Palace of Justice

Blending organically with the acting of the ancient and picturesque Mtatsminda quarter, here the inimitable charm of Tbilisi streets and lanes is especially felt, the building of the Supreme Court of Georgia stands at some three minutes walk from Rustaveli Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the Georgian capital founded fifteen centuries ago.

Even a cursory glance at the building will tell the viewers that it is an outstanding example of classical architecture, helping them from an idea of the capital of Georgia. For architecture does not need to be “translated into another language”, reflecting clearly not only the nation’s cultural and intellectual level but the country’s technical potentials as well. 

The architectural forms, prevalent at the time in Western Europe and largely based on the Renaissance-Baroque style, were taking root in Tbilisi as well as in the whole of the Russian Empire. It was in the period under discussion that a decision was taken by the city authorities to have several buildings erected in the then Golovin Avenue and the adjoining Mtatsminda quarter. Later these buildings largely determined the aspect of the capital, serving as a kind of business card.

In order to carry out this responsible task Alexander Simkiewicz, a Polish-born architect, was invited to Tbilisi. Serving as the city’s architect in 1885-1891, he was considered one of the most prominent representatives of Tbilisi architecture of the period. For several years running he was elected a city councilor. Simultaneously, in 1905-1906 he taught architecture and drawing at the Tbilisi Art School. Besides civil buildings, many dwelling houses were built according to his designs, whose façades were done mainly in the Renaissance-Baroque style.

The architect, commissioned in the 1880s by Tbilisi Municipality to design the building of the then court palace, faced a difficult task, for the ancient cultural tradition of the Georgian people both blazed his trail and doubled the burden of responsibility. It is hard to do something new in a country in which the nation’s spiritual energy has such an impressive outlet in word and stone – in a country with the background of Svetitskhoveli and Gelati.
Simkiewicz was greatly helped by the experience of our ancestors who knew well that man’s facing the sublime calls for preliminary preparation, mobilization and concentration of feeling and mind on one idea. That is why they took into account and studied the scale of construction, the principles of form creation, traditions, contact of the natural environment with the building, and only then did they start construction. Furthermore, Georgian churches and monasteries were built specially, without sparing the nation’s spiritual and physical powers, with the best building materials and the participation of famous masters. They were embellished with designs and fine mural-painting. One more point: churches and monasteries were built on the most prominent site, as far as before coming to the church person should develop a definite psychological attitude of seeing a sublime sight and hear pleasant hymns. In this respect the talent and skill of Georgian grandmasters, who defied time, are truly astonishing.

It should be said to Simkiewicz’s credit that he solved the task brilliantly: the site of the Supreme Court building is advantageous. Rising on elevated ground, the monumental structure, faced with grey stone, overlooks the Mtatsminda quarter with royal staidness.

Out of the principles, established in classical town building, the architect focused his attention on the scale and harmonious blending of new forms with historically established structures. He worked out a principle of safeguarding the single aesthetic ideal of architecture and the natural environment. The architect’s main objective was to provide for the affective-artistic and ideological role of the building, and avoid reducing it to soulless utilitarianism. His dedicated work was crowned with success. Within a few years buildings were erected in Mtatsminda quarter without which the existence of Tbilisi and the Tbilisians is today unimaginable. These were:
The building of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Georgia (built in 1894).

The Shota Rustaveli State Academic Theatre (built jointly with the architect K. Tatishchev, in 1901).

The Vano Sarajishvili State Conservatoire (built in 1904).

The building of the Supreme Court of Georgia was intended for the Court from the start. 

“The structure of the main four-storey façade the middle risalita (with a lobby and halls) and the lateral risalitas, entrances in the centre, and two symmetric gates at the façade – is dictated by the functional design of the plan. The architectural treatment is based on motifs of the late Renaissance and Italian (largely Roman) Baroque palazzi, entering Georgia in the second half of the 19th century via Western architecture”.*

Architectural planning of the building clearly provided for meeting the demands of procedural legislation. At the turn of the century the Court Chamber of the period provided for a staff of 39, including 11 judges.
After 1921 the Bolshevik regime left its mark on the Supreme Court building; it was completely deprived of the necessary conditions for the administration of justice. The specific purpose of the building was neglected by its gradual allotment to various offices. Finally the number of such offices housed in it reached seventeen. The halls and lobbies were partitioned. Of the ten courtrooms only three remained, the others being divided into small rooms. Arbitrary, totally unjustified reconstructions deprived the building of its special court function, the architectural-artistic makeup of the interiors and the rational utilization of the overall inner area were done away with. A chaotic situation developed in the building owing to the irrelevant placement of the trial and appeal courts, the office and the bar. In conditions of the cross-movement of the defendants, judges, and the streams of people attending the trial, the judges were forced to hold hearings in their studies – in a cramped and noisy atmosphere. This continued for years. The almost rundown building had to be saved.

In 1973 by Council of Ministers the building was wholly returned to the Supreme Court. It was decided to have the building restored to its original appearance. Teimuraz Japaridze, an architect of the state Institute “Tbilisi City Design”, was commissioned to work out a design of reconstruction. He fulfilled this responsible task successfully.

During the restoration and reconstruction T. Japaridze made maximum use of the entire area of the building – from ground to the fifth floor, thus facilitating the provision of a technological scheme required for the Supreme Court. Restored in the first place were the courtroom and the lobbies which account for the main area of the building.

The two sections of the building, standing parallel to each other, are connected so as to impart the shape of a cross to the building. There are wide staircase wells between them. Such principle of planning is specific, forming one of the most interesting artistic elements in the overall composition of the building.

According to the design, large distribution lobbies were made on the ground floor, with a granite floor, and the walls were decorated with outstanding examples of all painting. Attention is attracted by the image of Themes, the Goddess of Justice, on the ceiling, in a conspicuous place, intimating to the viewers that they are in the Palace of Justice. The inlaid Baroque-style brackets impart an elegant aspect to the building.

The open space of the staircase well is connected with halls executed with taste. Visitors assemble here, as far as these halls give an outlet into several courtrooms where various trials take place. In a word, according to the planning of the complex this place forms the central distribution place and blends favorably with the entire planning structure, being directly linked to all crowded facilities.

The first floor houses several trial courtrooms, with their anterooms, rooms for the judges to hold consultations, separate rooms for the jury and the prosecutor.

The trial courtrooms are planned flawlessly. Modern materials are used in the facing of the walls and floors. Their interiors, executed in an austere style but with great moderation, help to exert psychological influence and create a somewhat sublime set. As it is known, walls, too, exert influence on man. Nowhere else is adherence to the principle of the unity of form and content as important as in the execution of justice. The trial courtrooms for the Supreme Court meet all modern demands. Being distinguished for moderation and scale, they are in harmony with the central round lobby which, in its turn blends organically with the staircase well with moldings, gilt ornaments and paintings. The trial courtrooms are planned in such a way that the defendant, judges, and the public attending the trial are completely isolated one from another, which is a sine qua non for the normal proceeding of the trial.

The artistic design of the lobby and the large hall of trial are interesting.
Unlike the round hall of the first floor, the hall on the third floor is done in mellow colors, and the harmony of colors is effective.

In the hall faced with Georgian marble, in the centre of columns of pink marble, on a white pedestal, there originally stood a statue of Alexander II, then that of Vladimir Lenin. In connection with the centenary of the Palace of Justice a sculptural composition – a black-ad-white sphere – was places on the pedestal. This composition – which is not subject to political conjuncture – symbolically reflects the eternal struggle of good and evil.

The sphere was a golden girdle with Rustaveli’s well-known aphorism: “Evil has been conquered by good and the latter is everlasting”. The author of the sculptural composition is the architect Kote Memanishvili.

The studies and offices of the Chairman of the Supreme Court are on the fourth floor. From the hall, passing through a white door, one enters the hall – also white – where the plenary sessions of the Supreme Court are held. By its architectural-artistic solution of the interior, the Plenary Hall is one of the best not only in Tbilisi but in the whole country as well. The paintings of the wall and ceiling blend harmoniously with furniture of original design. Taste – manifested primary in refined simplicity – gives the viewer great aesthetic pleasure. The painting of the ceiling of the Plenary Hall – distinguished for a blend of most delicate colors and a sensation of airiness. - is worth special notice. The beauty of the hall is a unique luster designed by Nodar Ergemlidze.

The staircase of the buildings is worth special notice. Always impressive with its splendor, it is really like one in a palace with its white marble stabs, massive wooden banisters, pronounced ornaments and red carpets. The cut-glass lamps are arranged at regular intervals from ground to the fifth floor. The staircase ends with a caisson ceiling with gilt rosettes. 

According to universally accepted international norms the concept of a monument of material culture implies any object that is of interest from the architectural and aesthetic points of view. The building of the Supreme Count undoubtedly meets this definition fully. Hence, by a decision of the government the building of the Supreme Court has been listed among the monuments of the material culture of Georgia.

September 2017

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