Friday, December 01, 2006

History and Such

So today Karen and I decided, after language lessons, to go to the museum. The museum is a huge, imposing looking building (set among a number of huge, imposing looking buildings) on Rustaveli Ave, the main drag in Tbilisi.

We walked up the huge steps, and went to buy tickets to get in. The woman behind the glass, who seemed to be doing something unrelated to selling tickets, impatiently waved us off. So we stood, for a few minutes, looking confused, and deciding what to do, when another person, who also seemed to be coming to the museum for a visit, stopped, and asked us what we were doing. I mentioned that the museum appeared to be closed -- figuring he didn't know either. He looked at the woman behind the glass, and then opened the gianormous front door, and ushered us inside.

Whereupon he proceeded to take us downstairs, past several guards, and through what looked to be firmly closed doors, to one of the most amazing exhibits of ancient gold jewelry I've ever seen. And then he gave us an hour long guided tour. In Georgian and French. I understood enough to be amazed. A piece like this is fairly tame, detail-wise. All of the jewelry dated from between the 7th and the 2nd century before christ and included necklaces with thirty or forty detailed little bird (or corn, or ram) charms, intricately detailed, and about the size of your five-year-old cousin's pinky nail. There were delicate little earrings made from gold leaf, and details so fine that they had to be viewed with magnifying glasses. Keep in mind that this was done when Northern Europe was still figuring out Bronze.

Our guide kept ushering us around to different exhibits, explaining the blending of pagan and christian ritual, the small details of necklace, or bracelet, or wine goblet that showed sun worship, or wine worship. He re-explained the history of Jason and the golden fleece. (You see, Jason went to Colchis, which was Western Georgia, to get the golden fleece, and in the ancient times the Colchisians would gather gold from the rivers by sifting water through sheep pelts, so there's some historical accuracy to the myth). He pointed out the odd presence of swastikas on jewels and rings. And then, just like that, he took a phone call on his cell and ran off. I still have no idea who he was -- maybe a curator. Maybe the janitor.

What stood out to me was not only how beautiful it was, but how wearable it all was. There were belt buckles, and rings that I would be proud to have. Most museum stuff to me either looks half-rusted and destroyed, or so godawfully opulent that I'd be embarassed to actually see it on anyone. But this was... elegant. Beautiful. Simple. Intricate, but not too much. It was neat.

I wish I could find more pictures to link to, but if you want, you can download a powerpoint presentation, which has fuzzy pictures of some of the really beautiful pieces.


Anonymous said...

The theory that the Golden Fleece represents placer mining in Georgia has been discredited by Georgian archeologists (see so it is interesting to see it promoted by a Georgian museum.

Karen said...

well, it was kind of hard to keep up with the Georgian/French melange. He may in fact have said something more historically accurate.

John Ananda said...

An even more impressive museum awaits you; the white columned building on Pushkin Street, just down from Freedom Square and very near your apartment. Upper floors have nice paintings, sculptures, etc. But the basement has the historical Orthodox treasury. It's unbelievable what you'll find there, really.

Chris Michel said...

hmm. yeah. I guess the archeologists aren't talking to the marketing department.

You know, this brings up an interesting point: I hear a lot of amazing-sounding stories, here, but have really very little assurance that they're correct (or even that I understood correctly). It doesn't make, for instance, the jewelry less beautiful. But just because a sign says it's from the 6th c. BC...