What Lies Beneath

Posted on October 16, 2012 by


What lies beneath a country?  What lies beneath a people?  What lies beneath your own identity?  These are not questions with easy answers.

I live in an old farmhouse in southern Maine, USA.  We have a red barn, but the rest of the farmland was parceled off as separate lots in the 200 years since the house was built.  My house was built in 1820, the same year that Maine became a state.  Let me provide some historical context.  In 1820, the Spanish Empire in the Americas was in its death throes, Antarctica was first sighted by adventurous Russian explorers, and George IV was crowned King of England following the death of his father the Mad King George III.  Here in Georgia, Tsar Alexander I was busy consolidating Russian control of the entire Transcaucasus–a daunting task of subjugation involving 50 years of guerrilla warfare against northern Caucasian tribes and pockets of resistance throughout the region.

A 192 year-old house is pretty boast-worthy in the US.  We’ve found all sorts of interesting historic relics in nooks and crannies, hiding among rafters or beneath floorboards.  We found farming implements, a shoe, and even a newspaper with a hot murder story from 1836!  As a history nerd, I’ve always reveled in these discoveries and allowed myself to be transported back to the 19th century in contemplation.  And then I moved to Georgia and began renting an apartment perched on top of a 1000 year-old wall.

This is my house, and yes, it is in the first fifteen results when you Google Image Search “Tbilisi.”

Tbilisi was founded sometime in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali.  The outermost fortress wall (the wall my apartment stands on) was built sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries by David the Builder and his successors.  Let me provide some historical context.  In the 11th century, the Moorish Empire in Spain was in its death throes, North America was first sighted by adventurous Viking explorers, and William the Conquerer was crowned King of England following his successful cross-Channel invasion of 1066.  In Cumberland, Maine…  Well, maybe some of those Vikings visited.  Maybe.  Maybe the Penobscot Tribe of Native Americans existed?  I mean, in the 11th century the oldest book written in the Americas was composed, so it’s hard to get a good idea of what was going on in Maine at the time.  Gives you a sense of perspective, right?

Yes, my house is also on Tbilisi’s Wikipedia page.

Over the centuries, as Tbilis has grown in size and population, significant modernization has taken place.  Recently Tbilisi has been rapidly renovating a lot of its prettier boulevards.  The construction recently overtook my neighborhood, where road crews tore up Pushkini St. to lay down some new asphalt and help alleviate traffic congestion.  They didn’t have to dig very far to discover what lies beneath Pushkini St.

Not ten feet below the surface of the road, construction workers discovered the remains of an extension of Old Tbilisi’s 1000 year-old fortress wall.  According to some sources, it’s not just any old segment of wall, either, but the main gate!  As soon as the wall was discovered, the mayor announced tentative plans to preserve it and create footpaths and walkways around it, essentially turning Pushkini St. into a broad pedestrian boulevard.

When the wall was discovered, construction crews shifted gears and decided not to pave back over it. Sadly, I think my favorite Shawarma place (that husk of a corner shop) is never coming back.

Well, they’ve done it!  About two weeks ago the new park opened and I have to say, it’s really nice!  The pathways dip beneath street level where they hew to the wall and weave around the bases of long-collapsed towers.  At the same time, walkways overhead give you an aerial view of the ruins.  Furthermore, the completion of a wide tree-lined sidewalk has created a beautiful addition to the entire Freedom Square area, allowing folks to casually stroll about without fear of being creamed by a truck.

It’s hard to capture the whole area in one photograph, so I’ve swiped this nice photo from The Disequilibrium of Travel that gives you a sense of the walkways among the fortress foundations.

I highly encourage you to visit this new footpath and consider that you never truly know what lies beneath.  What was once a congested thoroughfare bordered by crumbling facades and shoddy sidewalks has been transformed into a beautiful park.  Go ahead, do a little digging.  You might just find 176 year-old newspapers, 1000 year-old walls, or Harrison Ford’s deep dark secrets.

Freedom Square behind you, this is the view as you look down towards the new pedestrian area.