The campaign against “Panorama Tbilisi” gains international momentum!
Civil Movement “ERTAD” presents two new international initiatives against project “Panorama Tbilisi”
Press Release / Tbilisi, 25.06.16
Today, Civil Movement “Ertad” is presenting an open letter addressed to Mr. J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., Chairman of “Marriott International Corporation” and the chief executives of the corporation, criticising Marriott’s involvement in a project, which leads to devastating environmental and cultural consequences for Tbilisi and raises serious questions of corporate ethics.
Herewith, “Ertad” announces that “Save Europe’s Heritage”, one of Europe’s most highly regarded cultural preservation organisation, is once again calling out to the President, Prime Minister and The Government of Georgia, to respond to the growing chorus of international criticism regarding the shocking development of Tbilisi’s protected landscape. This letter, which follows on September 2015 letter, that criticized project “Panorama Tbilisi”, focuses on the damage that will be caused by the recently announced Tabori mountain project.
“Ertad” is grateful for the involvement of this prestigious preservation organization, which is deeply concerned about developments threatening the historic fabric of Tbilisi. This letter shows the alarm raised among international heritage professionals by the destructive and gargantuan developments in Tbilisi. The letter also highlights the irreversible damage to Tbilisi’s prospect to become a UNESCO world heritage site and emphasizes the complete disregard of Georgian officials to the negative consequences of these projects.
The projects in which Marriott will be participating, seem to violate the company’s core principles of corporate responsibility regarding environmental protection and ethical conduct: The land on which the “Sololaki Hills” Marriott Hotel will be built is legally classified as a Protected Landscape, therefore the Municipality of Tbilisi had no authority to issue a construction permit for the Panorama Project on land, that was officially recognized as a Protected Landscape by national legislation. Accordingly, the construction permit is invalid. If these hotels are built, Marriott’s name will forever be associated with “illegal” projects occupying a very prominent place in Tbilisi’s landscape, threatening its unique natural setting, cultural heritage and identity.
Marriott’s partner in the Panorama Project is the Georgian co-investment fund, which is allegedly controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who in turn is the founder and the main funder of the ruling political party. This means, that the very officials, who are supposed to protect the public interest in Cultural Heritage and the Environment, are closely related to the investor itself (GCF). Marriott’s official involvement in a controversial project that requires licensing and permits by that government does raise the question of whether Marriott is living up to its own standards of “integrity and good judgment” on which its business is based, according to Mr. Marriott’s words.
“Ertad” strongly urges Marriott to invest in Georgia in a manner that enhances and complements its culture instead of destroying it.
The Civil Movement “Ertad” is an independent and nonpartisan union seeking Cultural, Social and Environmental justice. The movement was formed against project “Panorama Tbilisi” and it unites 28 independent organisations and civil groups, as well as individuals who share a common vision but at the same time remain autonomous each on their own.
Neither the movement “Ertad”, nor any of its activities are or will in the future be coordinated, affiliated, or in any way associated with the existing political parties in Georgia, since the main goal of the movement is to build a powerful and independent civil society.
18th September 2015
By email and by post.
The President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili
Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili
The Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, Dimitry Kumsishvili
With copies sent to:
The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia, Gigla Agulashvili
The Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia, Mikheil Giorgadze
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Mrs Tamar Beruchashvili
The Mayor of Tbilisi, Davit Narmania
Dear Mr President, Prime Minster and Ministers,
We understand that Tbilisi, one of the world’s most complete and harmonious historic capitals, is currently under threat of being subsumed and dominated by an architectural project of huge scale– Panorama - that has been given permission to be built on the protected hills around the city.
Tbilisi is a place of extraordinary beauty, nestling along a river valley in a bowl of hills. It is clear that its setting is crucial to preserving this harmony. These hills were placed under protection in 1975 in order to conserve the setting that is an inextricable part of the city’s character and significance.
Tbilisi has seen a large number of new building projects in the last ten years that have become new dominants in the townscape, setting a precedent for a new scale that threatens to dwarf the historic city.
In July 2015 planning permission was awarded to Georgian businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, to build a large-scale multifunctional complex on the hillside behind his own palace, also built on formerly public land. Panorama consists of two tower blocks and a series of multi-storey terraces. The project has been approved by the Ministry of Economics and Sustainable Development, even though it runs counter to the zoning laws of the country that state that national parkland is protected and cannot be built on. The site, that has already been cleared, indicates the enormous scale of the project. Ivanishvili’s palace, already dominates a large portion of the historic city and is highly visible from Freedom Square, looming large on a green hillside that frames the city. The Panorama project is to be connected to four parts of the historic city, apparently already purchased by Ivanishvili, with a series of cable cars. This will in effect create a city above a city, that will catch up historic Tbilisi in a spider’s web of cable cars.
One of the arguments that the developer is making in justification of Panorama, is that tourism is increasing to Tbilisi and hotel places are needed. However, this is a classic case of the killing the goose that lays the golden egg: people will stop visiting Tbilisi if it loses its valuable setting.
Tbilisi could become one of the most visited cities in the world – it deserves to. Its unique character lies in the interaction between the river and the hillside. This creates a backdrop for its rich architectural heritage.
The importance of its setting is underlined by this extract from the nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative list: “Remarkable peculiarity of the city is preconditioned by the active part played by the specific natural setting in the creation of its general aspect and despite significant interventions, original interconnection of the city and environment is still preserved. Narrow portion of the river bed selected for its location, mountain ridge on the right bank of the river destined for the citadel, picturesque rocky plateau on the opposite side, are stressedly perceptible in the general silhouette of the city. Minor structures of the Late Medieval urban fabric provide favourable background to the architectural accents - Narikala fortress and Metekhi church - crowning these monuments of nature.” “Different forms of site authenticity are distinctly manifested: authenticity in setting, unique topography and harmonious interrelation with the landscape is preserved. Likewise preserved are historical views and perspectives. What is most important preserved is urban planning structure and considerable part of urban fabric and accordingly, a city as a homogeneous urban organism is still alive and preserved not in scattered individual buildings, but in its whole entity.” The new proposals will destroy the features described here. Once a site is on the World Heritage Tentative List there is an obligation to provide the protection enjoyed by a World Heritage Site until the decision is made.
It is essential that the city’s zoning laws be strengthened in order to protect the hillsides around Tbilisi, including Mirzashafi Street in the Abanotubani area. In addition, height restrictions need to be put on new buildings in the historic centre, to avoid the city’s setting being destroyed from within, concealing the hills around that provide the backdrop for the city.
We the undersigned, call on you to act in order that these proposals are dropped and that the hillsides above Tbilisi’s historic city are protected from construction. The future of Tbilisi is of great interest to the international community, who values and cherishes its extraordinarily rich architectural heritage and topography.
Marcus Binney CBE, Chairman, Clementine Cecil, Director, SAVE Europe’s Heritage
John Darlington, Director, World Monuments Fund UK
Irina Subotić Vice President, Europa Nostra Harriet Wennberg, Senior Manager, INTBAU UK (The International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism)
Gillian Darley OBE, President, Twentieth Century Society, UK
Adam Wilkinson, Director, Edinburgh World Heritage Site
Cathy Giangrande, Director Global Heritage Fund, UK
Matthew Saunders, Secretary, Ancient Monuments Society, UK
Tbilisi Heritage Group, London, UK
John Sell CBE, Chairman, Joint Committee of National Amenity Societies, UK
Harriet Devlin MBE, Birmingham City University, Director of MA Conservation of the Historic Environment
Robert Bargery, Director, The Georgian Group, UK
Isabel Cruz Almeida, Director, Monastery of Jerónimos and the BelémTower, Portugal
Pablo Longoria, World Monuments Fund, Spain
24 June 2016
Dear Mr President, Prime Minster and Ministers,
It is with deep alarm and regret that we note the increasingly severe development threats to Tbilisi’s historic setting and urban fabric.
On September 15 2015 we, a group of architectural historians, preservation specialists, architects and urban planners—each with a deep admiration for the uniquely harmonious architectural and natural setting of Tbilisi—wrote an open letter to you urging you to halt the oversized glass-and-steel “Panorama” project that is to be built on a protected hillside immediately above Tbilisi’s most historic neighbourhoods. We received no response to our letter.
We now understand that not only is Panorama going ahead, but that it has metastasised. We have been informed that there are further plans to build on even more protected land that forms the natural framing for the city.
We are very concerned that recent acquisitions by development companies threaten to irreparably damage Tbilisi’s historic Botanical Gardens, a National Monument that is protected by statute, as well as the neighbouring protected landscape on Mount Tabor that forms the backdrop of the Baths District of Tbilisi, the spot in which the city was founded in AD 458. This area sits across a narrow gorge from the planned Panorama development, and would present an even greater assault on Tbilisi’s natural and historic setting.
We understand that between April 12 and May 3rd, a significant area of protected state land was acquired within the Botanical Garden, on the adjoining protected landscape of Mount Tabor.
Tbilisi City Hall, then re-zoned the protected landscape on Mount Tabor. Although no formal planning proposal has yet been submitted for the plot on Mount Tabor, it has been reported that a hotel and golf course will be built at the site. This protected landscape is the natural setting for the city which gives Tbilisi its unique charm. In addition to this, we have been informed that a paved road is being built to the plot which we fear will cause further environmental damage, and which could open more of the hillside to development.
If permitted, this development would, together with Panorama, forever scar the face of the city. As we mentioned in our previous letter, Tbilisi is on the UNESCO tentative list. Its inscription reads: “Different forms of site authenticity are distinctly manifested: authenticity in setting, unique topography and harmonious interrelation with the landscape is preserved. Likewise preserved are historical views and perspectives. What is most important preserved is urban planning structure and considerable part of urban fabric and accordingly, a city as a homogeneous urban organism is still alive and preserved not in scattered individual buildings, but in its whole entity.”
Work on Panorama is continuing in spite of the clear danger it poses to the features described above. The latest developments on Mount Tabor and within the Botanical Gardens show that unless urgent action is taken Tbilisi will forever lose the extraordinary interaction of topography, architecture and town planning that make it one of the most beautiful cities of the world.
We the undersigned, call on you to act in order that these proposals are dropped and that the hillsides above Tbilisi’s historic city are protected from construction. The future of Tbilisi is of great interest to the international community, who hope that its unique features will be preserved for generations to come.
Marcus Binney Henrietta Billings Mike Fox
Chairman Director Deputy Director
SAVE Europe’s Heritage SAVE Europe’s Heritage SAVE Europe’s H