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Art Nouveau Architectural Heritage Close to Mtskheta - Karsani Magnetic Observatory

Maia Mania
0 The Tbilisi observatory conducted magnetic observations until 1904, but had to move to Karsani, near Mtskheta in 1905, due to the electrification of Tbilisi streets.
1 The Karsani observatory was initiated by Stephan Hlasek, director of the Tbilisi observatory. He had organised a reconnaissance expedition to the surroundings of Mount Karsani in 1910 before launching the construction of an observatory on a steep terrain. The constructing work was completed in 1913, while the installation of magnetic instruments by Hlasek and the magnetologist M. Sitnov finished in 1914. Worth noting is that Rudolf Assaffrey also took part in constructing the Karsani observatory and in the observations held made there.
2 Karsani Magnetic Department had a main building, a residential structure, large and small pavilions for absolute observations, a temporary apartment and an underground pavilion for magnetographs and magnetometers.
3 The main building was constructed between 1910 and 1912 on a levelled piece of land.
The Karsani observatory overlooks a vast space offering breathtaking views to the Holy Cross
Church at Mtskheta and surrounding mountains across the Karsani gorge.
4  Standing on a tall socle, this double-storey structure is notable for its architecture.
5 Planned symmetrically, the building lends itself to an unimpeded interpretation. In the
past, it was also a dominant feature of the entire complex thanks to its projections and a
tower-shaped structure.
6 The main building at Karsani is distinguished by Art Nouevau features harmoniously
merging with the classicist adornment. The mullions, the wavy cornice of the tower-like
structure and interior decoration create a sharp relief against the façade clad in an alternating
course of rough square block and brick and adornment elements such as a projection and a
pilaster. Remarkable is a wide stairwell with a wrought-iron staircase terminating in wooden
steps and a plain banister also of wood leading up to the towering structure marking the
middle axis of the building. Its timber architecture also shows the influence of Art Nouveau style. The same style characterised the interior design the most vivid features of which were
its wall paper with undulating patterns, door handles and furniture.
7 But what makes the building of Karsani Magnetic Department a truly magnificent work
of art is its splended location and harmonious blend with the natural landscape. Laid out on
an elevated plateau of the Karsani valley and surrounded by rocky, bare and wood-covered
mountains, it is a man-made park designed in the English manner. With its deep circular
pool, small forms, a perfectly planned winding path and tracks, as well as versatile plants
matching the surrounding flora, its park is a splendid feat of landscape architecture. The
ability to achieve a perfect harmony of architecture with its surrounding landscape bespeaks
the talent and craftsmanship of the architect, feature that allows us to consider the Karsani
observatory on par with the architecture of European palaces of the late 19th and early 20th
century. The building with a tower, like many European palaces, creates an immediate contrast
with the surroundings and it is the synergy of the well thougt out architecture of the building
with a tower and the natural forms that lend a unity wholeness and more specifically, an air
of English Picturesque, to the Karsani observatory. The ruined garden and the endangered
building at Karsani still retain a trace of their former glory.
8 The main building at Karsani reveals hereditary ties with the architectural traditions of
Tbilisi of the late 19th and early 20th century and attests to the widespread use of the Art
Nouveau style in Georgia. Being of high artistic and architectural value and distinguished for its exceptional technical craftsmanship, it ranks not only among the best Georgian Art
Nouveau buildings, but among the most distinguished secular edifices of its time.
9 The residential and other ancillary structures at Karsani featured a successful combination of European classicist forms with wooden roofed balconies inspired by a local architectural tradition. The complex also contained a tower-like temporary residential structure erected in 1913, which was remarkable for its typology and synthesis of traditions.
10 Karsani Magnetic Observatory boasted an exceptionally rich stock of instruments. Thanks to its accuracy and to the relevance of its studies, the observatory ranked among the leading observatories of the world.
11 The First World War had a serious impact on the functioning of the observatory, its
administration and leading staff, many of whom were foreigners, left Georgia forever. In
1917, Karsani had to restrict its operation, which ultimately led to the removal of Georgia from
the world-wide net of magnetic observatories.
12 In the early 20th century, several Georgian and non-Georgian scientists undertook
to restore the work at the almost completely neglected Tbilisi observatory and at Karsani
Magnetic Department.
13 In 1925, Karsani Observatory started sending descriptions of magnetic days compiled
on the basis of magnetograms to the magnetic section of the International Meteorological
Committee of De Bilt, the Netherlands. The materials were published in the internaitonal journal
Caractére Magnétique. This resulted in the reintegration of Karsani Magnetic Observatory
into the worldwide net of observatories which united over thirty observatories.
14 As already mentioned, the electrification of Tbilisi streets in 1904 hampered magnetic observations at Tbilisi Physical Observatory, due to which it had to be transferred to Karsani, while the construction of the Zahes power station and the electrification of the Tbilisi-Khashuri section required its transfer in 1935 from Karsani to the town of Dusheti.
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