Georgia’s Minister of Culture, Mikheil Giorgadze, says control will become tougher for protecting cultural heritage after fire damaged unique frescos of Georgia’s 12th-century cave city, Vardzia, last week.
Tougher control on cultural heritage needed
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, November 9
The fire broke out late on November 1 at the St Mary’s church in Vardzia and as a result it covered part of the unique wall painting with soot.
The fire was allegedly caused by a lit candle left on a table inside the church.
Monks said allegedly one of tourists left the candle which later fell down on the carpet and started the fire. An investigation is studying the reasons behind the incident.
“What happened in Vardzia is very regrettable. After the first stage of cleaning procedures, experts will say how serious the damage is,” Giorgadze said.
“I have high hopes the frescos will be restored. Conservation activities in the church are planned and leading Georgian and foreign experts will participate in the process,” Giorgadze added.
The Minister stressed that from now on, tougher control would be in place to better protect Georgia’s cultural heritage.
The control will also concern the monk hood having touch with the heritage, as there are suspicions that the fire in Vardzia broke out due to negligence of one of the monks living there.
Giorgadze said the Ministry of Culture and Georgia’s Patriarchate had been cooperating for many years and a special council had been set up by the Cultural Heritage Protection Agency and the Patriarchate in the wake of the incident.
The Minister announced that the council was discussing the alleged reasons behind the incident, as well as recommendations that could prevent such incidents in the future.
Giorgadze also responded to the statements of experts who said the candles currently used in many churches and monasteries, referring to paraffin candles and their smoke, could gradually seriously damage frescos.
It should be mentioned here that in many countries it is forbidden to lit candles within the churches as the smoke damages frescos.
“I believe the agreement should be achieved in terms of candles for the risk of damage for wall paintings should be reduced to a minimum,” Giorgadze said.
The 12-13th century cave complex of Vardzia in southern Georgia is one of the primary tourist destinations in the country, and is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
Experts who have seen the damaged frescos have stated that the damage was more serious than they had expected before visiting the site after the fire.
They also say that cleaning procedures must be carried out shortly when the weather is improved, as in southern Georgia the climate is colder than in other Georgian regions.
They claim if the process will not be concluded before winter, it will be extremely hard to remove the soot later.
The experts also say it is less likely that the frescos will completely retain their previous appearance.