TBILISI, Georgia - Lili Tsulukidze stood in amazement in front of the house she grew up on King Erekle Street in the middle of the Kala district in February.
“Unfortunately my childhood house was in a very bad state as it was built in the 19th century,” she recalled. “The roof was broken, even the walls missed some bricks. But now it has the same appearance; I think that it is the same as it was in my childhood, white façade walls with a brown entrance doors.”
In Tbilisi, by the end of 2009 city hall has already invested millions of laris, though Old Town Administrator Lasha Purtskvanidze refuses to say the exact amount of money that has come out of the city budget. Reconstruction includes the old Tbilisi districts: Sololaki, Avlabari, Mtatsminda and Kala. Project organizers estimate the renovation will take place over a 5-10 year period but they are hesitant to say now how much they plan to spend.
“There are thousands of buildings to reconstruct and we can hardly say how many laris all the buildings we’ll ultimately need,” says Purtskvanidze.
As most of the buildings in the old part of Tbilisi were built in the beginning of the1900s, many are in a state of disrepair, a state worsened, say people who live in the neighborhoods, by an earthquake in 2002.
“I remember that the earthquake had a strong affect and it caused the cracks in our houses,” says Tamar Sarajishvili, who lives on Davitashvili Street in the Sololaki district. Her house is on the list to be fixed, and city officials told her it will be finished by the end of 2010.
The project includes repair and reconstruction of apartments of the old part of Tbilisi, renovation of houses, damaged roofs; repair of special water culverts; restoration of the narrow streets, pavements and the restoration of the facades of the famous buildings, such as the Rustaveli Theatre, Tbilisi Museum of Art and Opera house on Rustaveli Avenue. The emphasis is on renovation adhering to Tbilisi’s distinct architectural style, according to Purtskhvanidze. The yards will be enclosed with new fences that will be same as the old ones and will characterize old Tbilisi, and the houses will have open balconies again.
“It is important to preserve the old look, as the Old town is more than two centuries old, and it will be senseless to lose the previous charm of the city,” says Purtskhvanidze.
Planners decided to start with the Kala district, where Tbilisi’s famous sulfur bath-houses and ancient churches are located. About 20 buildings were renovated in 2009. The yards have been fenced with break hedges characteristic for old Tbilisi and the appearance of the new district remains the same, wooden carved balconies, ornamented entrance doors. The narrow streets have been repaired too and cobbled with small stones.
Though the city is focusing on preserving the old character of old Tbilisi, some additions are new, like the current construction of a foot bridge in lower Kala district, in the front of the Sioni Cathedral to ford the Kura River so the city dwellers will be able to cross by foot. According to some passersby on the river banks, the new bridge will be one of the safest ways for pedestrians to cross the river.
“Well, there is always traffic in Baratashvili and Metekhi bridges, and they are the only ways that connects my house to my work place. The foot bridge is perfect, I am sure that I won’t cross the bridge rapidly any more, in case to avoid the danger of an accident,” says city dweller Nino Kancheli.
Purtskhvanidze is passionate about this reconstruction project, and says that it is of paramount importance not to destroy any old buildings. If the experts say that reconstruction is impossible, because the building is too old and is going to fall down, the government will leave it, or give an opportunity to the private investors to rebuild them – based on approval of the city, he adds.
“We have sent the investors the list of damaged houses, so that the building companies that have the means of building the new house, can have a conversation with us to inform us about their projects, show us the model or a draft of the future house and then they can do their work,” says Purtskhvanidze.
The incentive for investors who will be willing to fix the houses with their own sources is that they will get to own that building free, there are some houses that reconstruction is impossible as they have many cracks so the investors have opportunities to rebuilt them, they have a limit one year for each house rebuilding. If the building works last more than a year then city hall will be able to cancel the building license for investor. They also they have to provide the temporary dwelling places for people who live in that houses. The rebuilding includes to regard the quadratic amount of the area and rebuild the approximate construction, also the inside part of the building will be the same size and even the number of rooms should be identical. - Says Purtshkvanidze.
As Purtskhvanidze says, he offered this about a year ago and yet there has been no response from them. Purtskhvanidze names the financial crisis in Georgia as the main reason of non-response. But he’s willing to wait. Repairing all the buildings is an “expensive pleasure,” he says.