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The Museum of Georgian folk architecture and ethnography

Founded in 1960 and opened in 1976, this open-air museum consists of more than 70 dwellings from 10 distinct regions in Georgia and has over 7,000 artefacts. The houses are not replicas but have been moved piece by piece from their native villages. From western Georgia come the oda sakhli and the older-style sajalabo. The sajalabo (house for a large family) is a one-room windowless structure with an earthen floor and an open hearth in the middle. The oda sakhli is square, with two or three rooms and an open porch running along the width of the facade. Beautifully carved wooden pillars usually support the roof of the veranda. Other carefully designed smaller buildings in the back bespeak the care and craftsmanship that went into the daily tasks of husbandry.

From the Kartli region come excellent examples of the darbazi dwelling and the baniani sakhli (flat-roofed dwelling). You will recall that an example of the darbazi dwelling can still be seen in the Old Town at 10 Chekhov Street. This rectangular unpartitioned dwelling is distinguished by a hearth in the middle and a smoke and light hole in the top. The beehive cupola (gvirgvini) that ascends to that hole is the most extraordinary feature of the dwelling. Believed to go back to a prototype from the third millennium ВС, darbazi dwellings were described by Vitruvius in his treatise on architecture from the first century ВС. The building and dome that he mentions are close enough to a darbazi dwelling to make us feel that the structure has developed uninterrupted in Georgia right up to its present form. The beehive dome you see here is composed of 452 beams resting on each other in concentric layers. The two main supporting pillars, called dedabodzi (mother pilars), are often ornately carved.

The baniani sakhli from the village of Khandaki is smaller, with only one pillar in the room. The smoke hole in the cupola in the darbazi dwelling here is substituted by a fireplace with chimney and windows. Tusheti, Khevsureti, and Svaneti offer some fine examples of the unusual watchtower dwellings that dot these constantly besieged parts of the Caucasus. Don't miss the wonderful wood carving in the  interior of the Jameh mosque that comes from the village of Chikuneti in Ajara.

An 11th section of the museum has been established to house archaeological monuments such as sculpted gravestones, ancient inscriptions, and capitals. Complete basilicas from the Middle Ages are already being assembled.

If your visit to Georgia is limited to a stay in Tbilisi, touring this museum is an excellent way to grasp the great architectural distinctions that exist among the various provinces. A visit here should certainly whet your appetite for greater touring throughout the country.