National heritage is something that should never be left to crumble and deteriorate.
Narikala Fortress stands not just as a historical reminder of the resilience of the Georgian people, but also as an iconic skyline piece of Tbilisi. The ancient citadel dates back to the beginning of the empire, but in the modern era it has fallen into disrepair. The history of this iconic location, as well as the memory of the Georgian warriors and citizens that built this structure, should also be honored duly.
The true birth of the fort on the hill now known as Narikala is largely unknown, but given the location and tactical advantages of the position, it was likely home to smaller wooden fortresses in pre-Roman times. It isn’t until around the 4th century AD that we first see mentions of some sort of military structure on the heights. The larger stone construction that we associate with the fortress we see today came about some time during the 5th century. Some sources cite the Persians as the original builders, while others point to the founder of Tbilisi himself, Vakhtang Gorgasali.
In this early era, much of the valley that Tbilisi lies in was wooded, with sporadic farmland closer to the river. This wood would have most likely meant that the early structure was less stone walls and towers than wooden palisades. This type of construction was more common than popular movies give credit for, with stone structures only being used in key areas such as the gatehouse and important guard towers.
However, as the permanency of the structure became a reality, it would have gradually been upgraded to a brick and mortar castle. It is noted in some sources that the Arab Umayyads in the 8th century installed much of the more modern battlements we see today.
Preserving this jewel of the city is not without precedent. There are already small institutions that keep the area under watch, but it is without the reverence and service fit for a Georgian castle. Litter still tarnishes its courtyards and battlements, and visitors are largely unguided and unaware of the rich history that surrounds them upon entry. With this considered, it would be more than appropriate for a formal Narikala Historic Park Service to be mustered into order.
There exists already an excellent template from which to draw inspiration from, and in one of Georgia’s closest allies no less. The United States National Park Service has many National Military Parks, the oldest of which is the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. This historic battlefield preserve, founded in 1890, hosts a wide range of services and events for the public to educate and even entertain those interested.
Located in the historic southwest region of the United States, it is a large protected area preserving the site of the Battle of Chickamauga that was fought from September 18th – 20th, 1863. The battle between Federal and Confederate forces was one of the largest fought during the five-year conflict. The three days of heavy fighting in forest and farmland resulted in the retreat of the Federal forces from the area, and one of the largest death tolls on American soil.
From battlefield markers and monuments showing the progression of units during the battles to Living History demonstrations showing volunteers kitted in period uniforms and weaponry performing maneuvers and firing drills, the location provides a wealth of information to its almost one million visitors per year. Narikala should be no different.
The benefits are not only financial. Georgia largely has a deep love of its long history, and the restoration of a key piece of that history would drive a resurgence in national pride.
With the historical restoration of the fortress battlements and interior structures, visitors would pay a nominal fee to help cover operational costs and be free to tour the site. Guides and “park rangers” would be on staff to assist, and local volunteers would be able to provide historical demonstrations and help with staffing needs. With an accompanying marketing campaign in the existing tourism marketing program, along with partnerships with tour companies, Narikala could draw additional tourism revenue to the city.
The benefits are not only financial from an increase in tourism. Georgia largely has a deep love of its long history, and the restoration of a key piece of that history would drive a resurgence in national pride. Having a physical symbol of national history, unity, and strength not only provides the people an item of pride, but also a focal point of traditional Georgian values. National heritage is something that should never be left to crumble and deteriorate.
As for the administration of the site, it would most likely fall to the Agency of Protected Areas. However, it may open up a category of new “National Heritage Sites” or “National Military Parks.” Employees would be members of this agency, and as such would be federal employees, but volunteers would simply be unpaid individuals providing their own historical equipment. For their service, season passes or other forms of benefit could be offered as incentives. The additional jobs also provide an outlet for local history enthusiasts and scholars. Simply put, the opening of this new designation could start the process of protecting and registering more or a multitude of existing fortresses, castles and ancient battlefields spread across the nation.
For Georgia, so much of the tourism comes from its natural beauty, it’s famed cuisine, and the unique shores. A smaller number come because of the vast and deep history that encompasses the region, ranging from prehistory and the existence of Mankind’s earliest settlements, to Soviet rule and the struggle for independence. This history, particularly that of pre-19th century Georgia and its diverse mixture of kingdoms and peoples, is woefully underrepresented. In a country that yearns for unity, the restoration of one of the most visible symbols of this is potentially the easiest step that can be taken to restore the power of Georgia.
By Michael Godwin