Issue 5, 2017. October-November


TBILISI NEIGHBORHOODS: VAKE has teamed up with analyst and historian Emil Avdaliani to explore the history of Tbilisi's great neighborhoods. In this issue we will be exploring the Vake district.

Effectively a village until 1907, Vake (which means "plain" in Georgian) has transitioned from backwater to the most prestigious neighborhood in Georgia.

Prior to World War II, Tbilisi State University was Vake's only claim to fame.

Following the war, however, development in the district took off thanks to a general plan that envisioned the amenities aimed at attracting the communist elite: new, graceful streets, schools and plenty of parks. Architect Archil Kurdiani is credited with the projects that redefined Vake during that period.

Creating Chavchavadze Avenue

Initially the main street in Vake was known as Tskneti Road (currently Tskneti is the name of a Tbilisi suburb located in the hills overlooking Vake), which was later upgraded to Tskneti Street. The road ran from approximately the Philharmonia concert hall on Melikishvili Street to modern-day Tskneti. The street existed as far back as 1867, according to historical sources and documents, and was renamed University Street in the 1920s.

In 1935 it became known as Nicholas Marr Street and, after reverting back the University street name for a brief period, it became known as Ilia Chavchavadze Avenue in 1957.

That year, the city filled Varazi Gorge, which separated the Vake and Vera districts, closing the natural boundary that separated the two neighborhoods. Parts of Vera were filled in and a new street, Varazi Street, was created. Today the street is famous as the cobblestone road leading from Heroes' Square to Chavchavadze Avenue.

A Green District

The tree-lined streets, chic cafes, and architecture that Kurdiani envisioned attracting the communist elite have remained popular with Tbilisians and foreigners alike.

A main draw has traditionally been the district's parks, oases of green at the center of the city.

The largest park in the neighborhood, Vake Park, opened in the autumn of 1946 and was named Victory Park in honor of the 1945 victory that ended World War II. The park, which was initially more than 200 hectares (558 acres in size) is located about 2 km from the Tbilisi State University. There is no clear date for when "Victory Park" became "Vake Park" for the city: historians believe it was a gradual change that took place as Tbilisians sought to distance themselves from the city's Soviet heritage.

Vake is also home to other major parks and recreation areas in the city, which add to its reputation as the district where Tbilisians go to shop, eat and relax.

A cable car connects Vake Park with Kus Tba (Turtle Lake), a popular spot in the summer for swimming and sunbathing - and a major attraction for runners and walkers all year round. The city's ethnographic museum is also accessible by cable car. The outdoor museum includes examples of traditional houses from every region of Georgia, plus great walking trails.

Vake is also home to Mziuri Park, the labor of love created by Georgian author Nodar Dumbadze, who envisioned it as a paradise for children. The park fell into disrepair in the 1990s, but has since been repaired and, according to some plans for the city, will eventually be expanded to join the city zoo in neighboring Saburtalo.

Vake - a hotspot in conservation debate

Today Vake remains a much-loved work in progress. Its ever-changing array of shops and cafes, and of course its parks, are so popular that the demand for housing in the neighborhood is driving a major building boom - and pushing the neighborhood into the spotlight of a public debate on what should be conserved and what can be changed in the city.

Over the past 200 years, Vake has seen buildings go up and come down. It has experienced the near magical impact of development, the power of a plan and some investment to turn a village into the cultural heart of the city. But it has also borne witness to the power of construction to erase history: Vake Park was built on the site where the newly created Soviet government executed 15 high-level Georgian military officers who fought against the new empire. And a few blocks away, near the building that currently houses the Turkish Embassy, once stood a religious seminary built in the early 20th century when the Tsarist government tried to reduce the influence of seminarians (like the young Joseph Stalin) by relocating them far from the city center.

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