European History of Georgia on Centuries' Old Maps and Engravings

Récit Tangible Intangible
Organization name
Caucasus Open Space (COS)
Vue d'ensemble

The story is based on the unique collection of the XVI-XVIII century European maps and engravings about Georgia, uncovered throughout European collections, hand-picked and collected by Sulkhan Saladze. Dozens of unique maps tell the story of the Georgia's connectivity idea between Europe and Asia, as the concept is gaining momentum, unraveling lesser-known shared European cultural heritage of Georgia.

If I told you I am a lawyer, with many years of experience, who has headed one of the oldest and largest human rights organizations in a small country within Caucasus, you’d likely think I’ve come to the wrong place. And yet, this is exactly where and why this story must be told. So this is my story: About seven years back, nosing through the collections of one German antiques’ seller, I accidentally stumbled upon one first graphic sketch of Tbilisi, dating back as far as 1673. I was lucky to win the sketch in the auction. Soon enough, as the sketch arrived in Tbilisi and I unpacked the carefully folded package, I was in utter shock. The centuries of my community’s history was before me, as I walked the very same streets, depicted on centuries’ old sketch, guessing which corner was the one depicted on the sketch and comparing how the cityscape had changed – or not, through the centuries. Many years have passed since, but European sketches and maps have become an inseparable part of my life. Throughout this period, I have identified items throughout Europe and added to my collection over a hundred invaluable maps and over two hundred rare engravings depicting Georgia and Georgians – all dating anywhere from 1535 to 1921. My collection is increasing each day, with rare gems I find here and there. For years, I have been searching for old European maps, sketches, and engravings, scattered through various collections in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, UK, Austria, Poland, Greece and Cyprus. For years, I have been habitually visiting European cities and towns, in search of the pieces of our cultural heritage. Hague, Amsterdam, Lund, Copenhagen, Brussels, Munich, Vienna, Gratz, Rome, Genoa… and many, many others. In each of those travels I feel like I am bringing back the European history to Georgia, telling Georgians that Black Sea does not separate us from Europe – it connects us; the myth of the golden fleece and argonauts is as much a part of the European civilization as it is of ours; local Georgian toponymics of the Black Sea are part of our long-lost naval history; that due to exceptional geographic location, Georgia was always the shortest way to connect Europe and Asia, that we too have made our modest contribution to the development of the European cartography and the centuries-old notes of the European travelers come alive on their own sketches. To say in other terms – this is European history of Georgia, and it is all preserved in the European maps, sketches, and engravings. After so many years of collecting, the major challenge is that I am the only one who has access to the maps: it is not enough for me to hold public exhibitions, lectures, and discussions. Students, teachers, contemporary travelers, common citizens have no permanent access to the invaluable cultural heritage that those centuries-old maps and engravings represent. On another hand, the propaganda becomes more powerful by day, convincing Georgians, and the world that Europe is not a historic choice of Georgia, trying to shrink this civilizational idea of connectivity down to “post-Soviet” political rush. It is time for me to give back to my community and to make this collection open to everyone. What I have been collecting for seven years, must continue to be explored, enriched, preserved and this lesser-known aspects of the European history of Georgia must be equally accessible to everyone. Everyone must be able to easily access this cultural heritage and use it, understand it, explore it. Culture, history, preserved by those maps and sketches represents our common, shared cultural heritage. For this purpose, we need to create a digital bilingual webpage, a digital library, with high resolution of each map and gravure. Each item with detailed history and description. This will be our digital museum, first of its kind in Georgia, which is so critical now, at the time when the idea of Georgia’s connectivity is gaining the momentum.

European Dimension

The story explores centuries-old maps and engravings of European travellers, diving into the rich history of the Europe-Asia connectivity idea.