Caucasus Journey VIII: Leaving Kutaisi

April 13, 2009
I woke up on Sunday to beautiful clear weather. It was so clear, in fact, that on my way into town in the morning I realized that Kutaisi was surrounded by snow-capped mountains I hadn’t seen the previous two days. Since I hadn’t been able to see the mountains during the course of Saturday’s excursion to the Bagrati Cathedral on the bluff overlooking Kutaisi, I decided to hike up there again in order to get some better photographs.
In the afternoon, I went out to Vani, about 25 miles southwest of Kutaisi. Vani is an ancient city, established in the 6th century BC. I took a marshrutka out there, with the hour-long ride taking me through some really gorgeous scenery.  
Vani and the Mountains


When I got to the town of Vani, I asked someone on the street to point me in the direction of the ancient city, and the guy offered to take me there himself. We walked together for about fifty meters until, calling and pointing to a guy walking down a narrow path towards the middle of town, he handed me off to the director of the archaeological museum which abuts the site. The director, who introduced himself to me as Dr. Omar (Dr. Omar, meet Dr. James), explained that he’d given up on having any visitors that day and had been heading home, so I felt pretty fortunate to have bumped into him. 
Dr. Omar and I walked back up the path leading to the site and chatted a bit about Batumi, where I had just come from, and Tbilisi, which is where I’m heading next. He explained that the most of the museum’s prize collection of gold headdresses and other such ornamentation is currently on a world tour, presently in Athens and soon making its way to the United States.
When we got to the museum, I tried to walk around rather quickly as I was frankly more interested in seeing the ruins themselves. I felt a little bad about zooming through quickly. I paid my admission fee, then tried to linger as long as possible with the remaining exhibits, but they were frankly a little paltry and in any case the last bus back to Kutaisi would be leaving in just a little over an hour. Had I not felt self-conscious about insulting my hosts I would have been out of there in just a couple of minutes, and as it was I still didn’t spend more than 10-12 minutes walking through the small two-storey building. When I was done, Dr. Omar still seemed a little hurt that I’d gone through it so quickly, and I explained that I was really anxious to see the site and didn’t have much time. I bought a cheap reproduction of a coin for 1 Lar (60 cents) in an effort to assuage my guilt.
To get from the museum to the archaeological site I had to walk across a very rickety pedestrian bridge which spanned the road below. After crossing the bridge I quickly trudged up a path leading to the site, anxious to get started. But when I got to the top, all I saw were a couple of stones, a set of steps, and the foundations to a few buildings. I walked around for another five minutes, perplexed and angry at myself for getting lost while time was a-wasting. There were a couple of inhabited houses nearby, and when I saw someone walking onto their porch I called out and asked where the site was. Apparently I was already in it. I had seen everything there was to see in five minutes.
So Vani isn’t exactly Ephesus, and if I’d known it was so small I would have spent a little more time in the museum (as it was, Dr. Omar had locked it up tight behind me after I left). In any case, it was a nice trip out there and back. And I’m sure that once the gold returns from its world tour, the museum will be a lot more interesting. And the views from the site were splendid.
After getting back to Kutaisi in the late afternoon, I walked around some parts of the city I hadn’t been to before. There’s a cable car which spans the river, leading up to a hilltop, which I decided seemed kind of fun. The car was about the size of two telephone booths, and could comfortable hold about four people. So, when another ten people were stuffed into the booth behind me after I got on, I had visions of reports appearing of a Georgian cable-car disaster on CNN. Certainly, there would have been few, if any survivors if we had come crashing down. In any case, we (obviously) made it up there without plummeting to our deaths into the rocky river below. 
High-Flying in Kutaisi
The cable car led to a small park which held a fun-fair containing little cars for kids to drive and numerous low-octane rides, thus constituting a zone that is nearly identical to places I’ve encountered in nearly every decent-size city I’ve ever been to in the former Soviet Union. I took a few photos of the mountains in the distance, then elected to take the stairs back down.
I walked around a little further, then came to a strange part of town I’d walked through on Friday on Saturday without really paying attention to. It appears to be a “historic” part of town, in the sense that nearly all of the buildings are built in an old style. Yet the area—constituting several square blocks between the river and the main square in the old town—is almost entirely deserted. Just about all of the buildings are empty, and there is hardly any foot-traffic. It reminded me a little of “Peterburgskaia Ulitsa” (Petersburg Street), a new part of downtown Kazan that was constructed behind closed walls and then unveiled to the public as part of Kazan’s millennial festivities in 2005. To this day, Peterburgskaia Ulitsa is a dead zone, with foot traffic largely coming to an end about twenty meters into the pedestrian street.
I saw a group of loitering teenagers drinking beer on the street and asked them what was going on. They said this was indeed the historic district, which the government had taken to reconstructing (their word) in recent years. So, it wasn’t exactly like Peterburgskaia Ulitsa, which is entirely fake. And, in all fairness, work hasn’t been finished here yet. Maybe in a couple of years, it will again be teeming with pedestrians.

Among the street teens
Today (Monday) I got up early and headed to the archive. On Friday I’d ordered just fourteen files, but a number of them were massive and almost all of them seemed potentially interesting. All in all, about half of the files proved useful, especially a 400-page monster on the repatriation of Abkhaz Muslims who had left Russia for the Ottoman Empire after the 1877-78 war. There were also a few interesting files relating to Muslim administration in the region. Having already come to grips with the fact that I would be spending another night in Kutaisi, I typed like a madman, desperate to get through everything in one day.
After seven hours of non-stop toil (save for a couple coffees served up by the lovely staff), I felt like I gotten most of what I needed down. I headed out at six pm, hungry but satisfied after a solid day’s work. As I walked outside, I saw two cows, apparently untended, roaming around in the street in front of the archive.
Even though I feel like I’m pretty much finished with the archive here, I’m going to pop in tomorrow morning and take another quick look. I have to go there anyway, in order to pay an amortizatsiia of 2.80 lari (about $1.75) for my use of the archives (the first time I’ve ever paid simply to look at documents and take notes without plugging in my laptop). The money needs to be deposited in the archive’s bank account, and the bank where I need to make the deposit is located next to the archive.
That, I imagine, will be the end of my four days in Kutaisi. By early afternoon, I hope to be on a marshrutka for Tbilisi. Kutaisi has been great, but I think I'm ready for a taste of the big city.
To see more photos from the Caucacus journey, go to the photos page of  
More links, analysis and photographs can be found at the Borderlands Lounge

No comments:

Post a Comment