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Georgian Culture

  • Writing methods and technologies
  • Remarkable Discovery
  • Georgia Through the Prism of the 19th Century French Photographer
  • Iakob Gogebashvili and his Deda Ena
  • Georgian Script
  • Old Georgian Calligraphers
  • Essay on Georgian History. The Roman Republic - a Super-State and Iberia (Georgia) on the Verge of BC & AD
  • The Missed Political Chances - King Bagrat IV & Liparit Bagvash (Part 2)
  • Georgian Literature and Poetry. Galaktion Tabidze
  • Occupation of Georgia By Bolsheviks in 1921


    Of all the arts that have been developed and practiced throughout Georgian history, none surpasses architecture as an expression of the nation's artistic vision and heritage. It is difficult to know whether this phenomenon is a direct result of the Georgians affinity for and skill with stone, whether its springs from certain edicts of Eastern Orthodoxy that inhibited sculptural representation, or whether it evolved from a people's need to build and rebuild monuments to their nation and their faith in the face of ceaseless incursions and conquerors. Whatever the underlying reason for such a magnificent 1,300-year tradition, the traveler to Georgia cannot but be amazed at the degree of artistry and creativity that gave birth to these treasures. The vagaries of fate, or perhaps the conscious will of the divine, have left us many times more ecclesiastic buildings than secular ones by which to trace the flourishing of Georgian architectural genius. Every indication suggests, however, that secular and ecclesiastical buildings sprang from the same native roots and share many features in common. Georgian scholars generally agree that the famous cupola structures that dominate Georgian ecclesiastic architecture can be traced to domestic dwellings with circular floor plans that date as far back as the fourth to third millennium BC. These dwellings ultimately evolved into the darbazi structures that have survived into modern times. Their significance lay in the transition of the square substructure into a beehive dome.

    Two major forms of ecclesiastic building developed in Georgia; the central domed structure and the basilica. The basilica form came to Georgia primarily through the influence of the Roman and Hellenistic worlds. Its reformulation in Georgia was a blend of Syrian influences as well as local traditions of construction found in prefeudal secular structures: markets, country halls, audience chambers. The basilica itself has two forms in Georgia. The three-aisled basilica is without a transept and, shaped like a hall, has middle and side naves of the same height covered by a common gabled ceiling. The only surviving example is the Sioni basilica at Bolnisi. Variations on this style that are contemporary with Bolnisi or of a somewhat later date do exist but in not so pure a form (Anchiskhati, Urbnisi). The second form, which evolved out of the first in the late sixth century and exists only in Georgia, is the triple-church basilica. This basilica is also without a transept, but - unlike the three-aisled basilica in which side naves are linked to the central nave by arcades - the side naves are shut off from the central aisle by walls and access is only through doors. Although all three aisles were barrel-vaulted, they were cut off from one another, essentially creating three "separate" churches. In addition, the middle room was two to three times higher and wider than the side rooms. Kvemo Bolnisi is an excellent sixth-century example and a higher degree of refinement is evident at Nekresi in the seventh century.

    The second form of building that appeared in Georgia in the early feudal period and evolved into many complex variations was the central domed structure. Domed churches had already achieved a clearly individualized profile by the fifth century, although no fourth-century examples survived. Devoid of a dominant main axis, the central section was either square or hexagonal in shape. (Later types such as the cross cupola churches developed from these). The substructure acted as a base upon which the drum and ultimately the cupola rested. The transition from the room shape to the circular drum was achieved through the use of squinches. Squinches are small arches that grow wider as they project in concentric arches across the interior corners of a square or polygonal room. In Georgia this technology reached a high degree of sophistication early on. The pendentive is a kind of pandrel or triangular area at the corners of a square or polygonal room used to achieve the same effect as the squinch.

    Variations on the central domed church appeared in the sixth and seventh centuries. termed "free-cross"churches, they are cruciform in plan. One variety (Idleti, from the sixth century, and Samtsverisi, from the seventh century) is characterized by having the north, south, and west sections of the cross of the cross end in a quadrate and the eastern apse in a horseshoe. Another variation, also developed in the sixth century and extended in subsequent centuries into highly diverse formulations, was the tetraconch configuration (imagine a square surrounded by a clover leaf). The sixth-century Church of Dzveli-Gavazi is one of its oldest examples. The cathedral of Ninotsminda (sixth century) is the earliest large centralized ecclesiastical building that has survived.

    The turn of the seventh century was an epoch of extraordinary architectural achievement, as the early tentative forms with which Georgian architects struggled to achieve their vision found harmonious completion. The tetraconch Church of Dzhvari is perhaps the shining example of this artistic triumph. original in design and conception, it soon became a model for many other architects. Sioni Ateni, Dzveli Shuamta, Martvili, and Dranda are all churches classified as of the Dzhvari type.

    Although the second half of the seventh century brought the Arab invasion of Georgia, the consensus of scholars is that the base had already been laid for the further expression of a decidedly Georgian aesthetic. Georgian architects moved away from city centers to work for individual rulers in the countryside. They thus felt free of the constraints of the classical rules that had governed previous building. As such, the eighth and ninth centuries were an interesting transitional period, a time of experimentation in which certain hybrid forms were achieved; for example, the fusion of the central domed church and the triple-church basilica. The most notable surviving successes of this kid include the domed Church of Vachnadziani and the double-domed Church of Kvelatsminda at Gurdxhaani. These buildings served as important stepping-stones to the triumphs in grand-scale building that were to come in the greatest period of the Georgian architectural tradition: from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.

    In this epoch no single structural element came to dominate in a way that deflected an appreciation of the whole by absorption with details. the pendentive replaced the squinch as the means of choice for making the transition from the square substructure to the drum. the consequent increase in fluidity largely eliminated any vestiges of ponderousness that might have been felt in the interior. Exterior ornamentation reached a supreme level of artistic confidence. fanciful use of a wide variety of motifs - animal, vegetal and geometric - worked in conjunction with architectonic devices to render a harmonious and powerful organic totality.

    The Golden Age of Georgian culture came to an abrupt end with the invasion by the Mongols in the 1240s. The most important building constructed under Mongol domination occurred in the province of Samtskhe under the rule of the Jakeli family. Through clever political stratagems, the clan leader, Sargis Jakeli managed to stay on the right side of the Mongol khan, thereby managing to found the large domed church of Zarzma in the early 1300. This structure and a very similar church at Sapara are throwbacks to models from 100 years earlier, as was the case with other structures going up in other provinces throughout Georgia at this time. The particular brand of Georgian creativity that had flourished from the tenth to the early thirteenth centuries was in decline.

    Despite many attempts by Georgia to throw off foreign dominance, Iranian influence was the strongest new element in Georgian architecture from the end of the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, Brick became the building material favored over stone, and the arrangement of bricks into patterns is distinctly Islamic, although the Georgians adapted the technique to serve their own Christian iconography. The province of Kakheti possesses the greatest number of excellent examples of Islamic-influenced architecture. The citadel of Gremi and the bell tower of Ninotsminda are superb examples of Georgian interpretation of Persian tastes.

    With Georgia's incorporation into the Russian Empire in the nineteenth century, Russian neo-Classicism came to Tbilisi with a missionary fury. (The three-storey bell tower across form Sioni Cathedral, erected in 1812, is the oldest example). Georgian culture was too strong, however, not to influence the Russians' strict notions of classical order. Seduced by the charms of the Caucasus, the Russians' desire to impose a foreign aesthetic faltered: the resulting hybrids found in Tbilisi are one of the principal architectural joys of that city.

    During the twentieth century, Georgia did not escape the self-aggrandizing piles that marked the Stalinist era. Many municipal ad state buildings were constructed in the 1950s to cow an already sorely tried populace into fearing the power of government. Although a tour of Georgia's outstanding contemporary buildings would not take up much time, one building, the Ministry for Highways in Tbilisi demonstrates that architectural creativity is alive and well in the land.


    Georgian mural painting reached great heights during the flowering of arts in the Middle Ages. National schools of a unique character developed through discovery and celebration of Georgian hagiography as well as through cultural contacts with neighbouring countries. The greatest creativity flourished between the eleventh and the first half of the thirteenth centuries. From the fourteenth century onward the imported Byzantine Paleologian style predominated. Interesting examples of Persian influence during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries can be seen in the secular portraits of founders. In the nineteenth century when Russia annexed Georgia and the Georgian Orthodox Church lost its autocephalous character, many frescoes were whitewashed and irreparably damaged. We are left with only a fraction of what had been. The churches of Ateni Sioni, Udabno, Zemo Krikhi, Gelati, Vardzia, Timotesubani, Bertubani, Kintsvisi, Ubisi and Nekresi contain the most notable surviving examples. In this issue we also included the biography and best works of three famous Georgian artists Niko Pirosmani, Lado Gudiashvili and Elene Akhvlediani.


    large-figure sculpture was considered heretical by the orthodox Church and therefore never developed in Georgia. The consummate artistry of Georgian stonecarving can be seen, however, in the relief work on the facades and capitals of buildings as well as the decoration of altar screens. Techniques for stone carving developed hand in hand with those used for working with precious metals. Both traditions go back to antiquity, when native skills had already reached a high level. Contact with the Roman and Hellenistic worlds also contributed to the evolution of a Georgian style. The early incorporation of Christian iconography on top of pagan motifs is one of the most interesting elements of the early sculpture to be found in the fifth century. In the sixth century the influence of Sassanid Iran can be seen in some of the forms. The altar screens demanded by Georgian liturgy within the church became a focal point of sculptural decoration from the early Middle Ages. From the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, as mural painting took on ever greater importance, sculptural attention to the interior of a structure was almost wholly transferred to the facade where the full creativity of the sculptors flourished. Monumental sculpture is certainly a feature of the twentieth-century artistic landscape. Only a small number are executed along the lines set down by the tenets of Socialist Realism. The overwhelming majority of work, especially when celebrating Georgian themes, bears the distinctive features of a national sensibility where the lesser journey toward faithful likeness is replaced by the search for the embodiment of Georgian archetypes. particularly noteworthy are the monumental sculptures of Elgudja Amashukeli throughout Tbilisi: the colossal Mother Georgia, the kneeling Pirosmani, and the equestrian statue of Vakhtang Gorgasali.


    Only the Georgian artistic achievements in metalwork can be compared to those of architecture during the Middle Ages. The craft has an illustrious pedigree in the Caucasus that goes back to the third millennium BC. From the barrow graves in Trialeti we already know that the ancestors of the Georgian were accomplished in smelting, forging, soldering, stamping, and embossing articles of the greatest delicacy as early as the Bronze Age (from the second millennium to the beginning of the first millennium BC). The numerous bronze belt buckles of fantastic animals that have come down to us from the second half of the first millennium BC provide fascinating links with the animal forms later associated with Scythian art. Examples of Georgian jewelry from the fourth and fifth centuries BC attest to the high technical and aesthetic standards; granulation, embossing, and delicate filigree work created earrings, rings, and pendants equal to anything produced in the antique world. The niello, gold, and sometimes silver icons, crosses, jewelry, and book covers that date from the eighth and ninth centuries are among the earliest examples of the medieval goldsmiths' skills. Pieces such as the Ishkhani Processional Cross from 973, the Khobi Icon of the Virgin Mary (tenth century), and the Martvili Cross and the silver roundel of St. Mamai from Gelati (eleventh century), and the famous Khakhuli Triptych (twelfth century) can be seen in the treasury of the Georgian State Museum. Sometimes these works were encrusted with precious stones, sometimes they were adorned with cloisonn? enameling. Artists such as Beka Opizari set the standards for this work, which combined a wide variety of techniques and materials for achieving a high point of pictorial representation. This work, like the standards in architecture, declined in the late Middle Ages.


    In antiquity the Georgian oral tradition was very strong. Ballads, songs, legends, and proverbs abounded. The legend of Amirani has come down to us through Apollonious Rhodius who makes reference to it in the third century BC. Folk poetry flourished in Georgia after the development of writing. The earliest epigraphic monuments that have survived date from the first half of the fifth century AD. These literary examples, however, are so highly developed that precursors cannot be doubted. In the 470s Jacob Tsurtaveli wrote "The Martyrdom of Saint Shushanik", an original hagiographic work that demonstrates by its literary standards a pre-Christian writing tradition. Georgian literature over the next six centuries was exclusively religious in character, with writers primarily involved with translating biblical and scriptural texts into Georgian.

    The twelfth century is the classical period of Georgian medieval literature. One of the first masterpieces of this period is "Amiran-Darejaniani", ascribed to Mose Khoneli, and adventure of derring-do and chivalrous acts that has its roots in the early folk tales surrounding Amirani. Much of this secular literature has similarities with the Moslem literature of the time. Tales written in Persian were recast in Georgian, most importantly "Shahnama" by Firdausi and Vis-o-Ramin by Gurgani, with a plot very similar to that of Tristan and Iseult.

    Many of the best writers of the twelfth century belonged to the courts of the Georgian kings, notably Shota Rustaveli, the most celebrated figure of Georgian culture. His major work "The Knight in the Panther's Skin" is regarded as the national epic.

    During the thirteenth century Giorgi was devastated by the Mongol invasions. With Tamerlane's death in 1405 the process of national renewal could begin, but it was not until the sixteenth century that a new literary spirit flowered. Patriotic in nature, the work of this period is marked by interpolations and sequels to the "Knight in the Panther's Skin". "The Omaniani", written at the beginning of the seventeenth century, follows the adventures of Tariel's grandson, Oman. Georgian literature in the sixteenth century had renewed many of its ties with Moslem oriental verse. The major seventeenth-century poet and statesman, King Teimouraz I, was a great admirer of Persian poetry, having been brought up at the court of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629). he recast many Persian poems into Georgian. Despite his affection for the Persian Language, King Teimouraz suffered both personally and politically at the hands of the Persians. His long narrative poem, "The Martyrdom of Ketevan" is about his mother's torture at the hands of Shah Abbas.

    In the first part of the eighteenth century, King Vakhtang VI (1675 - 1737) led Georgia's intellectual life. A monarch, scholar and poet, he collected and edited many historical works and codified a set of laws, "The Code of Vakhtang". he is responsible for setting up in 1709 the first press to print gooks in Georgian and his 1712 edition of "The Knight in the Panther's Skin" contains his extensive commentary. Eastern Georgia was incorporated into Russia in 1801. The school of Georgian Romanticism that had been born in the exiled community Vakhtang VI found full expression at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the work of Alexander Chavchavadze (1786 - 1846), the son of Garsevan, the ambassador to Russia of King Herekle II. His verse expressed his deep disappointment at his country's loss of independence.

    Grigol Orbeliani (1804 - 1883) was Chavchavadze's artistic brother, writing in the Georgian Romantic tradition, which addressed the need for the restoration of Georgia's independence through the efforts of patriots. the Romantic tradition reached its apogee with Nikoloz Baratashvili (1818 - 1845), who dreamed of liberty and independence for his motherland, while recognizing the futility of retreating into an idealized vision of past glories. he found solace in nature. "Twilight on Mtatsminda", and believed in selflessly serving his countrymen, "Meditation on the Mtkvari's Bank".

    The end of the nineteenth, the beginning of the 20th century gave to the Georgian literature such prominent names as Akaki Tsereteli and Ilya Chavchavadze, the latter admitted to be the honour of Georgian literature and culture, who has played the greatest role in the political, social and cultural life of Georgia.

    Twentieth-century innovation in literature came with the symbolist movement embraced by "the Blue Horns". In 1916 this group began publishing a magazine of the same name. Among the contributors were Paolo Yashvili, Titian Tabidze, Galaktion Tabidze, Kolau Nadiradze, and Valerian Gaprindashvili. Their radical experimentation thrived in the years of Georgia's independence between 1918 and 1921 but was suppressed in the years of Bolshevik domination.

    The great Georgian novelist, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia (1891-1975), chose to explore Georgia's past through his historical novels. "The Hand of the Great Builder", "The Abduction of the Moon", and "David the Builder" are much loved and read throughout Georgia.

    Georgian Music

    Georgian music culture is acknowledged in many countries of the world. composers G. Kancheli, S. Tsintsadze, S. Nasidze, Conductor - J. Kakhidze, Violinists - L. Isakadze, M. Iashvili, Piano players - E. Virsaladze, L. Toradze, Singer - P. Burchuladze, laureate of a number of international competitions - Georgian State String Quartet, Georgian State Chamber Music Orchestra enjoy the success in the leading concert halls of the world.

    The existence of first-rate symphony orchestras, musical theatres in different cities, wide network of musical schools, distinguished original national school of composers seem unbelievable if one takes into account the fact that the academic music as understood under European standards counts only a number of decades. In fact it originated at the end of the XIX and the beginning of XX centuries. The prerequisite for the swift development lies in the high potential and ancient history of the Georgian musical culture. The AD manuscripts give information on Georgian civilization - Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions mention the original musical rituals of the tribes residing on the territory of Georgia. The archaeological excavations revealed the ancient musical instruments, salamuri (pipe), changi (string instrument) etc. dated back to XVIII - XXV AD. The importance of music in the lives of Colchis and Iberians was stressed by ancient Greek historians Herodote, Xenophon, Strabone?
    Folk music, namely polyphonic choir performance traditions have a special place among the cultural values of the Georgian people. The Georgian folk music can be considered unique without any exaggeration in the world music culture. If we imagine the world music map, we shall see that Georgia is a polyphony oasis in the desert of monody, one part musical traditions. The tradition of polyphony has been preserved from ancient times till today.

    Every region of Georgia has its own tradition of specific musical dialect and the manner of performance, none the less all of them share the same intonation and harmony characteristics. Here the parallel can be made with the diverse nature of the country. It is the style that occurs in three specific forms from : the complex polyphony found in Svanetia, whereby all the voices follow the same rhythmic pattern, producing chordal progression; the polyphonic dialogue typical of Eastern Georgia with two high voices over a drone bass; and the contrastive polyphony widespread in Western Georgia and characterized by predominantly three-part writing.

    Georgian folk songs are generally written in three-part polyphony, though four-part writing is also found, as is clear from Gurian and Adzharian work songs. Unison singing has survived in a few mountainous regions such as those inhabited by the Khevsur and Tushetians, and individual examples of monophonic songs are occasionally found in both Western and Eastern Georgia. They include work, cradle, burial and mourning songs and are sometimes accompanied by native instruments.

    On hearing a recording of the Gurian marching song, Khasanbegura, Igor Stravinsky said: "One of the ? most impressive recent musical experiences? I owe to? the tapes of polyphonic singing recorded in mountain villages near Tiflis. The discovery of an active performing tradition of music ranging from tenth-century conductus and organum to High Renaissance was a major find, I think, contributes to performance knowledge being even more valuable than acquisitions of more music? The yodeling, called 'krimanchuli' in Georgian? is the most virile vocal performance I have ever heard."

    It is natural that the rich musical tradition gave birth to the professional ecclesiastic music right after the introduction of Christianity in Georgia (IVth century). This genre was especially developed in local ecclesiastic academies and schools (Gelati, Ikalto) and the Georgian cultural centres abroad (Jerusalem, Athoni, mount Sina, Petritsoni (Bulgaria)). The collection of hymns of VIII-X centuries (the most famous of which are the hymns of Michael Modrekili of IX-X cc.) provide with the wide variety of texts and original musical symbols. Georgian and foreign researchers are working to decipher them.

    All these songs reflect the creative imagination of the Georgian nation, its highly developed auditory sensitivity and complex and sophisticated musical thinking. It is no accident that in 1977 a recording of the song Chakrulo was launched into space on board an American space probe as an example of human civilization.

    Unfortunately due to historical and political situation Georgian culture was cut from the main stream of development of the European musical culture. Only in the XIX century despite the annexation of Georgia by Russia and the subsequent colonial policy and Russification, Georgia began to develop its academic national musical culture with the orientation to the European music. The acquaintance with the European opera brought about the development of this genre and in a number of years the national operas were created by the composers Z. Paliashvili, M. Balanchivadze, D. Arakishvili and V. Dolidze. The 20ies - 30ies of the 20th century were marked by the development of chamber and symphony music genres

    Georgian Congregational Song

    Christanity became the state religion of Georgia in the first half of 4th century, in 337. Since that time, Christian cathedrals are built and divine services are conducted and, accordingly, Christian church singing began. Originally, Georgian church singing underwent foreign influence. That influence came from Palestine and Syria, on the one hand, and Byzantine, on the other hand. But the original hymnographical patterns are crweated since the 5th century.

    Georgian church singing of the 7th century was already liberated from foreign influence. The stream of polyphony came into church singing, that caused nationalization of Georgian songs of wordship. This process was based on the abundance of the elements of folk music, which depended more in the following centuries.


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