Mutso is one of the most unreachable mountain historic villages in the Caucasus and for centuries, this rural fortified settlement was the strongest outpost at the northern gate of Georgia. It was inhabited during the middle and late periods of medieval Georgia. Since medieval time, the settlement sustained its strategic function of “Guardian of Georgia” for centuries, controlling the roads leading into the country from the north. While being difficult to reach, the village has retained its original architecture and has been a popular destination for hikers and enthusiasts from all over the globe. The harmonious interaction of humankind with the natural environment and picturesque dramatic landscape of rocky mountains, makes the village spectacular.
Both, tangible and intangible values connected to the place, makes the site significant. The settlement is spread on three semi-artificial terraces, which creates three main districts: Lower, Upper and Citadel. The narrow streets and steps, leading one through the magnificent urban landscape, organize the connection between them. Similar buildings to the towers of Mutso are common in the mountain regions of South Caucasus; however, none of the settlements is comparable in terms of the in-approachability of this vertically developed village that makes the place outstanding.
The intangible heritage is considerable as well: local management system, legends, beliefs and traditions, practiced by the locals for centuries and are connected to the village and sometimes expressed in the material form, e.g. the existence of sacred places and shrines on place. The local traditional building techniques, elaborated through the centuries, should also be noted: almost all the buildings are built with dry, mortar-less technique. The settlement has been enlisted as the National Significance Monument since 2006.
Over its long history Mutso was destroyed several times, but through the enormous efforts of Khevsurians (local Georgian population), it was constantly renewed. However, intensive and forced resettling from the mountains to the lowlands occurred from the late 19th century under the Tsar, and then increased under the Soviet government in the first half of the 20th century, leading the village to depopulation. As a result, deserted settlement was severely degraded and the village was threatened by destruction, abandoned buildings were easily destroyed by the environmental impact, none of the structures of the village survived completely.
Considering the importance and significance of the site for its tangible and intangible values, upon the initiative of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia (NACHPG) the project for the rehabilitation of Mutso became one of the priorities of the Georgian Government under the State programme on regional development.
NACHPG represents a main operational institution responsible for the implementation of national cultural heritage policy in Georgia. Established in 2008, NACHPG’s main missions are to lead, coordinate and implement state programs in the field of cultural heritage inter alia to promote and preserve cultural heritage assets in Georgia. NACHPG is based on eighteen museums and museum- reserves located in the different regions of Georgia, among them is the Museum-reserve of Mutso.
As a result of the initiated project, since 2014 a comprehensive rehabilitation programme, aimed to ensure the long-term protection of this outstanding heritage site, while supporting the sustainable recovery of the village was launched. Funded by the Government of Georgia, the NACHPG in cooperation with the International Charity Foundation - Cartu, managed and implemented the rehabilitation project. . The project aimed to enhance the structural stability of the built fabric and to restore the physical integrity of the site, as well as to improve the living conditions for people, to engage the locals to the works and to support families to return to the village. The Mutso rehabilitation project is a pledge for the further revival of the mountain's historical settlements in Georgia.
The project has been implemented in three different stages, lasting five years. At the beginning, the project has been elaborated and the working plan for the rehabilitation works has been developed, followed by the implementation of the project. It should be highlighted that in each phase the local community was engaged and fully took part in the works.
Considering the complicated location and scale of the site and the complexity of the works, there were challenges, which the project had to overcome to complete it successfully. The challenges the project had to face were as follows:
• The first and main issue was related to the lack of traditional building knowledge. Unfortunately, when the project started, there were no local craftsmen aware how to build using the similar techniques as existed, despite the willingness of locals it was not possible to achieve the proper quality. Because of this, the Kisti craftsmen from the neighbouring regions were invited to work on the site;
• At the beginning of the project, the problematic issue was also to provide the building materials as the recuperated slates were insufficient for the restoration of the historic structures. Due to the fact that there were no working quarries, in the first stages of the project the proper materials were collected from the naturally collapsed rocks nearby. As a result of target oriented discussions and investigations on possibilities, together with relevant state institution is became possible to open quarries to obtain slates for the masonry of the walls;
• Because of the complicated location and lack of modern infrastructure, the transportation of the building materials and necessary equipment was a challenge during the project. For this very reason, a special cable-car was installed for the period of rehabilitation works.
• Another factor affecting the project implementation was the harsh climate, which limited the working season on site that has resulted in the prolongation in time.
The harmonization of the needs of the local population to create the relevant environment for their living conditions with the necessity to protect our common inheritance and to ensure its transition to the future generations was the mainstream of the project.
In 2019, the project received Europa Nostra Award in the Conservation category and the Public Choice Award. This prestigious recognition as well as the project-achieved results approved that the project was successful. Overall state of conservation of the heritage was improved, as the structural stability and integrity was reached, enabling the owners to use the dwellings according to their needs; the most distinguished result of the project should be considered the motivation of people to return to the village immediately as soon as the project was started. Since the project has started, few families have already returned to the village, living there throughout the whole year, in addition, there are families, who are returning to live in the village seasonally. Analysing the whole process it should be highlighted that one of the main factors to achieve success in such projects, alongside the strengthened collaboration of the professional institutions is the engagement and the support of the local community.
Further, the implementation of “Mutso Fortified-Settlement-Revived Village” contributes to the recognition of cultural heritage values for economic prosperity by the local population and region in general.
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