Earthquake in Racha and Middle Age
Racha is a highland region of Georgia, which is situated in the north of the country, on the South slopes of Caucasus range. Majority of settlements are located on 800 - 1700 m. an altitude from the sea level. In this region today exists about 135 villages and two small towns, centers of the region - Ambrolauri and Oni.
More than 1000 stone relieves and sculptures from Racha, dated between the eighths and seventeenth centuries, are kept in museums or incorporated in architectural monuments. These relieves represent historical persons, biblical scenes, architectural details, etc.
On Monday, April 29th, 1991 at 13.13 p.m. local time an earthquake force 6,9 on the Richter scale took place in Georgia. The earthquake was named after the Racha, region where it occurred. The earthquake affected an area of about 7800 sq. km. in the northern regions of Georgia and along the Southern slopes of the Caucasian range. The original shock was followed by powerful aftershocks on May 3- 4 and 15 (5,3-6,2 mag.). Their resulting destruction was almost equal to the original quake.
Very few earthquakes with a force of 6 or more have ever been recorded on the territory of Georgia in its history The most powerful (6.4 mag.) took place in 1963.
The underground shocks in 1991 affected 700 villages and settlements. More than 46.000 houses were damaged or destroyed. More than 100.000 inhabitants were left homeless, mostly rural dwellers. More than 100 people were killed. Fortunately there were relatively few victims because most of the local population was working in the fields at the time of the earthquake, and when the aftershocks occurred they were already in camps.
One of the most dramatically affected villages was Xaxieti where a landslide killed dozens of people. There were military exercises in one of the regions near the epicenter which prevented rapid rescue and engineering work.
In May 1991 joint (Art History Department, Tbilisi State University and G. Chubinashvili Institute of History of Georgian Art, Academy of Science of Georgia) fact gathering mission visited Racha. Mission consisted Irine Nikoleishvili, Ph.D., Art Historian; Giorgi Gagoshidze, PH.D., Art Historian; Gela Lezhava, Art Historian; and Besarion Matsaberidze, Architectural Historian; The mission prepared the report about earthquake affected region, especially about state of religious buildings. The copies of the report were submitted to the Tbilisi State University, G. Chubinashvili Institute of History of Georgian Art, Academy of Science of Georgia, and the local Historical Museum in Oni.
The Mission found out that many historic buildings were damaged because of the earthquake. Compared to the earlier quakes, the 1991 Racha earthquake caused the greatest damage to Georgian historical and architectural monuments. There are more than 250 of them in the area where the earthquake occurred. Many of them are of national importance.
St. Nikolas Churches of Nikortsminda and its cupola was considerably damaged. The Archangel Church near Zemo Krikhi was entirely ruined. The unique frescos were destroyed. The architectural monument of The Archangel Michael Church of Labechina, St. George church of Joisubani, Michael Atrchangel Church of Seva, St. George church of Sxieri, St. George church of Glola, Archangel Michaels Church of of Pharakheti, Virgin Church of Bugeuli, Church of Skhvava, St. Georges Church of Sori, Church of Agara, St. Kvirke Church of Korthi, Virgin Church of Khontshiori, Virgin Church of Bethlevi, St. George Church of Mravaldzali, St. George Church of Ghadishi, The Crusifiction Church of Kvemo Joshkha, Virgin Church of Shavra, Church of Samtisi, St. George Church of Leknari (near village Zeda Shavra), Church of Meore-Tola, Virgin Church of Khvantshkhara, St. George Church of Khimshi, St. George and St. Nikolas Churches of Patara Oni, Virgin Church of Zemo Bari, St. George Church of Seva, Virgin Church of Kvemo Bari, The Archangels Church of Tbethi, St. George Church of Ghunda, St. Barbara Church of Goris-Ubani, Michael Archangel Church of Bcho (near village Zemo Bari), Trinity Church of Tchala, St. George Kastle Church of Kldisubani, St. George Church of Somitso, Crusifiction Church of Gviara, Church of Velevi, etc. was also damaged. The synagogue in the town of Oni was seriously damaged and left with cracked walls.
Majority of the relieves still are in derbies of ruined buildings and are exposed to the weather and accordingly safer from erosion. Because of lack of financial resources only small part of relieves - for example, Crusifixion from Mravaldzali., 1 half of 11th c. - were transported to the local Oni Museum .
Only small part of the damaged buildings have been restored so far. Relieves together with buildings are in a bad condition and do not have any roofing. Because of erosion and vegetation, which damages them a number of the known relieves have been completely destroyed. The reason of this sad picture is financial problems of the country, usual for Newly Independent States (NIS). As a result money allocated for conservation and restoration of the buildings damaged by the earthquake is not sufficient. Majority of the historic buildings are still in ruined condition.
In 1996 was established Cultural Heritage Initiative (CHI). Nowadays it is called - Cultural Heritage Preservation Fund. The Fund implements the World Bank and Georgian Government - Cultural Heritage Project. The objective of the Project is to set up modern system of the protection of the cultural heritage which would be effective in the new realities, e. g. market economy. Among other tasks there is a component of establishing modern system survey and inventory for cultural heritage. Our project follows principles elaborated within the CHI with the help of the World Bank and council of Europes consultants.
Relieves from Racha never have been published in proper way. Different scholars published photos of relieves of different quality and gave description of them with different level of accuracy. In many cases authors did not indicate various important formal information - size of relief (height, length, width), distance from the ground level and other.
There are cases when items kept in museums or their photos are not known for the wide range of specialists. Accordingly and because of other reasons these items practically are not used in scientific publications.
The aim of the project is to discover in derbies of ruined churches or around them relieves, survey them, preparation of descriptions, making photos, and transport them in more suitable and safe places and keeping for future restoration works.
Stages of actions:
Description of the relieves will respond on the following questioner:
After finishing of works specialists and interested parties will enjoy having of corpus of Racha relieves, one of the richest regions of Georgia in this terms. What is important all entries and descriptions of the corpus will be of the same standard. This will give good foundation for future work of scholars. The database is being constructed with the advice and support of the OpenText Assotiation (Tbilisi) and the Department of Computing in the Humanities, Georgian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Tbilisi).
1, Chavchavadze ave.