One Aspect of the Tbilisi Water Supply System in the 19th Century
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From early medieval times onward Tbilisi was supplied by water either from Mtkvari river, wells, or the ceramic pipes from Tsavkisi, Okrokana and Sololaki ravines Mtkvari being the major source among those three. The water was delivered by professionals who were united in a guild of people called “Tulukhchi”. They collected water from designated places into special leather vessels called “Tulukhi”. Tulukhi were delivered to the customers by horses or donkeys. Some of the Tulukhchis also carried ceramic jars by themselves. By the end of the 19th century the carriages with barrels were introduced to the business, however all water delivery persons still maintained their title “Tulukhchi” until the early 20th century.
The first modern water supply system of Tbilisi was built in 1861. Steam engines pumped water from the river Mtkavri to supply it through the 5,5 km long iron pipes to the main artery of the city – the Golovin avenue. In 1887 Tbilisi was added several additional pump stations and water supply systems. But those newly built systems still could not meet the needs of the city. Therefore, until the beginning of the 20th century the capital mostly relied on a traditional, medieval supply system.
In 2012 Tbilisi Municipality initiated some infrastructure works on the Mtatsminda slope which overlooks the Mtasminda district. This area of the town was developed in the second half of the 19th century. The mountain slope with its numerous natural trails remains a very popular recreational zone among the Tbilisi citizens. Construction of the recreational infrastructure in 2012 resulted in some parts of the natural trails being paved with the cobble stones. Unfortunately, the works were conducted without any archeological supervision and unexpectedly revealed ceramic pipes which used to be part of the old water supply system. Some of them were damaged, some of them were just made visible on territory of the trails. The author of the article studied the area and discovered there two different lines of ceramic pipes. One of them starts next to a spring that is in use even nowadays and runs down towards the “Adamo” hotel (4 Polikarpe Kakabadze street). Another line originates next to an already dried spring and moves in the same direction. The scholar registered the GPS coordinates of both.
It is hard to say when those two ceramic water supply lines were built. One can only speculate with certain level of certainty that they were built in the second half of the 19th century when Tbilisi started to expand and the area of the Moscow street was built in the Mtatsminda district beneath the pipelines in question. According to another theory everything started with only one water supply line, however, its source dried out hence creating need for an additional pipe. This would explain the fact that both lines are constructed into the same direction. Unfortunately, location where the water supply lines would reach their meeting point (according to the assumption there should have been a point of the water collection) has gone through drastic changes and developments. Once again, nowadays one can only speculate that the upper part of the Moscow street housed a public water source which supplied the whole area by potable water.
If the assumptions and theories turn out to be correct, it will become obvious that the medieval water supply systems were still in use in the second half of the 19th century.
Naturally further studies and if possible, archeological excavations are needed to collect more evidence and establish the facts about who and when built those water supply lines and how they were used.