Ruins. Peeled paint. Rust. Dust. Walls tilted to impossible angles, defying gravity. Roofs caving in. Empty plots strewn with rubbish. Stray animals.
These are some of the features that welcome the visitor in Tbilisi’s old town and, there’s no way to deny it, they aren’t what I’d choose if I was the mayor of a city and I wished to launch a charm offensive to put my constituency on the world’s tourist map.
Walking through the Old City’s streets it’d be easy to assume to be entering a ghost town, inhabited by no one but shadows of a former, grand past. It’d be easy to take the country’s recent history – a war against Russia that has ended in disaster, two breakaway provinces, a harsh recession, unprecedented economic migration – and paint a portrait of doom and gloom over the entire capital and, by reflex, over the whole Georgia.
It’d be easy, but it’d also be wrong.
The fact is that, despite all the issues, despite the fact that almost every tenement had windows evidently recycled from elsewhere, Old Tbilisi is very much alive, stubbornly alive. Life in Tbilisi appears unexpectedly and it’s so fresh, unfiltered in its appearance that it quickly becomes intoxicating. I found myself combing the winding alleys of the centre, capturing as many facets of a town down but not quite out yet.
I decided, in these pictures, not to include any human but, instead, to show how the current inhabitants are acting on their environment: in a way, I decided to pay attention to the ‘footprints’ of their permanence in this city.
What I found is, indeed, a kind of vitality I wasn’t expecting. Everything, from the small bakery deep in the recesses of a building’s dusty cellar to the many informal shops selling groceries and second hand clothes, from the graffiti to the rather impromptu attempts at maintaining the buildings, tells me of a community that is there to stay and, actually, is looking towards the future.
Tbilisi, as I had the chance to write in a previous dispatch, lies at a crossroad. It’s still deciding what it wants to do, whether to become a Caucasian Disneyland or a worthwhile alternative to Istanbul, Lisbon or Naples on the tourist Grand Tour of Europe. Whatever the path it will choose I’m happy to have visited Tbilisi today as it stands at the crossroad, scratching its head in indecision.
Please click on one image to start the slideshow.
Empty lots mark where tenements were knocked down in the mid 2000’s, only to be left vacant as the subsequent crisis took hold.
For other places, though, the destruction is still happening.
It doesn’t happen often to be afraid of walking down a road for fear of it, well, falling on you.
Graffiti and stencils, sometimes political but always very sarcastic, can be seen at every corner.
Empty walls are the canvas.
Not much to see here.
Wish you were here… but there’s just a black cat.
Holy cows and beauty salons.
Legal anarchists. They have to exist somewhere, I guess.
The wall of this house was decorated with the names of a 1990s Italian Nazionale. Defender Paolo Maldini rightfully claimed his spot as the architrave.
This selfie craze must have started sometime.
Peeking through broken windows. I wonder when these doors have been closed for the last time.
I tried the door, but the Lux Hostel seemingly has closed.
Many of the graffiti have a political connotation.
The houses might be neglected, but the courtyards are rich with life.