Saturday Was Museum Day

Not everyone likes museums, but I do. Museums not only educate me about new countries and display artifacts representing people’s lives, they illustrate what the country’s people think is important about their country, and what I should know about them and take away with me.

The museums in Tbilisi are close together on the same side of Rustaveli Street as the Marriott Tbilisi, the Georgian National Museum and the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts.

The Georgian National Museum is about Georgia. The first room on the first floor was this display, all “eyes” trained on the entrance.

It was an excellent display about prehistoric animals and humans in the Georgia area. Humans – Neanderthal and Homo sapiens – have occupied the region for thousands of years. Fragments of the prehistoric animals were placed on drawings of the entire animal, which was very helpful in visualization.

The natural history section, filled with taxidermy, was very interesting, filled with variations of animals that are familiar to us: vultures, eagles, fish and sea-mammals, bears, weasels, etc.

No one ever warned me about tigers, so I don’t think there are any in Georgia now, but apparently at some time, there were.

Up on the third floor is an incredible display of Georgia under Soviet occupation.

As I walked through the arch into the exhibit, the first thing is a section of a boxcar:

Those are bullet holes. The sign in the lower right corner says, “One of the carriages in which Chekists shot down the participants of the anti-Bolshevik uprising of August 30, 1924.” Yes, they were loaded onto boxcars and then shot.

This is an “incomplete list of public figures and citizens shot in the period of the Soviet occupation.”

Georgia became the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia on May 26, 1918, and over the next year was recognized by eighteen states, including the Entente Powers, of which Bolshevik Russia was a member. “Nine months after the recognition of Georgia’s independence, the Bolshevik Government of Russia occupied the Democratic Republic of Georgia in flagrant violation of almost all terms of the Treaty singed [sic] on May 7, 1920.”

Downstairs, in the basement of the museum, is a beautiful collection of religious artifacts – jewelry, icons, vestments, and other items.

In ancient times, the area of Georgia that borders the Black Sea was known as Colchis, which along with Mycenae, Sardis, and Babylon, became wealthy from trade in the 8th century BC, but especially from their gold and gold work. Trade routes brought the influence of western culture and eastern culture together, inspiring a unique style. The streams of the Caucasus literally ran with gold, and it was a common practice to put a shaggy sheepskin into the stream to collect the fine particles floating through the stream. Many speculate that this is the origin of the search for the Golden Fleece myths and legends.

My favorites were the tapestries and robes that were made in a later period:

A painted stone piece:

Next, I went to a museum, affiliated with the Museum of Georgia, filled with religious art. I was not allowed to take photos of the displays, which included beautiful, intricately decorated books, the “illuminated manuscripts” you read about in history class, and crucifixes, crosses, and vestments, all decorated with pure gold, pearls, emeralds, rubies, gold threads, and other valuable elements, not to mention that the items themselves had a high intrinsic historical value. To enter the exhibit areas at all, I was required to hire and be escorted by a guide, and fortunately there was one woman who spoke reliable English.

Marta was her name, and Marta told me an interesting story. This collection, she said, was packed up and sent to Russia for safe-keeping during WWI. The Georgian Orthodox Church despaired of recovering these items – the Bolsheviks were famously opposed to organized religion, and the value of the items’ decorations would be a great temptation for thieves and impoverished bureaucrats. But, against all expectation of the Russians, it was Josef Stalin who was instrumental in returning the collection, intact, to Georgia, his native country. Marta said that, whatever others said about Stalin, the Church was grateful for this unexpected act on behalf of Georgia and the Georgian Orthodox Church.

After being immersed in the Museum of Georgia, I moved on to the Fine Arts Museum to look at “modern,” meaning mainly 20th century artwork, with some pieces from the 19th century and 21st century. The works are roughly divided between pure artistic expression and works with political overtones, some subtle, some not.

And one of my favorites, a painting of St. George, patron saint of Georgia:

The Museum of Fine Arts was made with a lot of glass. The stairs – all three flights – were also made of glass. For someone with a fear of heights – me, for example – it was very, very hard to step onto the stairs to return to the first floor. I ended up taking the elevator, which was also glass, but somehow easier to overcome the effect.

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