Georgians are fantastic storytellers. And if you look at its neighbours and try and understand a bit of its history, you can get plenty of cues.
Georgian storytelling comes from its strategic location. Lying on the crossroads of Byzantine, Persia, Ottoman Sultanate and Russia, with influences from the Silk Route, its neighbours like Azerbaijan which was historically Zoroastrian and more recently Islamic; and Armenia which has its own unique culture dating back to pre-Christian era, the languages, religions, food and heritage has enriched its culture.
Following the decline of Byzantine, King David the builder and his daughter Queen Tamar have given Georgians rich narratives of the country’s Golden Age.
The courtly romance between Shota Rustaveli, the country’s famed poet who was also a secret admirer of Queen Tamar, gave birth to his epic: Knight in a Panther’s Skin which was incidentally inspired by Ferdowsi’s Shah Nameh.
Following the country being enmeshed in the feuding Ottomans and Persians, Georgia made an alliance with Russia which came under the white regime of the Tsars and opened up the country to European literature and Art Nouveau, the prevalent form of architecture from late 18th century until WWI.
October Revolution sobered Georgian writers and the country took a very long time to return to its literary zenith in the post-Stalinist era. The Georgian Civil War in the South Caucasus region of Abkhazia and South Ossetia further destabilised the country, leading to emigration and loss to the local publishing houses. Even today, there are no long-standing publications of daily newspapers.
Museum of Books
The Museum of Books was aimed at documenting and preserving Georgia’s rich literary culture. Located at Lado Gudiashvili St, it is the largest museum in the Caucasus containing more than 19,000 rare books and manuscripts including Rustaveli’s illustrated Knight in Panther’s Skin.
The museum is inside the restored Bank of Nobility that was constructed in 1913-1916 by architect Anatoli Kalgin and painter Henry Hrinevski who had expertise in adornments of ceilings characteristic of Georgian monasteries.
The National Parliamentary Library of Georgia
Formerly the office of the State Bank the Art Nouveau building (called Modern Style in Georgia), was designed by architect, Micheil Ohanjanov and built in 1910. The interiors incorporated iron and glass to let in the light, curving lines that emulated the movement and forms of vines and leaves, at the same time adding Neo-classical and Palladian touches from Greek and Roman temples.
Unknown books in obscure book houses
… of which there are many. What the country needs is funds to preserve these books and classify those that are ancient heritage and valuable and those from its recent Soviet occupation.
There are many other book houses in Tbilisi and I wish I had more time to walk around to discover them. What is most fascinating is that these book houses too have stories to tell.
For a detailed review on Georgia, please also read my blog: Georgia – the land of wine and blood