The future of Bagrati cathedral, a world-renowned masterpiece of mediaeval architecture, is unknown. The building will soon collapse or change beyond recognition because of poorly conducted conservation works.
“Bagrati is a holy place and Kutaisi’s main landmark. It must be restored and again be a functioning church,” says Naili Dzotsenidze. Georgian government is of a similar opinion and made an attempt at restoring Bagrati. The works that were to restore the old magnificence of the building can, unfortunately, lead to irreversible changes in the building’s construction. “Bagrati’s reconstruction will lead to the loss of its authenticity,” said David Khoshtaria, an architecture conservationist.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which monitors the conservation of buildings on the World Heritage List, is worried. In their opinion, the irreversible renovation works will influence the unique value of the building. The works carried out in Bagrati – the construction of new pillars and arches in the interior “have not been based on secure documentary evidence,” said Jukka Jokilehto, an expert at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. The situation is very serious. UNESCO forced the reconstruction to be stopped. Everyone hopes that suitable experts will be found on time and the building will make it to the renovation.
The cathedral is located on the top of the Uk’imerioni Hill on the Rioni River. It was built in the early years of the 11th century, during the reign of King Bagrat III. The construction of the cathedral was finished in 1003. In 1692, it was ravaged and blown up by the Ottoman troops. The explosion caused the cupola and ceiling to collapse. The conservation and restoration works, as well as archaeological studies which started in 1952, are still ongoing. In 1994, the cathedral, together with the Gelati Monastery, was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral was restored to the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2001. It is now of limited use for worship services, but attracts many pilgrims and tourists.
Translated by Marta Lityńska