Tbilisi's Ilia Chavchavadze Museum selected for European Museum of the Year Award Special Commendation

  • Spaces used by Chavchavadze in his work, social gatherings and residence in the building between 1888-1901 are found at the Museum. Photo via Tbilisi Museums Union

Agenda.ge, 8 May 2023 - 14:00, Tbilisi,Georgia

The Ilia Chavchavadze Literary Memorial Museum, a Tbilisi venue dedicated to the life and legacy of the major public figure of the 19th century Georgia, has been selected for the Special Commendation of this year's European Museum of the Year Award.

The former residence of the publicist, author and pioneer of literacy throughout the country during its life under the Tsarist Russian rule, the Museum is one of six from across Europe that have been distinguished with the selection, as the 2023 EMYA winners were revealed on Saturday.

They were picked from 33 museums from 18 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, after jury members visited the venues to learn about their infrastructure, collections and ideas. Jury Chair Amina Krvavac said many of the nominees had "stood out for their exceptional and inspiring work, which presented a challenge for the jury tasked with selecting this year’s winners".

Selected alongside the Thackray Museum of Medicine in Leeds, Graz Museum Schlossberg in Austria, FeliXart Museum in Belgium, Abbey Church of Payerne in Switzerland and Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen in the Netherlands, the Tbilisi Museum represents the Tbilisi Museums Union in the list.

Its profile for the Commendation noted the Museum's attention for an "inclusive environment for people of different backgrounds in Tbilisi and beyond, which is also evident in the museum’s staffing model".

Located on Ivane Javakhishvili Street in the Georgian capita, the Museum has an inner yard. Photo via Tbilisi Museums Union

It also highlighted the venue's participation in social programmes, such as initiatives for resocialisation and rehabilitation of juvenile convicts.

These programmes contribute to the museum’s mission to ensure that the emancipatory politics of Ilia Chavchavadze and his historical fight for democracy and social equality are translated into present-day Georgian society

- EMYA summary

The Tbilisi Museum underwent a four-year, $965,000 renovation and reopened in 2021 after efforts to reinforce its building, restore authentic interior and decorative elements and set up new exhibition spaces. 

In the initiative, professionals involved in the works aimed to maintain the authentic historical appearance of its spaces used by Chavchavadze during his residence there, including the office and bedroom as well as the Memorial Dining Hall. The Museum now also boasts a reading room and a library, with the entire venue equipped for disability use.

Set up in the building where Chavchavadze and his spouse Olga Guramishvili lived between 1888-1901, the Museum is occupying the building where the editorial offices of the Iveria newspaper, led by the public figure, were also located.

Owned by the writer's sister Elisabed Chavchavadze-Saginashvili, the house hosted numerous gatherings of the cultural circles, entrepreneurs and public figures during the active years of Chavchavadze's political, cultural and social career in the last decades of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Born in 1837, Chavchavadze studied in St Petersburg, Russia before returning to his country - under the Imperial Russian rule - in 1860. He led the Tergdaleulebi cultural and social movement that introduced liberal European ideas in Georgia, while also founding two of the newspapers publishing articles on the subjects.

The historical authenticity of the venue's rooms was ensured in the latest renovation work that concluded in 2021. Photo via Tbilisi Museums Union

Also known for his establishment of the Society for the Spreading of Literacy among Georgians and his role in the launch and chairmanship of the Land Bank of Tbilisi, Chavchavadze also promoted preservation and promotion of the Georgian language against ongoing processes of Russification of the local culture.

He published a number of major literary works on subjects of social and cultural gaps between countryside and urban population, moral stagnation in society and more.

Chavchavadze was assassinated in 1907 while travelling in his cart outside Mtskheta near Tbilisi, with various elements of the killing remaining unresolved by subsequent investigations. In 1987, he was posthumously declared a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church, and is widely venerated among the public as a major figure in the history of the country.

Established in 1982, the Museum has over 14,000 items in its collections, including personal items and archives, editions of works by Chavchavadze, documentary and photographic material, publications and articles by the writer. It is located at 7 Ivane Javakhishvili Street in Tbilisi.

Its selection for the EMYA Commendation follows similar honours for other Georgian-based museums over the recent years, including the a diploma for the Bolnisi Museum, of Georgian National Museum network, in 2022 and a nomination for the Art Palace museum in 2019.

This year's candidates also included the GNM's Vani Archaeological Museum in Georgia's west, which received the Silletto Prize for Community Participation and Engagement.