Tbilisi’s Open-Air Ethnographic Museum

From a blog by Tatiana Remneva

Arriving in Tbilisi for just a couple of days, guests rarely get a chance to go beyond the borders of the ancient fortress and the districts around Rustaveli Avenue. However, this does not mean that there’s nothing interesting to see apart from what you can find in the Old Town. Once such place, and one of the gems of Tbilisi, unfortunately tends to go highly unappreciated by both locals and tourists, but it is now yours to discover: The Open-Air Ethnographic Museum.

The Museum sprawls over 50 hectares in the greenest part of the city between the massive Park Vake and Turtle Lake, one of the best Tbilisi spots for walking and exercise.

The Museum was opened in 1966, on the initiative of renowned Georgian Ethnographer Giorgi Chitaia, who took great pains to gather not only the collections of household interiors and agriculture equipment, but also houses themselves, brought from the regions and reconstructed on the museum territory. Architect L. Sumbadze came up with the idea of dividing the territory into ten zones, half of which would represent eastern Georgia, the other half western, each offering an insight into various regions of the country.

Until the mid-1990s, one could approach the territory using the cableway, which brought visitors to the furthermost point from where they could start the tour down through the Museum. The cableway is currently undergoing renovation works and is expected to reopen soon but due to a many-year break, the upper parts of the museum were all but abandoned, the paths cracked, the hawthorn bushes taking over, and some of the houses stand boarded up. Nevertheless, wonderful examples of architecture from mountainous western Georgia can be found there, including houses from Racha and mountainous Adjara, with carved balconies and filigree woven corn stores. And if you climb to the very top of the Svanetian tower, an amazing view opens up for you over the city and the green Turtle Lake.

The Museum exhibits examples of architecture from various eras, starting from the very simple “darbazi” type houses featuring a single room shared by the whole family, in the center of which was the hearth which heated the space.

In the lower part of the museum area, which is active, you find a range of houses which exhibit traditional household artifacts. The staff of the museum dress in national costumes and can artistically tell you how the people once lived. There are a number of handicraft workshops for the youngest visitors, where they can learn how to forge a nail, make pottery or knit the traditional Georgian kilim.

There is also a wine cellar (marani), where you can learn about Georgian wine-making over the centuries. And if you go further up to the Kakhetian house, you will be amazed by its incredible cone-shaped roof, which served as both the heating pipe and the source for light. Here you can learn how to bake traditional Kakhetian bread- after trying it you will never want to eat anything else! From here you can enjoy a view of the new districts of Tbilisi and the clouds grasping Mount Zedazeni in the north. Sit a moment with your face turned to the wind and the sun, and breathe.

I come to the Museum over and over again, and each time find something new. I like observing how the seasons change here, how the grass burns out and the trees lose their final leaves, or how the snow falls when in the city it’s raining, how the almond trees blossom or the native grasshopper hops from one blade to another. You can come here for a nice picnic or listen to the music from modern Georgian artists, who hold concerts during the annual folk-festival Art Gene. The place is wonderful for children.  Many refer to this place as “Georgia in Miniature”, but I see it more as a mountain village which has adopted within itself all the various characters of our small country Georgia.

WHERE TO EAT NEARBY : Turn right at the gate and head up to Turtle Lake (Kus Tba). After a two turns you’ll find there is a nice restaurant offering Georgian cuisine called Rachi’s Ubani. There are also a number of restaurants and bars around the Lake itself.

Address: Kus Tba Road

OPEN: Daily, except Monday, 11AM to 6PM. Tickets can be bought before 17.30

TICKET: 3 GEL, Kids under 6 FREE