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The Urban Heritage Preservation: Identity and Spirit of Old Tbilisi

By Salome Modebadze
Thursday, April 21
The British Council in partnership with the Goethe Institute, Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage Preservation - Riksantikvaren, Georgian National Committee of International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS Georgia) and The Georgian Arts and Culture Center "Istoriali" (GACC) held the summarizing meeting of the Urban Heritage Preservation: Identity and Spirit of Old Tbilisi Project funded by the European Commission Culture programme on April 19.

The overall aim of the Project is to increase awareness of the cultural value of professional, effective and sustainable management of the spirit of urban heritage in Tbilisi, sharing European experience in order to save a significant part of this unique cultural heritage for future generations. As Maya Darchia, Project Manager of the British Council told The Messenger, the summarizing event of the one-year project discussed the Old Tbilisi cultural heritage preservation-related issues. “There have been lots of interesting activities in the frames of this project and I’m really glad that we have managed to gather the so-called “opponent” sides around the table and make the relevant compromises to define the most suitable activities for development of Old Tbilisi by preserving its exclusiveness,” she told us.

The participant sides of the round-table meeting reviewed the existing legislation on preservation of cultural heritage in light of the recent development of the historic part of Tbilisi. It was suggested that Old Tbilisi be forwarded for inclusion in the UNESCO World heritage Sites list and that necessary steps be taken to receive a nomination as a European Capital of Culture.

Lado Vardosanidze, the consultant of Tbilisi City Assembly and the Chairman of Urban Association of Georgia reviewed the Georgian Law on Cultural Heritage. Stressing the importance of legislative norms for each area of life he paid attention to gaps in law concerning the failure of a concept-terminology apparatus and asymmetry towards various typological groups of monuments. “We have to preserve the style of Old Tbilisi which is a blend of the multi-ethnical culture and give exact definition to the term of cultural heritage,” Vardosanidze stated. Encouraging the Government to avoid risking the fate of cultural development of the capital, he hoped that this meeting would be one of the successful steps for Tbilisi to become a nominee for the European Capital of Culture.

As Werner Woell the Goethe Institute's Director told us this cooperation started last year and this time the sides want to see what has been changed since that time and also discuss the idea that Tbilisi could become the Capital of European Culture maybe for 2015 or so. The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year during which it organizes a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension since 1985. Preparing a European Capital of Culture can be an opportunity for the city to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits and it can help foster urban regeneration, change the city's image and raise its visibility and profile on an international scale.

“It’s quite a long term project with serious responsibilities for each city wishing to become the European Capital of Culture. Even the nomination for this title should be made at least 6 years earlier so this conference offers the city to make such an initiative and it’s up to the city authorities to take this opportunity and work around the issue,” Nato Tsintsabadze from ICOMOS told The Messenger. Disappointed with the projects the authorities are using for rehabilitation of the capital, she still welcomed the fact that after 25 years of stagnation the country has finally allocated money for rehabilitation of its cultural inheritance.

According Tsintsabadze the World Heritage Committee (WHC) had recognized the “Outstanding Universal Value” of Tbilisi's Historic District but still deferred its nomination for inclusion on the World Heritage List “subject to the establishment of adequate legal framework, management structures and guidelines for the rehabilitation and restoration of the nominated area”. Stressing the importance of proper planning and methodology for this process within European standards, the architect hoped that no style of Old Tbilisi would be damaged and all the values would be relevantly preserved.

Expressing his disappointment towards the present development of the capital, destroying the main importance of Tbilisi, Dag Myklebust Senior Adviser on International Affairs of Riksantikvaren stressed the necessity for taking care of its main values. “Do you want Tbilisi to look like any other European city or follow the type of development you have? If you want to preserve the qualities of your capital that makes it a very practical place to travel for foreigners you have to care for the old structures of the buildings and take action in that direction,” Myklebust told us expressing his great love towards Tbilisi.

Koki Ionatamishvili Chairman of Economic Development, Investment Policy and International Relations Commission of Tbilisi City Assembly from the ruling United National Movement stressed the necessity for state and public cooperation. Expressing his support towards the whole initiative, Ionatamishvili said the local-self Governments have been using all possible resources even during the economical crisis to develop Georgian towns on the whole. Talking of the hard living conditions people are facing in Old Tbilisi nowadays, Ionatamishvili stressed the necessity for raising the public awareness through various campaigns “because only criticism can’t be helpful for dealing with these problems.” “We are absolutely accessible and ready to cooperate, so let’s realize the problems together and define how to overcome the obstacles,” he told the participants.