Art Nouveau arrived to Tbilisi in 1901, when a pavilion in this style was built for an agricultural exhibition, organised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the unification of Georgia with the Russian Empire. The style unleashed the creative energy of local artists and became widely popular all over Georgia. Tbilisi came to be one of its notable centres.
Art Nouveau is said to have come to Georgia in two ways, through Russia and directly from Western Europe, culminating in a unique local version of the style. The Modern Style, as Art Nouveau is called here, is visibly more improvisational than in other European cities that I have visited. It seems to rely less on architectural norms, offering surprises at each turn. In addition to new structures constructed in Modern Style, several older buildings got a new look at the time, such as a number of 19th-century apartment houses, especially when it comes to their balconies. The most original feature of Georgian Modern Style is said to be the backyard balcony, which replaces the typical wooden balconies on the façades, showing a harmonious blend of European architecture and Georgian traditions.
Today, many Modern Style buildings in Tbilisi are in a poor state of repair, up to the point that the World Monuments Fund has listed them among the most important endangered monuments in the world. This is largely due to the decades-long neglect imposed on these buildings in the Soviet era. Another problem is poor renovation culture. Structures have lost their original decorative elements and some have suffered from severe modifications which altered their entire character.
Also, not much systematic research has been carried out on the Art Nouveau heritage of Tbilisi, resulting in a lack of information about the buildings. All this could, however, change for the better soon, as indicated by the increasing number of materials for tourists about the style (such as suggestions for walking tours) as well as by the visible interest of visitors in it.
Below are photos of 56 notable Modern Style structures in Tbilisi. I will first list the buildings on and around the David Agmashenebeli Avenue in the old German neighbourhood on the east bank of the Kura (Mtkvari) River. Then I will proceed to the west bank of the river, where the old town of Tbilisi and the Sololaki, Mtatsminda and Vera neighbourhoods can be found. The structures are arranged geographically. I took the photos in December 2018 and in August and September 2019.
Take a look at the map below to see the locations of the buildings.
Part One: East Bank
1. Rome Street 4
Simon Kldiashvili, 1902
This building dates back to the second half of the 19th century. It was the home of Giorgi Kartvelishvili, a successful businessman, publisher and philanthropist. It was reconstructed in Modern Style in 1902, making it the earliest known example of the style in Tbilisi. Its architect came to be one of the leading figures of Georgian Art Nouveau.
2. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 36
This is one of the few restored Modern Style residential buildings in Tbilisi. It was home to Erasti Chavchanidze, an influential merchant and patron of arts. Because of its location in the pedestrian part of the Agmashenebeli Avenue, where there are many bars, cafés and restaurants, it is probably the most photographed of all of the Modern Style buildings in Tbilisi.
Not many passers-by know, though, that this building has a unique interior decoration. The walls of its entrance hallway are decorated with paintings depicting scenes from the medieval Georgian epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli, while the ceiling is adorned with angels. The ceilings of rooms were said to be painted with swallows or butterflies.
3. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 27
Ghazar Sarkisyan, 1905
This building, the way it looks today, dates from 1905 and is a restyling of an earlier building. The shape of the stretched-out false window, the semicircular decorations around the three windows and the colour of the plaster remind me of the Lebedinski Apartment Building in Riga (Mikhail Eisenstein, 1904).
This building is somehow related to Alexander Mantashev, a prominent Armenian oil magnate and industrialist, but I haven’t been able to verify how exactly. Sarkisyan, the architect, also designed the Mantashev Rows on the other side of the river.
4. Mikheil Tsinamdzghvrishvili Street 7 / Mose Gogiberidze Street 7
This corner building is one of my favourite examples of Modern Style in Tbilisi. The three vertical lines can be found on numerous façades around Tbilisi, but here they are slightly sinuous and have small circles at the end, which makes one think of the moving spermatozoa.
5. Ivane Javakhishvili Street 6
This prominent residential building overlooking the Ivane Javakhishvili Square has kidney-shaped windows, round floral decorations around windows and mascarons.
6. Maksim Gorki Street 1
Another, though less imposing, Modern Style building on Ivane Javakhishvili Square
7. Ivane Javakhishvili Street
This building, whose number I don’t recall and have not been able to figure out, has interesting Art Nouveau volutes around the upper-storey windows.
8. Tsinamdzghvrishvili Street 39
This residential building has an interesting ground plan with two identical facades on Tsinamdzghvrishvili and Kolaus Nadiradze Streets. Its Baroque Modern Style look makes it one of the most exhuberant buildings in the area.
9. Giorgi Mazniashvili Street 16
This building with circles of different size, a belt of flowers and strong horizontal axes is one of my favourite Modern Style buildings in Tbilisi.
10. Egnate Ninoshvili Street 19
One of the several Nordic-looking Art Nouveau buildings in Tbilisi
11. Egnate Ninoshvili Street 28
Grigol Kurdiani, 1904
The façade decoration of this building is probably the most interesting in the Plekhanov district.
12. Ia Kargareteli Street 3a
This building has a very elegant, almost minimalist Modern Style decoration around the doorway.
13. Ia Kargareteli Street 3b
The most notable element of this building is the tower-like structure ornamented with colourful ceramic tiles and a dense leaf carpet.
14. Apollo Cinema
David Agmashenebeli Avenue 135
This is one of the first cinema buildings in Georgia and the only surviving Modern Style cinema in Tbilisi. It is an important monument as the arrival of Art Nouveau and the advent of cinema went hand in hand. Today the Apollo is a famous example of a bad restoration, during which many original details and features were erased, taking from the building its character.
15. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 133
An eclectic Modern Style building across the street from the Apollo Cinema
16. Palace Cinema / Kakhidze Music Center
David Agmashenebeli Avenue 125-127
This building, which now houses the Kakhidze Music Centre, started life in 1909 or 1914 as the Palace Cinema. Only the entrance hall and small fragments of the façade are preserved of the original building.
17. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 130
I like this façade for the controlled placement of decorative elements.
18. Jansughi Kakhidze Street 10
This residential building, designed by a German architect, is one of the more mentioned Modern Style buildings in Tbilisi. Its façade is notable for its green and blue ceramic tiles.
19. Ushangi Chkheidze Street 8
Mikhail Neprintsev, 1913
This building started life as a school. Its architecture shows a shift towards a more modest version of Art Nouveau, typical of the late years of the movement.
20. Constantine Zubalashvili’s Public House / Marjanishvili Theatre
Kote Marjanishvili Street 8
Stepan Krichinsky, 1902-1907
This building, designed by Russian architect Stepan Krichinsky, was originally a public house – an educational and cultural institution where reading and writing was taught. It was commissioned by the Zubalashvili brothers, successful businessmen who funded the construction of several public buildings in the city. Since 1930 Kote Marjanishvili’s theatre operates in it. Together with the Rustaveli Theatre, it is one of the most important theatres in Georgia. The building is probably the most impressive public building in Modern Style in Tbilisi.
21. Pavilion next to Marjanishvili Theatre
Kote Marjanishvili Street 8
This glass pavilion with extravagant ironwork stands next to the Marjanishvili Theatre. It was probably constructed quite recently as I did not see it in a photo of the theatre from 1934. It reminds me of the most elaborate of the entrances of Paris Métro (by Hector Guimard). Some Art Nouveau elements can also be found on the inside, in the café that operates in the pavilion.
22. Arch next to Marjanishvili Theatre
Dimitri Uznadze Street
This structure, reminiscent of a triumphal arch, is part of the complex of the Marjanishvili Theatre. Its purpose and date of construction are unknown to me.
23. Caucasian Officers’ Economic Society
Kote Marjanishvili Street 7
Aleksander Rogojski, 1912-1913
The late Modern Style building standing opposite the Marjanishvili Theatre belongs to the TBC Bank. Like the Apollo Cinema not far away, it is an example of a poor renovation. Rogojski was a Polish architect from whom several buildings in Georgia survive, such as the Cathedral of the Mother of God in Batumi (1898-1903).
24. Pavilion on Kote Marjanishvili Square
David Agmashenebeli Avenue 89 / Kote Marjanisvhili Street 24
I don’t know anything about the history of this glass-and-iron pavilion, whether a similar structure stood here in the Art Nouveau era, and when and why the current pavilion was built here. It must be somehow connected to the more elaborate pavilion adjacent to the Marjanishvili Theatre.
25. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 91b
This building must have been constructed for either entertainment or commercial purposes. I haven’t been able to find any information about it online.
26. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 93
One of the many eclectic Modern Style buildings on Agmashenebeli Avenue
27. David Agmashenebeli Avenue 95
A Modern Style building with interesting dormer windows