Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Svaneti, Part 4: An Aside on Preservation v. Reconstruction, et al

Mestia, Georgia.

The hype

Georgians swoon over two things Georgian: Barbecue pork (mtsvardi) and Svaneti.  I estimate only 15% of Georgians have actually been to Svaneti, but that doesn't take away from the legend. It is the Land of Beauty, the Strong, the Valiant, the Wild, the Tradition.

Yes, there are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Svani jokes that poke fun at the presumed dunce-headedness of Svanis. But at the same time Georgians admire how Svans thrive in their harsh climate (and culture). One man I know refers to Svans as "our wild Georgians."

The reality

Svaneti is beautiful. So are Racha, Kazbegi (Stepantsminda), Shatili, and other Georgian mountain locations. Svaneti is not more beautiful than any of these, but it enjoys the greater hype. My point is this: If you're a person visiting Georgia and can't make it to Svaneti, know that if you can get to any of these other locations, you'll see stunning panoramas.

Preservation v. Restoration v. Reconstruction

Mestia, the default Svani village destination, is undergoing massive construction. It seems destined to become what some (including me) call the Disneyfied version of historic Georgian structures, a reproduction of An Authentic Georgian Village.

It is disconcerting to see a building that looks brand new, but which is purportedly ancient. St. Nino's Church in Mtskheta is an example. For me, there is something missing when a building is over-restored. It loses the dignity of its age. 

St. Nino's Church in Mtskheta, Georgia

I don't know enough about the fine points of the terms "conservation" ("preservation" in the U.S.), "restoration," "renovation," and "reconstruction," but from what I do understand, it seems that Georgia's approach is on the pushing-the-envelope end of "restoration" and on into "reconstruction." This site about Kutaisi uses the terms "restoration" and "reconstruction."

From this site, here are some bare-bones definitions: 


Preservation means maintaining the fabric of a place in its existing state and retarding deterioration.


Restoration means returning the existing fabric of a place to a known earlier state by removing accretions or by reassembling existing components without the introduction of new material.


Reconstruction means returning a place to a known earlier state and is distinguished from restoration by the introduction of new material into the fabric.

I don't know the answers. Perhaps Georgia needs to reconstruct (including replicate), but then distress the finished, reconstructed products to make them look older. It's still all smoke and mirrors, but at least it will appear more Authentic.

In Part 5, I'll get back to the actual visit to Mestia.

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