Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Discovering an Abandoned Patina Gem in Tbilisi - Surb Nshan

In my quest to photograph the rich patina left by the passage of time on the historic buildings of this part of the city, I wandered through the narrow cobbled backstreets of Old Tbilisi. No Google maps, no travel guides, no itinerary. Only comfortable shoes, a bottle of water, a camera and an insatiable appetite to find the most exquisite examples of authentic patina on walls, doors and other architectural details.

It was while photographing a rusty balcony, that I first got a glimpse of it. The state of the roof tiles alone was a magnet strong enough. All thoughts of getting a good shot of the balcony disappeared. I had to get closer.

This is how I stumbled upon this outstanding gem, tucked away between the weathered old houses, tightly crammed together.

Oblivious to the history of this old church and even its name, I was completely mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the patina it possessed. The patterns and texture which the old exposed bricks created. The decaying details of the sculpted decorations which were emphasized by the dust of years gone by that had settled in the cracks and hollows. The cracking and crumbling plaster. The fading and peeling of the original paint. It was patina heaven!

This sight in front of me was completely captivating. Nothing else mattered and right then there was no other place in the world I'd rather be. I just wanted to absorb every little detail of this abandoned, decaying beauty.

From its dilapidated state, it was clear that it had not been in use for quite some time. Weeds and even young trees were sprouting from the cracks in the walls. Some had even matured. Nature had taken its course here.

Locked and barricaded, it was impossible to even get a glimpse of the interior, which, judging by the magnificent details of the exterior, must have been splendid in its beauty at some point. I had to be satisfied with what I could see from the outside. The rest was out of bounds and this, of course, left me very curious.

Only later did I learn that this is an Armenian Apostolic Church, built between 1703 and 1711, and then reconstructed in 1780. It is called the Surb Nshan Church of the Holy Seal.

It seems that it has not functioned as a place of worship for about a century now. During the Soviet era, it was utilised for several other purposes. During World War II it was used as a warehouse and later as a book depository for the National Library. Since then, a fire has partially destroyed it. No repairs and additional neglect due to some kind of dispute between the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church regarding the history of the original site, has sadly resulted in it to be in this derelict state.

What its fate is, I don't know. It's heartbreaking to think that something as splendid as this and with such great historic value may not survive due to politics or religious differences. I'm simply grateful for the opportunity of a face to face encounter to compliment it on its immense beauty.

I never did get a decent shot of that balcony but it really didn't matter. I found something so much better!

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  1. Well , that photos definitely stunning, I've been there last summer I wish if I had good Camera so I can close up some catches but looks like you did the job , very nice stunning patina

  2. Tania you always amaze me with your eye for finding such patina all around you! I've greatly enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your creative spirit with us!