The Song of Tkvarcheli

Tkvarcheli is a town located in the Caucasian region of Abkhazia. Situated in a flourishing valley flanked by imposing mountains, the town itself is no less unique than the surrounding terrain. Once a major regional coal-mining centre, it was home to thirty-five thousand residents, specialists in their field, who flocked there from different parts of the Caucasus and the former USSR. The distinctive terrain organically gave rise to an unusual bipartite townscape. Tkvarcheli’s lower, industrial, part accommodated a power plant, factories and the local railway station, while its upper part was predominantly a residential zone comprising private and administrative buildings, a house of culture, a local stadium, schools, restaurants and more. A cable car served as a link between the two areas. The town boasted monumental buildings – all columns, balconies, porticoes, arches, courtyards with extraordinary fountains – set in lush southern vegetation and surrounded by tall majestic palm trees. Residential neighbourhoods were linked by wide thoroughfares and beautiful bridges spanning the river.

The town’s coal-mining industry grew in significance during the Second World War, supplying as it did the needs of the military machine and the Black Sea Fleet. However, the decline of industry and the war of 1992-1993, have plunged Tkvarcheli into a serious crisis. A prolonged blockade, known as the Siege of Tkvarcheli, lasted almost as long as the war itself and caused devastating damage to the town. As a result, most of its population fled. Nowadays, some houses in Tkvarcheli are partially abandoned, their walls riddled by bullets and their windows broken, but the remaining residents keep the town alive. They have witnessed the various transformations of the town, experienced first-hand the effects of war and industrial decline, but like the town itself, they have withstood. The project poses questions about physical and emotional belonging by examining the history of Tkvarcheli, its current state and lives of its residents.

This project was supported by the Gabriele Basilico International Prize in Architecture and Landscape Photography.

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The Song of Tkvarcheli is published by Danilo Montanari Editore and is available here.

The Song of Tkvarcheli is published by Danilo Montanari Editore and is available here.