of Georgia in cooperation with NY Landmarks Conservancy has got involved in the reconstruction works of the decaying Queen Darejani Palace in Tbilisi. Two US specialists have completed their primary works, which aim to give recommendations for the preservation of the palace. Further steps incorporate fundraising for the palace, a site of cultural heritage with history going back centuries.
“Darejani Palace and its surrounding complex is one of the most unique places in Tbilisi. The fact is that the number of palaces in Georgia is really small. Another issue is that Darejani Palace is located in the heart of Tbilisi. The problems affecting this palace have not been resolved for years. We want to do our bit for the reconstruction works of the palace. The involvement of such an organization as NY Cultural Heritage, and the support of its experts, is very important. Peg Breen has sent to Georgia Edmund Meade and Roderic Ellman who will conduct research studies. Meanwhile, their work is just the first stage. Accomplishment of further steps will require the involvement of Georgian Monument Protection and the Municipality. It could become one of the largest reconstruction projects of Tbilisi. Darejani Palace could then become a famous landmark and calling card of Tbilisi,” architect Lena Kiladze, Head of American Friends of Georgia in Tbilisi, told The FINANCIAL.
Preserving the cultural heritage of Georgia is one of the activities of American Friends of Georgia, a non-profit organization based in the US. Urban Tbilisi has been one of the priorities of the company in recent years. Within this project there have been several speakers supported by the US Embassy in Georgia. One such guest was Peg Breen, President of New York Landmarks Conservancy. As Kiladze said, Breen’s visit was very important as it was the first time that Georgia had hosted a specialist of such high ranking. Another guest was Donovan Rypkema, invited by US Embassy in Georgia. He is an expert and author of the Economics of Historic Preservation. Tara Kelly, executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, was another guest who visited Georgia. “So, we started thinking of this direction in order to bring in international experience to preserve cultural heritage,” said Kiladze.
Built in 1776 at the foot of Metekhi, rock palace “Sachino” (meaning conspicuous) was the summer residence of Queen Darejan, the wife of king Erekle the Second. The palace was distinguished among other buildings. It can be seen from many places along the Mtkvari gorge. The name itself conveys the dominant location of the palace. It represents a palace mansion with a church and court services. The major part of it, like the round tower, is at the end of the abyss. By its perimeter the tower is embraced by a round wooden balcony. The palace, church and other buildings create a united complex. The church has been preserved till the present time. The palace was erected on the ruins of the fortress. The tower of the mansion was built on the remnants of the northern angle of the Avlabari fortress wall. The wall and its counter forts are made from mixed cobble and thin, square, so-called Georgian brickwork. Horizontal and vertical strips formed by ribs of closely laid (45 degree angle) cobble create the illusion of a twisted plait, grape vine – an ornament which is often seen in Georgian wood carvings and stone engravings. After the departure of the Queen to Saint-Petersburg in 1807 the Transfiguration Monastery was established here (1822), and in 1862 it housed a school and a seminary for the children of ecclesiastics. The redecoration of internal rooms, removal of ornaments on the walls and ceilings, performed in the eastern style, can be dated to that time.
The fundamental reconstruction of Sachino was completed in 1982. However, today the palace is in a state of decay.
Roderic Ellman, Partner at Mueser Rutledge, Consulting Engineers, and Edmund Meade, Director of Preservation at Silman, were the two engineers invited to carry out research of Darejani Palace. After completing work in Tbilisi they went back to America and are going to put together a report and recommendations for going forwards.
“In many countries, and I am sure also in Georgia, if you can have multiple groups come together – you might have private philanthropy, private individuals, government, large foundations – and if everyone sees people bringing resources, technical people and getting results, then more people will want to do something. They want to see that something has actually happened. Part of our goal here is to raise awareness and bring people together. There is hope that we will encourage different parts of the community both in Georgia and the US to facilitate. Who knows, maybe even other parts of Europe, the EU, might find it an interesting cause to support. Not just is it historical, but also because it is a combination of history and humanitarian service to the community, that will make a significant difference,” said Edmund Meade, Director of Preservation at Silman.
Some of the most famous buildings Silman has worked on are: the Guggenheim museum in NY; Falling water in Pittsburgh; multiple state capitals in the U.S.; San Jose Church, the second oldest church in America, located in Puerto Rico; a Buddhist temple in Nepal; also different buildings in St. Petersburg, Latvia, Turkey and Poland.
“Preserving historical heritage is a combination of private sector and government. A lot depends on the type of building. If it is a major museum they will probably have a lot of private philanthropy from their board and people who donate to the museum. At the same time, the federal government feels that they have obligations to support those cultural institutions. On the other hand, if it is a church it is a little harder in the U.S. for governments to give money to the church, because the constitution separates the church and the state. So the Government is largely precluded from giving money to churches. There are some exceptions and they are related to façades or some very important public spaces, like schools,” said Roderic Ellman, Partner at Mueser Rutledge, Consulting Engineers.
The fact that we do not properly realise the importance of preserving heritage in Georgia is of concern to Kiladze, who adds that the key issue is the economic benefits of it. “Preservation of cultural heritage is directly linked to the model of economic development in all developed countries. There are lots of researches and documents proving that preservation of historical buildings are more profitable than construction of new buildings in historical districts. Historical buildings attract more tourists, which is one of the main contributors of economic benefits. Another issue is that rehabilitation requires professionals of more specializations and accordingly, supports the existence of such professions. Dollar for dollar, historic preservation is one of the highest job-generating economic development options available. Intellectual tourism is becoming more popular globally. So, preservation of historical monuments is crucial. Each country tries to maintain its outstanding features and unique culture. So, it is important to maintain and preserve this unique history. Contrary to European countries the number of sites of cultural heritage in Georgia is smaller,” she explained.
“The city is its own memory – all that its buildings, houses and streets are saving. Each building, each complex incorporates a history. The city becomes important for viewers when it starts telling stories. Therefore, destroying even one building is like wresting a page from history. It is like a robbery of our history. Preserving old heritage does not mean opposing modern construction. Development of the language of contemporary Georgian architecture is very important, but by respecting the old one,” Kiladze, Head of the American Friends of Georgia in Tbilisi, told The FINANCIAL.