Wooden Mosques explores the endangered architectural legacy of the Adjara region’s Muslim communities. This unique architecture flourished in the decades between the twilight of Ottoman rule and the rise of Soviet power. The Lesser Caucasus’ mountainous climate provided both architectural challenges and opportunities for craftsmen who traveled freely across the Georgian-Turkish border, rendering in wood and paint what would have been stone and tile elsewhere. Moreover, these mosques feature figurative decoration often thought to be forbidden by the faith. These remote structures are architectural testaments to multi-confessionalism in the Caucasus and represent a distinctive expression of vernacular mosque design that underscores the diversity of the Muslim experience worldwide. At the same time, these buildings in their design and decoration are unmistakably Georgian mosques built under Ottoman influence rather than Ottoman mosques imposed on Georgian territory.
Across Adjara, over fifty mosques built between 1817 and 1926 survive today—some the center of religious revival in their communities, others abandoned because of secularization, depopulation, or the appeal of newly-constructed mosques built with Turkish funding, materials, and design. This research project showcases many of these historic wooden mosques, selected for their diversity in location, design, and conservation status. Through an exploration of this architectural legacy, the project seeks to broaden our understanding of Georgia’s rich and varied architectural heritage.
Suzanne Harris-Brandts is a Canadian architect and PhD candidate in Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work examines the politics of architecture, particularly with regards to symbols of power and national identity in the post-Soviet South Caucasus and Occupied Palestinian Territories. Prior to her doctoral studies, she received an MArch from the University of Waterloo. Her work has been published and exhibited in various international outlets, and she has worked at design/research practices across the globe, including in Toronto, Vancouver, London, the West Bank, and Abu Dhabi.
Angela Wheeler is a PhD student in architecture at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Her work explores heritage, national identity, and architectural history in the former Soviet Union. After working with the International Council of Monuments and Sites as a Fulbright research grantee in Tbilisi, she completed an MSc in Historic Preservation at Columbia University (2016). Her thesis, Socialist in Form, National in Content, investigated the historical turn in late Soviet architecture and attempts to reconcile historic preservation with Soviet ideology in the Brezhnev era. She recently contributed a chapter on mosques of Russia and the Caucasus to Rizzoli's Mosques: Splendors of Islam (2017) and is currently writing the Tbilisi volume for DOM's Architectural Guides series (2018).
Vladimer Shioshvili is a Georgian-American photographer who documents street art and urban transformations in Tbilisi. He enjoys setting up his tripod and exploring odd angles. Vladimer’s work has been published online and in print in Tank magazine, the Guardian, retrograd.co.uk, and the calvertjournal.com.
We would like to thank the following people and organizations for their project support:
Ana Riaboshenko & Creative Georgia; Dr. Ruslan Baramidze; Dr. David Gogishvili; Dr. Nino Inaishvili; Lasha Nakashidze; Dr. David Sichinava; Dr. Maia Tchitchileishvili; Dr. Fritz Umbach; and all community members who helped us during our field visits.
This project is supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and Open Society Georgia Foundation.