Ten km southeast of Telavi on the road that joins the A302 back to Tbilisi is the village of Tsinandali. This village, source of a famous white wine and site of the Chavchavadze family estate - the 19th-century poet, public figure, and Kakhetian prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786-1846).
This house-museum is set in an ornamental garden of 12ha which you can enter without paying and is well worth a stroll. There are many fine, mature examples of rare trees, including umbrella pines, cedars, magnolia and lime trees, as well as bamboos and palms. The approach to the House Museum is flanked by superb sentinels of cypress. It leads to an array of exotic plants that partially obscure some of the Eastern decorative elements that grace the wooden balconies around the house. A splendid rose garden within a garden maze is also in front. Among the many rarities brought to this extensive park from all over the world is a sequoia. To the right as you enter, the garden is relatively formal, leading to a big villa with large satellite dishes which is used as a holiday home by government officials, and is open to other visitors at other times. Behind it is a ruined chapel, all but the apse of which has now collapsed into the river bed. To the left the garden is slightly less formal, with a box maze; however, it's too densely planted with trees to be an 'English park', as claimed.
Behind the main house to the northeast are industrial buildings which house the famous Tsinandali winery, founded in 1884 by Alexander Chavchavadze's father. It can be visited by tour groups, who can taste the dry white wine, although not the 1814 vintage, which is the oldest in the collection.
HOUSE MUSEUM OF ALEXANDER CHAVCHAVADZE
A center of intellectual life, the house served as a salon for exiled Decembrists and Mikhail Lermontov, together with members of his regiment, the Nizhegorodsky Dragoons, whose headquarters were nearby. The house is mentioned in the writings of Lermontov and Alexandre Dumas. The house itself is a relatively small and unpretentious two-storey manor house of local sandstone
The poet Alexander Chavchavadze, leading spirit of the Romantic Movement in Georgia, was born in St Petersburg (where his father was Georgian ambassador) in 1786, he joined the Russian army and served against Napoleon and the Turks before settling in Georgia, marrying Salome Orbeliani, a member of one of Georgia's grandest families. The house at Tsinandali was built in the early 19th century as a summer house, and his main residence was in Tbilisi; although he wrote poetry, Chavchavadze's main importance was as translator of the poetry of the French Romantics and as chief animator of the circle of writers and critics who created Georgian Romanticism. It is work fuelled by the country's disillusionment over its loss of independence. As such, patriotism and many of the virtues, both poetic and personal, embodied in the work of Rustaveli came to the fore.
Many of the leading Russian Romantic writers also came to Tbilisi, usually with the army or government; these included Alexander Griboedov (1795-1829), who married Chavchavadze's daughter Nina when she was just 16. He was a notorious philanderer and is generally supposed (although the museum staff might disagree) to have seduced her and then been forced to marry her; almost at once he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Tehran which went tragically wrong when a mob stormed the Russian legation and killed all the Russians, brutally hacking Griboedov's head off. The teenage widow became a symbol of grief, and is portrayed as such on their shared tomb in Tbilisi's pantheon.
The aristocratic Chavchavadzes were certainly among the most talented and powerful families not just in Kakheti but in all of Georgia. Alexander's father, Garsevan, who founded the famous winery on the property, was King Herekle's ambassador to Russia. Despite his connections, Alexander was three times involved in anti-tsarist activities, for which he was eventually exiled. Alexander's daughter, Nina, married the Russian poet and diplomat Alexander Griboyedov. A frequent guest here, he and Nina married in the chapel in the park. Griboyedov met his end at the hands of an enraged mob in Iran.
Chavchavadze himself died in 1846 in a bizarre accident in Tbilisi, when his cloak caught in the wheel of his carriage and he was thrown out, hitting his head on the ground.
In 1854 Lezgin tribesmen from the Dagestan mountains ransacked the Chavchavadze house, kidnapping 23 women, children and servants and rode off into the Caucasus with them lashed across their saddles. Their leader Shamyl demanded the return of his son Djemmal-Eddin (or Jamal Al-Din), who had been handed over to the Russians as a hostage 15 years before, at the age of eight, and given a Russian education and then a commission in the army. Negotiations took nine months, but eventually the hostages were exchanged (together with 14,000 silver roubles for the rebels); alas, the last thing Djemmal-Eddin wanted or was suited to was a life in a rebel village in the Caucasus, and deprived of the glittering social life of the court he faded away and died within six months. Just one of the Chavchavadze children avoided capture by hiding in a hollow tree, which can still be seen beyond the maze.
Alexander's son David had to mortgage the house to raise the ransom. The hostages were returned, but David was unable to repay the loan and the house passed to Tsar Alexander III. The main room of the house is now a museum, with interesting paintings and photos of people and events associated with the house, including the Lezgin raid.
In addition to the museum, which is captioned in Russian and Georgian only (although there is a German-speaking guide), you can visit nine rooms of the house, still with original furniture, including the French piano (with a folding keyboard) given by Griboedov to Nina. There's also a reproduction of the Winterhalter portrait of Chavchavadze's wife Salome.
The museum itself will be most meaningful to Russian and Georgian speakers familiar with the work of Chavchavadze, since the collection is almost exclusively devoted to his memorabilia and that of his family. In addition the rooms show what the good life in Kakheti must have been like in the 19th century.
In the northeast corner of the park is the Tsinandali Winery built in the 19th century by Alexander Chavchavadze's father. The wonderful brick edifice with its lancet arches looks more like an Ottoman arsenal than a factory devoted to the grape. This paradox is precisely what Georgia is all about. The winery is open the- same hours as the museum, but you must join a tour to see the vast cellars housing a library of wines. The oldest wines go back to 1814. An inner courtyard and garden feature a statue of a plump and jolly Bacchus, and the passages are lined with large kvevris (earthenware jars in which wine is matured) and examples of the uremi (special wooden wagons used exclusively for the transport of grapes and wine)- both of which are frequently found in the paintings of Pirosmani. A banquet hall for feasts and wine tastings is also here and should, without too much difficulty, be put at your disposal for a leisurely tasting.
Some changes can be expected at Tsinandali as the property has been leased to a Georgia-based company, Silk Road Group, with plans for several million dollars' investment, including one or more small tourist-quality hotels.
"Aspiration to nobility was evident in Ekaterine since her childhood. She was regarded as a very beautiful girl, but haughtiness always prevailed. She was always smart and restrained; she seldom laughed. Because of her haughtiness, I called [her] 'princess,' and predicted that she would be enthroned. It came true."
Ekaterine was born in Tbilisi on March 19, 1816 and named in honor of Russia’s Tsarina Ekaterine. After obtaining her primary education, Ekaterine entered the exclusive private boarding school of Praskovya Nikolaevna Arsenyeva Akhverdova in St. Petersburg. Like her older sister Nino, Ekaterine met her future husband—David Dadiani, the heir and future prince of the Georgian principality of Samegrelo—at Akhverdov’s school, where David, a fellow student, was attracted by her beauty, grace, intelligence, and wit.
Ekaterine had many admirers both before and after she married David Dadiani in 1839. One was her childhood friend, Nikoloz (Tato) Baratashvili. Ekaterine continued to harbor tender feelings toward him throughout her entire life, and she played a vital role in popularizing his poetic works.
Unlike her sisters, Sophio Chavchavadze was not distinguished as a youthful beauty, she was silent and modest. In the letter written to Grigol Orbeliani shortly after her birth, her mother, Salome Orbeliani, wrote: "... She has astonishing black hair, a nice forehead, strange black eyebrows and black lashes, and small red lips. Her smile stirs up feeling. She has amazing body structure. Her smartness is unusual for her age..."
When Sophio’s parents died, her sister, Nino, and her brother, David, became her guardians. In 1850, Sophio married a Finnish baron, Alexandre Nikolai, who worked as the Director of the Army Office of the Governor of Caucasia in Tbilisi. In 1861, Baron Nikolai was transferred to Kiev; Sophio accompanied him. Little is known about their private lives; however, they had one daughter, Mariam (Maka) Nikolai.
In 1862, when Sophio died, at the age of 29, Mariam Nikolai was a young child. She was reared in Georgia and married Georgi Shervashidze. Sophio Chavchavadze was buried in Vyborg, Russia, 38 Kilometers from Finland’s border with Russia.
Nino Chavchavadze was stately, dark-haired, and dark-eyed, and attracted considerable attention for her beauty and charm. One of the literary essays about Nino Chavchavadze reads: "Nino was an incomparable musician, singer, and dancer; director and participant of family performances; artist; magnificent embroider [and] rider; and a true lover of literature. At first sight, she charmed women and men of all ages and ethnicities—Georgian, Asian, Russian and European."
Nino was born in Tbilisi on November 4, 1812. Her birth was celebrated with a feast in the Chavchavadze family. In commemoration of her birth, her father Alexandre stored wine in a special amphora to be opened at Nino’s wedding party.
Nino received her initial education at home. Later, she attended a famous private boarding school in the St. Petersburg home of Praskovya Nikolaevna Arsenyeva Akhverdova. Praskovya Akhverdova’s school attracted children of many noble families, and played an important role in Nino’s life as well as the lives of her siblings.
Nino met her husband, the Russian poet Alexandre Griboedov (1795-1829), at Praskovya Akhverdova’s school. Griboedov was a man of formidable intellect and extraordinary educational achievement. He was accepted to prestigious Moscow University, and began studies in the Department of Letters at the University, receiving the academic degree of Candidate of Sciences in 1812. He continued his studies at the Faculty of Law, from which he graduated with the academic degree of Candidate of Legal Sciences. He then embarked on a career in the Russian diplomatic service, which sent him to Persia in 1813.
Griboedov was a close friend of the Akhverdovas, and through them had established ties with the Chavchavadzes. Praskovya Akhverdova’s daughter, Darya Akhverdova, later related, "Alexandre Griboedov singled out Nino Chavchavadze. He taught her music, spoke to her in French and studied Georgian. Sometimes they rode horses together." Little by little, their friendship developed into an affectionate relationship and finally into love and marriage.
Nino Chavchavadze and Alexandre Griboedov married in Sioni Cathedral on August 22, 1828. The ceremonial feast continued at the Tsinandali estate, where the Chavchavadze family spent its summers. There Alexandre Chavchavadze opened the wine he had placed in storage sixteen years earlier for Nino’s wedding.
The newly-married couple spent a lot of time at Tsinandali, where they organized and hosted elegant soirees, and pursued a shared interest in music. Nino was an excellent pianist and singer, and learned to perform a number of Alexandre’s musical works, which she sometimes played for guests. The couple liked to walk in Tsinandali’s gardens, particularly along the shaded lane referred to as "Love." They could often be seen sitting and conversing on a loveseat along this path.
When his responsibilities required Alexandre to travel to the East or to his home town of St. Petersburg, he found it hard to leave his spouse and Georgia. In one letter, he promised his wife that as soon he completed his diplomatic mission in Persia, the couple would settle down at Tsinandali.
Unfortunately, the happy times Nino and Alexandre spent together as a married couple lasted just a few months. In 1828—four months after their marriage, and with Nino expecting a child—Griboedov traveled to Persia once again. In February, 1829, he was assassinated in Tehran, a victim of violent anti-Russian sentiment in Persian at the time. Ominously, Alexandre had previously instructed his wife, "If I die in Persia, do not leave my body there. Bury me at St. David’s Monastery in Tbilisi." The death of her husband affected Nino deeply; the day after she received the tragic news, she prematurely gave birth to a son who lived only a few hours.
On July 13, 1829, Alexandre Griboedov’s body was buried in the Mtatsminda churchyard of St. David’s Monastery in Tbilisi. Nino had the following words engraved on the gravestone: "Your thoughts and deeds remain eternally in the memory of Russians, but why did my love for thee outlive thee?" Nino later told her sister’s husband, David Dadiani:
"I could never imagine a happiness greater than my love for Alexandre Griboedov. But alas, this love was kidnapped from me, and my happiness followed. My love is buried on Mtatsminda Hill, and my heart, still burning in love, lies in my husband’s grave. When this love disappears, I will also die physically and morally. There are many who cannot imagine this. They surprise me. They have probably never loved and cannot love anybody."
Although only 16 at the time of Alexandre’s death and still surrounded by a great many admirers, Nino never remarried. Instead, she turned her attention to family, friends, and people in need.
After her parents’ deaths in 1846 and 1847, Nino managed the entire household. When her sister Ekaterine married, she reared her younger sister, Sophio, who was ten years old at the time. As her brother David’s children matured, she became their governess. She also continued to conduct official and artistic soirees at the Chavchavadze salon in Tbilisi, as well as at the palace of the Governor of Georgia.
Materials recently published discuss her involvement in affairs of state, including the administration of the province of Samegrelo (often referred to as Mingrelia) when her sister Ekaterine was Queen of Samegrelo. For example, Muravyov Karski, the Governor of Georgia, who visited Samegrelo in 1854, wrote: "Nino Chavchavadze has accomplished a great deal for the welfare of Samegrelo. When Turkey invaded the area and Omar Pasha’s army was opposed by the Megrelian popular militia, Nino Chavchavadze stayed at the front line with her sister." When the Russian Imperial Court decided to abolish the Megrelian Princedom, the Russian government requested Nino’s assistance in persuading Ekaterine to surrender.
While in Mingrelia, Nino took an interest in improving public health, selecting 41 women to become nurses, and designing and organizing an educational program for them. Her tireless efforts in this cause extended well beyond instruction and administration, to details such sewing white uniforms for the nurses and embroidering red crosses on their hats.
Nino also contributed greatly to the publication of Alexandre Griboedov’s works, which have come to be seen as precious contributions to Russia’s literary heritage. Her efforts were stimulated not only by her devotion to the memory of her husband, but also by her love of literature and her sincere conviction that his works deserved greater attention.
Writings left by many of her contemporaries attest to the love and esteem in which Nino was held. Words such as "perfect," "angelic," and "kind" appear frequently, and one account even refers to her as a "guardian angel, respected by all from the Vice Regent to ordinary citizens." David Eristavi; a Georgian noble, agreed, noting, "People of very diverse [classes], thoughts, and ideas were unanimous in recognizing that Nino Chavchavadze was an ideal woman." Russian Admiral Siniavin simply stated, "Nobody can compare to her."
In 1857, Nino Chavchavadze died of malaria in Tbilisi. According to her wish, she was buried beside her husband on Mtatsminda Hill. Flowers are often placed near her grave, as a testament to the love and respect that she continues to command among Georgians.