Art Nouveau in Tbilisi
Behind crumbling facades and a patchwork of paint and plasterwork, the neglected legacy of art nouveau in Tbilisi hides in many buildings in the city. Despite years of rejection during Georgia’s dark Soviet past when officials considered it to be an unimportant art form, some of the finest examples of art nouveau in Europe are in Tbilisi.
Although it is slowly gaining academic recognition, little attention was paid to Georgian art nouveau for a long time. Some academics believe the art movement came to Georgia via modernist movements from France and Germany which trickled down through Russia, whilst others say it came directly across the Black Sea. One thing is certain: Georgia developed art nouveau into their own art movement at the turn of the 20th century.
The once incredibly popular style, synonymous with glamor and luxury, has much been forgotten in Georgia. Its condemnation by the Soviet regime as “a crime of ornamentation” due to its connection with the bourgeois of society led to years of neglect and decay.
Nonetheless, the curved lines and decorative motives, asymmetrical shapes and natural forms still exist. Classically art nouveau, iron-railed stairways and detailed tiles linger among the flaking buildings in many of Tbilisi’s cinemas, theatres, shops, and industrial buildings. And, you can now do an art nouveau walking tour to find them.
3b la Karagereteli Street
The oldest example of art nouveau is a residential house on Rome Street, once known as Vartisikhe Street. Tucked away behind 36 Agmashenebeli Avenue, multi-colored tiles and undulating iron balconies adorn the crumbling facade. The stripped walls and naked brickwork reflect the bad maintenance of the work of Georgia’s most prominent art nouveau architects, Simon Kldiashvili.
Kote Majanishvili Theater
Built in 1907 by Simon Kldiashvili, Kote Marjanishvili theater combines the French art nouveau with Georgia’s “stil modern” interpretation. The green ironwork at the front of the building is easily comparable to Paris metro stations.
Shops, industrial buildings, theaters, and cinemas also carried the style. The Kote Marjanishvili Theater, built in 1907 by S. Krichinski, captures the spirit of the age. Originally known as the K. Zubalashbili People’s House, named for the building’s commissioners the Zubalashvili brothers, the Marjanishvili Theater marries French-style art nouveau with Georgian “stil modern”.
The Kote Majanishvili Theater in 1934
The Apollo Cinema
The Apollo Cinema, dating back to 1909, was once a thriving movie theater. Here, Art Nouveau coincided with the arrival of Film in Georgia. However, the Apollo cinema has become a tragic testimony to the neglect of art nouveau in Tbilisi. The building, listed among Tbilisi’s most endangered monuments, was until recently on the verge of condemnation. While restoration has prevented the building’s demolition, the poor quality resulted in the loss of its original features.
The city is slowly waking up to the need to put Tbilisi’s unique examples of art nouveau on the map. Hopefully, it will receive the recognition it deserves before it is too late.
P.S. Hungry after exploring Tbilisi’s art nouveau by foot? Fabrika, just around the corner from Marjanishvili Theatre, has various restaurants.