Contemporary Architecture in the Caspian Region: Batumi
Batumi’s beachfront from the air. Image: IgorZh/Shutterstock
Georgia’s Black Sea resort of Batumi has a special place in our ‘top five’ list of Caspian Region cities with a special knack for contemporary architectural innovation. Quirky and eccentric rather than big and bombastic, it is remarkable for having developed such a unique portfolio of buildings in a country that has not benefitted from an oil/gas-based funding boom.
While Tbilisi certainly has its share of eye-catching new buildings, in Georgia, the real modern architectural magic is in Batumi. A popular holiday escape in the Soviet era, the civil war of the 1990s had left Batumi wrecked and mouldering until around 2004 when the new Saakashvili government set about a full-scale rethink. The city became a gambling getaway, but, as with Las Vegas in the 1990s, the vibe was kept family-friendly by creating a whole series of eccentric new structures in wildly varying architectural styles. Not everything was completed and when Saakashvili was voted out in 2013, public funding for such projects dried up. However, the tourism pumps had been primed, and after a slow start, the visitor numbers started to surge. Since then, there’s been an enormous building boom that was only blunted by Covid.
Nowhere quite does modern architecture like Batumi, Georgia’s Black Sea resort city, where designs have a playfulness that echoes the merrily eccentric character of the place. Image: Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock
The city’s tallest building is the astonishing 35 storey Batumi Tower topped by an 85m mast with golden sail and, craziest of all, with a gilded 8-car mini Ferris wheel tucked into a circular niche that’s cut into the 27th floor. The tower was initially intended for use as a technical university by the Saakashvili government, but the money ran out just before completion and the building remained unused for years. It finally opened in 2019 as an upscale Le Meridien Hotel.
Le Meridien Hotel’s Batumi Tower dominates the skyline looking southwest. Image: Murr Photo/Shutterstock
Image: Alexander Antonoff/Shutterstock
Nearby ‘Miracles Park’ features the Alphabetic Tower, a spindly 130m structure whose DNA-style double helix of Georgian script letters wind up to a five-storey sphere containing a revolving restaurant and viewing area. However, the park’s most memorable feature is the Ali and Nino ‘Love’ statue. That’s a pair of giant, animated figures, a man and a woman, crafted in semi-abstract form from horizontal metal slats. Both move on circular trajectories, approaching each other and meeting all too fleetingly like the lovers of the Gurban Said novel that they represent. Then – magically – the two bodies pass through one another, their slats briefly intersecting then moving apart. It’s a delightful spectacle.
Image: shirmanov aleksey/Shutterstock
While there are a few old buildings in the centre, much is new, novelty architecture based on a melange of classic European styles but given a Disneyesque twist. Sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. It certainly makes the city a head-scratchingly intriguing place to wander.
Magical mishmash - Batumi’s Astronomical Clock on Europe Square. Image: Alvaro Lovazzano/Shutterstock
Batumi’s new-meets-old clock tower rises above the charming, faux-Italianate Piazza Square. Image: BSG_1974/Shutterstock
The first major international branded hotel to open in Batumi, the clock-topped 2010 Sheraton building is a 21 storey tower built in six ever-diminishing sized stages. The style is part classical, part Lego-land, very loosely inspired by the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria.
Image: Alexander Antonoff/Shutterstock
It’s set behind a park, and surrounding streets have an eclectic series of low-rise yet timeless features, from a Japanese-style tori gate to a whole range of fantasy-inspired mansions.
Sheraton, Batumi. Image: Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock
Towers spout like mushrooms around Heroes Alley. Image: Mikhail Starodubov/Shutterstock
Around 2km southwest of the port area, there’s a humorous ‘upside down’ restaurant and a vaguely Pisa-like classical tower on the beachfront. Otherwise, architectural imagination is generally less whacky here, but there is no shortage of big-budget building projects. Ever higher skyscrapers are emerging around the wide boulevard known as Heroes Alley. Its seaward end was once noted for the pair of two cylindrical towers that flank it, but though these are still there, they are now increasingly dwarfed by vast new towers. The huge, white-striped horseshoe magnet-shaped Marriott Courtyard building is the most obvious for now. Still, the triple toast-rack of the Alliance Centropolis towers and the 54-storey Alliance Prestige will soon overshadow even that. What would have been one of Batumi’s architectural highlights, the ‘pebbles-inspired’ new aquarium, has sadly never been built.
The Upside Down ‘White’ restaurant. Image: Keizers/Wikimedia Commons.