Culture minister: some damage to Gelati UNESCO site frescoes "irreversible"

  • The St Mary Temple of the Gelati Monastery Complex suffered rainwater leaks through a newly installed roof tiling last summer, sparking an investigation and frantic work for safeguarding its interior. Photo: Tata Kachkachishvili/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty., 28 May 2021 - 15:28, Tbilisi,Georgia

Some damage caused to frescoes at western Georgia's UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gelati by rainwater leaks will be irreversible, Thea Tsulukiani, the Minister of Culture, Sport and Youth of Georgia, said on Friday, as she also revealed an ongoing investigation into the causes of the botched rehabilitation at the complex.

Tsulukiani was speaking to reporters about measures being taken by her ministry to rectify the damage on the monument following last year's revelations of rainwater leaks into St Mary Temple - the principal part of the complex - through a newly installed roof tiling and subsequent problems with safeguarding the interior while a new solution to the roof is found.

The minister revealed to the local press a consensus on measures of restoration and conservation of the frescoes affected by the leaks had been reached "several days ago" after the ministry had facilitated rounds of talks between professionals of the field.

It is regrettable, but it is the reality - the specialists themselves have told us at our meeting that in some cases, the damage [to the frescoes] will be irreversible. However, in cases where the damage is not irreversible, we will need to carry out conservation work

- Thea Tsulukiani, the Minister of Culture, Sport and Youth of Georgia

Tsulukiani said there had been a disagreement among the experts about how to proceed with the conservation, but at a recent meeting hosted by the ministry this week the professionals had finally reached an agreement on the measures. Both Georgian and foreign conservation experts are involved in the project, the minister added.

One of the interior frescoes in the monastery reportedly damaged due to rainwater leaks penetrating the roof of the building. Photo: Tata Kachkachishvili/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The head of the culture ministry - who started her work on the position in March - also revealed to the reporters "quite a large-scale" investigation into the issues of the rehabilitation work on Gelati was ongoing by the Prosecutor's Office of Georgia.

The culture minister was quoted last week for calling the entire 2008-2020 rehabilitation work on Gelati Monastery Complex a "big mistake" and an "experiment" that has proved "damaging" to the major monument of cultural heritage.

Rainwater leaks into St Mary Temple were reported in July 2020, sparking frantic work on safeguarding the site as well as criticism from independent experts. The National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation later fined and replaced the contractor company in January, while a lack of local professionals for monument rehabilitation was later cited both by the agency and the ministry as a cause of the problems around Gelati.

Also in January, Ana Natsvlishvili, one of the leaders of the Lelo opposition party, asked the prosecutor's office of the country to launch an investigation into possible "wrongful rehabilitation" process around the monument.