There are 41 towers, seven churches, and 87 machubs in villages Chazhashi, Zhibiani, Chvibiani, and Murkmeli of the Ushguli community. Chazhashi is acknowledged as a world heritage, and experts from UNESCO visit it from time to time.
In Chvibiani, Zhibiani, and Murkmeli, towers are collapsing in front of our eyes. Charkviani family tower in Chvibiani collapsed on June 22, 2017. In the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, they knew the building needed a restoration. They made a promise to rebuild it by the end of 2020. As of now, only one of five stories is rebuilt improperly.
Charkseliani family tower showed the signs of decaying in 2015. It fell in July 2019. The government also promised to rebuild it, but only the place was cleaned from ruins.
Moses Tchelidze, 29, returned to Svaneti 11 years ago. His family was relocated to Kvemo Kartli in 1987, after an avalanche hit Murkmeli, demolishing houses and killing seven people. Mountains on the right bank of river Enguri are not covered with wood, and avalanches directly hit Murkmeli. As a result, many families left Murkmeli in fear; towers and houses were deserted for two decades.
Since the return, Moses tries to save his family tower. He addressed the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, describing the collapsed roof, rain leaking through walls, and deteriorating them even more. Decaying towers are dangerous too – even though nobody lives inside, fallen-off rocks may hit people outside. People who returned to Murkmeli after Svaneti became a popular tourist destination.
In recent years, residents of Mestia municipality, especially the Ushguli community, started building without permission, trying to improve their living conditions and damaging cultural heritage even more. In 2017 government put a moratorium on new constructions. The local community was promised the development plan by the spring of 2018. However, it has not been established as of now.
Research showed that the main risk for construction in Murkmeli is avalanches. Therefore, specialists advise setting up avalanche control infrastructure.
„This is essential for any intervention to be justified. Otherwise, avalanches can damage any construction; we are trying to work with Municipal Development Fund of Georgia to set the system up as soon as possible.“ – said Nikoloz Antidze, director of In National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia to „Mtis Ambebi“ in January 2021.
Nikoloz Antidze was fired by Tea Tsulukiani, the new Minister of Culture. The Municipal Development Fund of Georgia they have no plans to establish avalanche control infrastructure.
Murkmeli means village of towers in Svanetian (Murkvam – tower). Then, there were 80 towers in the town; now, there are only ten. Eight of them have a damaged roof.
One of them belongs to Moses. This year he was told that the rehabilitation was postponed due to a new coronavirus. Moses does not know if the funds were allocated, but the coronavirus stopped the tourist flow, and the local young generation found the time to do something else.
This summer, Ushgulians started the rehabilitation process on their own. Moses knows they broke the law.
I prefer to get fined rather than see our history collapse before my eyes. We were waiting, being promised, but now there is no other option.
Irakli Charkviani, founder of the local café-bar „Enguri,“ helped them with 2000 Lari to buy building materials and save the Chelidze family tower.
„We started with one tower. It’s covered now, and rain will not damage the walls. Experienced people helped us, and now we want to move to other towers.“ - Mindia Charkseliani is a founder of „Ushguli development foundation.“
In July, Tea Tsulukiani visited Ushguli. Locals reminded her that there was no time left to think about the rehabilitation process. Tsulukiani promised them the ministry would study all four villages of the Ushguli community, including the new settlement Lamjurishi.
Tsulikaini promised that works to restore significantly damaged buildings would end by winter 2021.