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Culture of Georgia

Georgian Art and Architecture
 
 
Georgian art reached its golden age in the 11th – 13th centuries. Immortal monuments of Georgian architecture were built in the 10th – 13th cc; Churches Bagrati, Oshki and Khakhuli (both in Turkey territory), Gelati, Svetitskhoveli, Samtavisi, Alaverdi.
History of Georgian art dates back to 4000 years; Archeological excavations have proved the existence of large centers of metallurgy in Georgia. The art of metal-working has been developed and perfected during many centuries of antique and medieval periods. Among the specimens of gold-ware dated back to III and I millennium BC, the gold sculpture of lion, the gold and silver cups from Trialeti and the jewelry from the Akhalgori treasury are the masterpieces of Georgian art.

The new era of art and architecture began with adopting Christianity as the state religion in Georgia in 337. A high level of development was attained by various branches of art: fresco-painting, iconography, miniature decoration of manuscripts, chasing on gold and silver, enameling, etc. Two major forms of ecclesiastical building developed in Georgia since the 4th century: the central domed structure and basilica. Sioni Church in Bolnisi and Jvari Monastery in Mtskheta are remarkable examples of early medieval architecture of Georgia.

Georgia is one of the countries, whose architecture becomes one of the main topics of the conversation if you start talking about its culture. There is not a single part of the country without the ancient buildings, sites of ancient towns or villages, churches, castles, bridges of the pre-antique period or the Middle Ages. Some of them are only remnants of archaeological excavations, a lot of them even today determine the aspect of towns and villages, the settlements of which, especially those of the 19th-20th centuries, are very peculiar and attractive in a way.
Georgian Architecture has been influenced by many civilizations. There are several different architectural styles for castles, towers, fortifications and churches. The Upper Svaneti fortifications, and the castle town of Shatili in Khevsureti, are some of the finest examples of medieval Georgian castle architecture.
Georgian ecclesiastic art is one of the most fascinating aspects of Georgian Christian architecture, which combines classical dome style with original basilica style forming what is known as the Georgian cross-dome style. Cross-dome architecture developed in Georgia during the 9th century; before that, most Georgian churches were basilicas. Georgian culture strongly emphasizes individualism and this is expressed through the allocation of interior space in Georgian churches. Other examples of Georgian ecclesiastic architecture can be found outside Georgia: Bachkovo Monastery in Bulgaria (built in 1083 by the Georgian military commander Grigorii Bakuriani), Iviron monastery in Greece (built by Georgians in the 10th century), and the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem (built by Georgians in the 9th century). Other architectural aspects of Georgia include Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi in the Hausmann style, and the Old Town District.
 
Georgia is one of the countries whose architecture becomes one of the main topics of the conversation if you start talking about its culture. There is not a single part of the country without ancient buildings, sites of ancient towns or villages, churches, castles, bridges... of the pre-antique period or the Middle Ages. Some of them are only remnants of archaeological excavations, a lot of them even today determine the aspect of towns and villages, the settlements of which, especially those of the 19th-20th centuries, are very peculiar and attractive in a way. It goes without saying that many important buildings have been built in the 20th century and architectural creative work is continued even today.

Since the 1930s new archaeological monuments are uncovered annually, and yet our idea of the construction of ancient times or antique age is not perfect yet. The only thing we can say for certain is that some traditions originated as far as the 7th-5th millennium BC, they reached our times and being developed and refined through centuries created wonderful pieces of art. It is to those times that the round and square houses, found in Kvemo and Shida Kartli, belong to; the principle of their planning (the main thing here is the middle vertical axis) and roofing (rising from the walls, dome like-in round houses, supported by pillars of wooden beams-in square houses), a bit modified, still existed at the beginning of the 20th century in the villages of Eastern and Southern Georgia and were known as "Darbazi". Such buildings occur on some sites of ancient towns of the Hellenistic Age and in the abandoned settlements of the 8th-10th centuries in the Borjomi district. Similar houses were built in Western Georgia of the antique age, where until recent times, though more primitive and but still central, circular and square huts were built. The most important thing is that the characteristic compactness of such dwelling places and their erectness, is characteristic of the whole Georgian architecture of the Middle Ages and new times as well, thus, being an essential national feature.

It is true, that a real historical picture cannot follow one definite "line", since it is complicated and multifarious. For instance, in Southern Georgia the tradition of the so-called "Cyclopean" building comes from times immemorial, but in the river valleys of Kartli dwelling places, cut in the rock dating back to the 11th millennium BC up to the AD, are found as well. The crowning touch of this kind of building is the cave town of Uplistsikhe (near the town of Gori). Scholars today argue about its purpose and the exact date of the hewing. However, one thing is doubtless, that it is not later than the boundary of the pre-Christian and Common Eras and attest to a high level of building art. The decoration of its halls reflect both quite rich wooden interiors and Roman lacunas. The latter method is not out of the blue sky, in the 4-1 c. BC and in the 3rd c. AD both in Western and Eastern Georgia the influence of her powerful and culturally advanced neighbors, the Persian and Greek-Roman worlds is clearly seen. The Hellenistic building technique or architectural details and sculptured ornaments are in abundance on the site of the ancient town of Vani (Western Georgia) and in Nastak-Sarkine (Kartli); Iranian type temples of Zoroastrianism are found in Kavtiskhevi and "Dedoplis Mindori" ("the Queen's Field") (Kartli) and elsewhere. In the first centuries of the Common Era Roman bathhouses are found all over Georgia, and as for the construction techniques, building with mortar and using arches are spread (e.g. the burial vault in Mtskheta, 1c. AD).

All this inheritance is very important but when we mention "Georgian architecture" today we still visualize mainly the buildings constructed after the adoption of Christianity-they are more in number, and are in a better state of preservation, and, what is more significant, they are more individual in a way. It is true that pagan buildings, though influenced by alien elements, are not exactly the same as the buildings in Persian, Greek or Roman towns, it is doubtful that they had as distinct a Georgian aspect as the monuments of the Middle Ages, especially the specimens of church building-the branch of art which was leading and advanced in those times.
 
The building of churches in Georgia must have begun at least after the adoption of Christianity as a state religion-i.e. in the first half of the 4th century. According to the Georgian chronicles, most of the first churches were built by the masters form Greece (i.e. Greek-speaking countries). We have not found any trace of them in Eastern and Southern Georgia as yet. But in Western Georgia, which was directlysubordinated to Rome (and later to Byzantium), some clearly "imported" buildings of the 4th-5th c.c. have been found, for instance, in Bichvinta (it was then "Potius", first a Roman settlement and then Byzantine) and in Nakalakevi, considered to be the capital of Lazika. In spite of the number of such buildings at the beginning, they did not determine the type and historical road of Georgian church architecture, i.e. of Georgian architecture generally. Of course, the requirements of performing religious services by the clergy stipulated such features of the Georgian church, which they have in common with the whole Christianity and with its eastern part at first, and later, with the churches of Orthodox countries. On the other hand, the local cultural past and corresponding experience determined the incarnation of these general prerequisites in accordance with one's own feelings and taste. The main difference between the churches of the majority of Christian countries and Georgian ones is that the contribution of ancient heritage is much less conspicuous in our country. Separate elements common with the Iranian art are more frequent, but even they are considerably modified in the second half of the 5th century.
The earliest constructions, very small in number, which may be considered to belong to the 4th century or the first half of the 5th century, create a very peculiar picture. The structures, preserved up to the present, are not big, sometimes they are even small, as if the builders had not been acquainted with the then existing norms (though not determined as yet). The examples of such structures are the old church of Nekresi monastery; greater part of its walls open through arches and a square made of the domed arches on the grave of an unknown clerical person in the yard of the Cheremi Episcopal cathedral. But even in them we can see the purposeful selection of architectural forms (e.g. the shape of arches), and what is more important, their tendency to the compactness of space and volume, which distinguishes Georgian churches from those of the Christendom of those times and from those of later western ones, especially from basilica churches. By the end of the 5th century we have bigger churches as well (e.g. the Bolnisi Sion, the Svetitskhoveli of Mtskheta, built by King Vakhtang Gorgasali, the large remnants of which are incorporated in the present cathedral of the 11th century, and so on), in which Georgian architects could use the basilica structure, already well-known to them, according to their desire and demand. It is fully revealed, though "contracted" and shorter. The appearance of the so-called "three-church basilica" in the first half of the 6th century, in which the nave of the basilica was as if placed within the walls, is a sign of seeking compactness and spatial unity. The working out of such a kind of dome less church (similar separate buildings can be found elsewhere but as a type it can be found nowhere beyond Georgia) served of some liturgical purpose no doubt. But such "an array" of the function is of an aesthetic-creative nature. "The three-church basilica", the specimens of which almost simultaneously appeared in Eastern Georgia (both in Kartli and Kakheti) and in the north-western part of the country, in the present Abkhazia (the church of old Gagra), was considerably developed during the 6th century and acquired its perfect compositional form on the boundary of the 6th and 7th centuries.
At the same time, probably since the beginning of the 6th century, domed churches become more prominent in Georgia as well as in the whole eastern Christendom. Among them the oldest central ones are symmetrical structures of tetra conch of the "free cross" planning. Beginning from about the middle of the 6th century architects are no longer content with simple buildings-they seek multi-partiteness of compositions, the distinguishing parts of primary and secondary importance in the perfectly balanced whole, and so on. The highest stage of this effort is the "Jvari" (Cross) Cathedral in Mtskheta (586-604), which is one of the masterpieces of Georgian and world architecture. Not only the harmonious balance of the parts and harmony with the surrounding nature are achieved, but the artistic solution of the inner space and facades is in harmony as well, which was unknown to the architecture of the majority of the Georgian and of other regions of Christendom of previous centuries.
In the first half of the 7th century (maybe a bit later) four churches were built in different parts of Georgia imitating the "Jvari" cathedral of Mtskheta; scholars call them the constructions of the "Mtskheta Cross Type". This group of churches make a whole stage in the history of Georgian architecture, at the same time showing that talented creators, such as the builders of the Old Shuamta (Kakheti) or Martvili (Megrelia) were able to introduce only variation novelties. Something principally new could be introduced only by a new variation of a domed church itself. Namely this is shown by the wonderful architect of the Tsromi cathedral (the 1st half of the 7th c); much later, dating back to the 10th c. he was the first to build a church of the so-called "inscribed cross" type, where the dome is supported by four pillars (and not by the walls of the cross arms). Probably a bit later another way was attempted by the south Georgian Bana church builder, who, while building the grandiose tetra conch with an ambulatory, used the experience both of the architects of the Mtskheta Cross and of Tsromi and the similar compositional idea known in the late Roman and early Byzantine architecture. From this and from some other churches (e.g. a small Samtsverisi church in Kartli) it is apparent that the architects desired to achieve a different artistic effect. They could not set their hearts on the peacefulness and tranquility of the work of their predecessors, dynamism and tension appear in their structures and this was the future direction of Georgian architecture.
 
But Georgian creators had to seek innovations in an unfavorable situation. In the middle of the 7th century the Arab army invaded Georgia and greater part of the country found itself within the caliphate. In spite of this, there is a great revival in the Georgian ecclesiastical architecture in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries. The building is carried on everywhere-in every part of the country-in the mountains and valleys, in the towns and villages and in the monasteries. No other period can be equal to this politically difficult period in the number of buildings. The buildings themselves are multifarious-both domed churches (tetra conchs, triconchs, multiapse "Free Cross" and " inscribed Cross " types) and dome less churches (single nave basilicas, "three church" basilicas, two aisle churches) were built. But since the 9th century the dominant place belongs to domed architecture, not quantitatively, of course, (single nave churches are more suitable and available for small congregations, hence their number is great), but qualitatively.
Now and at a later period it is the domed architecture, where new ideas and motifs are born and changes are introduced.
The technique of the architects of those times is various too. They sometimes complicate the form, sometimes simplify it, but the general idea is the artistic wholeness. The merging of the compositions of three aisle "three-church basilicas" with the cupola space is characteristic of this period (the churches of All Saints in Gurjaani and in Vachnadziani, churches in Kakheti, churches of Sinkoti in the historical south-western Georgia); on the other hand in some churches, situated in the gorge of the river Ksani and the adjacent areas, the dome was concealed in the one-nave outer volume. The aisles of the basilica, according to the distribution of the light, are either transformed into three various chambers (Zedazeni), or are merged into one ("Father David" in Akura) and so on, and one thing more... As early as the 5th-7th centuries several regional schools were distinguished (Kartli, Kakheti). Three architectural centers-Kakheti, Tao-Klarjet-Shavsheti and the north Black Sea littoral of Georgia (the so-called "Abkhazian school") were of particular importance.
 
All these schools, whether big or small, had one aspiration, and this clearness of purpose and the exchange of ideas brought about one change in the nature of architecture in Georgia by the middle of the tenth century-instead of the architectural form based on contrast, by gradually merging the parts into one another, the dynamic architectural form emerged. One of the proofs of this change is the increase of the quantity or quality of the decorative pattern and sculptured ornaments. The architecture of south-western Georgia appeared to be especially advanced, the churches here, which were often commissioned by the members of the powerful Bagrationi royal house, are the best proofs of the achievement of the art of those times (Oskhi, Khakhuli or Tbeti domed churches, the basilicas of Otkhta and Parkhli, and so on). Of course, significant structures were created in other places as well, such as the Kumudro church in Javakheti, the churches of Botchorma and Kvetera in Kakheti; the Mokvi church in Abkhazia and many others.
At the end of the tenth century and the first third of the eleventh the creative forces soared up once more, and then the period of abating and settling down followed. In the so-called three great cathedrals-"The Bagrati Cathedral" in Kutaisi (1003), the new building of Svetitskhoveli in Mtskheta (1010-1029), the Alaverdi St. George in Kakheti (till 1030)-created in this period, reveal one more great change. If the architects of the 10th century were fond of inserting numerous separate elements into the whole form, now one will scarcely find an isolated detail-even the physically isolated ones are seen interlaced with one another. At the same time some "formulae" are worked out; more and more fully refined forms or ways are at the disposal of the masters, but there is less to be found or discovered. At this stage the "Samtavro" Cathedral in Mtskheta (the second third of the 11 th century), and the cathedral of Samtavisi (1030) are erected. After this Georgian architects had a fully established form for cathedrals which became a kind of standard for centuries.
 
During two hundred years, in the period when the Georgian statehood flourished, the masters mostly created multifarious variations of the Samtavro-Samtavisi type, in a number of cases splendid buildings, built on a laconic plan of an "inscribed cross" lavishly ornamented and decorated with big crosses (e.g. Ikorta 1172, Betania, Kvatakhevi the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century). The inner painting matches the outer decoration. If from the end of the 6th century the church chancels were painted, and in the 9,h and tenth centuries one can see icon-like faces on the walls here and there, the so-called "full painting" comes into being at the beginning of the 11th century and the inner surfaces of the walls are wholly covered with painting. This, to begin with, is the architecture of decorative fantasy. There are only a few examples when the builder wants to express his own architectural form-these are the famous Gelati Cathedral of the Virgin built in the 12th century and the church of Tighi (1152). On the boundary of the 12th-13th centuries -Timothesubani and the Qintsvisi Church of St. Nicholas were also built. But at the same time, even among the great virtuosos of "Tamar's Epoch" one can find masters who cannot work enthusiastically on the images repeated many times. In such cases the architecture of the cathedral lacks force, its outer walls seem to be "bare". These phenomena become more obvious from the middle of the 13th century, in the period of the Khvarazmian invasion and the Mongolian domination. In those times it is obvious that the architects have a wish to do something in a different way, get rid of the ready forms, make their works simpler and quieter. But they always fail to free themselves from the concepts imprinted on them by the works of the 11th and 12th centuries, and therefore, even the most experienced artists (e.g. the Ertatsminda and Tbilisi Metekhi cathedrals in Kartli, Saphari and Zarzma in Samtskhe, Mghvimevi in Imereti, Bedia-in today's Abkhazia) build more or less contradictory, eclectic buildings. Later on the level of workmanship also deteriorates. And it was then that Tamerlane's devastating inroads took place. These invasions ravaged the country in such a way that during the whole 15th century mostly restoration work was carried out, and building anything new was much less frequent. The works of those days sometimes make us think that stone masons died out, because the buildings and sculptures are of very low quality (see the restored parts of Svetitskhoveli, built in the 15th century, for instance).
We see the revival of the professional skill only in the 16th century, and in the following 17th and 18th centuries as well, there are quite a lot of decent buildings from the point of view of building skill. But, on the one hand, the architectural work of those days, if we may say so, moves from place to place (various regions of Georgia)-to the place where peace reigns. In the 16th century the construction work is mainly carried out in Kakheti and Imereti; in the 17th century-in Kartli, and in the 18th century-in Kartli, Kakheti and Racha... And the quality of the artistic seeking of new forms and performance is rather low, except for the works of separate masters possessing a different kind of talent; more is dared and achieved by Kakhetian architects... But the situation established in the previous period remains essentially the same. The artists make attempts to introduce variety and novelty, they change some elements, borrowing them sometimes from the Islamic Iran (the 16th and 17th centuries, Kartli and Kakheti), and sometimes from Russia and Europe with which they got acquainted through Russia (in the 18th century). But if the main artistic wholeness is ever achieved it happens very seldom; the best period of the Georgian cathedral building architecture is over...
 
It is difficult to say today what the relationship between the history of the development of the church architecture and the secular architecture was, though their full coincidence seems to be unlikely. Besides the above-mentioned remains of villages (the 8th -10th centuries) which are the examples of the architecture of dwelling places, and which are the result of "folklore", "extemporal" creative work, our attention is attracted by the palaces of feudal lords of about the same period, in Kakheti and Kartli. They slightly remind us of pre-Romanesque or Romanesque palaces-it is quite clear that one cannot speak of direct mutual influence, and it is only possible to think of parallel phenomena. The upper storey of such two-storied buildings, covered with wooden beams, usually contains large chambers for ceremonial receptions. Their enormous arched windows look on gorges and valleys presenting a wonderful view. Only one of such royal palaces has reached our days-the Geguti Summer Residence (in the vicinity of Kutaisi, dated between the 10th and 12th centuries). This grandiose domed brick building must be connected with the East, and this cannot be accidental: the secular construction, unlike the church building accepts the Persian and Arabian art quite freely. Such buildings of everyday life as bathhouses are especially indebted to the East. The influence of the East is particularly felt in the 16thand 17,h century buildings, especially in Eastern Georgia (there are ruins of the royal castle in Kutaisi too, but they it is quite different). The Eastern influence can be seen in the Telavi royal palace (17th century) and in the abodes of feudal lords as well.
 
The 17th-l 8th century Tbilisi royal palaces must have been built in the Persian style. And yet it is in secular, or rather "semi-secular" buildings that the vivid creative skill is visible more distinctly. For instance, a number of bell-towers, which were also used as dwelling places or gateways, reveal the work of talented and distinguished architects (see the bell-towers of Ninotsminda, the Tbilisi Anchiskhati, Urbnisi, etc). In dwelling places proper, in spite of the Persian influence, a personal approach and the ability of introducing new forms are felt, but the houses of the 18th century (e.g. bishop-Saba's palace in Ninotsminda) reveal the signs which find their further development in the 19th century.
This last circumstance is of major significance, for the abolition of the Georgian statehood radically changed the conditions of construction work. The Russian Government demanded such architecture for social buildings, which required a different kind of architects, the architects pre-pared in a different way, having a European education-if village churches were built by the masters, who continued the medieval traditions (even the families of such masons are known, e.g. in the Imereti of the second half of the 19th century), it is natural that the architects working in Georgia in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries, were to be foreigners (Russians, Germans, Italians), and only at the junction of centuries the first Georgian architect with an "academy" education begins to work. His name is Svimon Kldiashvili (the best-known of his works are-the first building of Tbilisi University and the Sukhumi Cathedral). This is the reason why the architectural life in Georgia's towns and cities takes the same course as in Europe and Russia-classicism has the first place, and in the second half of the 19th century-eclecticism replaces it. At the same time, in the middle of the 19th century, Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Telavi, Sighnagh builders of residential houses, using the forms imposed upon them by Russian departments, work them out in their own way and create unique buildings, unique not only for Georgia, but specific for each separate town and city. That is the reason, probably, that when in the last decades of the 19th century the building of private houses (especially in Tbilisi) falls into the hands of Russian and European architects, the architectural aspect of Georgian cities and towns is not spoiled. Being genuine professionals, they follow the tradition, and due to this, create quite nice buildings. Noteworthy events take place in the countryside as well. On the one hand the old dwelling-place, the so-called "darbazi" disappears gradually. However, instead of it, a new kind of a house, the so-called "odasakhli" comes into being in Western Georgia in the second half of the 19th century, This type spreads widely in that part of the country. It is the result of merging the former types of peasants' houses with those of the nobility. Finally, at the end of the 19th century the idea of reviving Georgian architecture, a kind of the "Georgian style" (like the Moorish style, the "Russian-Byzantine" or "Gothic" styles) was born amidst Georgian society. It was doubtlessly one of the expressions of the national-liberation movement. The most prominent examples of this trend are: the building of the former Bank of the Nobility (now-the National library) and the Kvashveti cathedral of St. George (both in Tbilisi).
 
During the short period of independence (1918-1921) no great construction could have begun in the country, ruined by World War 1 and the revolution. But a few buildings were still erected, and some architectural ideas were born. One part of the work, begun at that time, (making up general plans of cities and towns, the decoration of the facade of the Georgian history Museum in Tbilisi) was realized after Georgia became a Soviet Republic. As for any other branch of life and culture, the Soviet period was not always of the same significance for architecture. On the one hand, the area of Georgia's cities, towns and villages grew, modern methods of town-building were implemented, a great number of buildings serving various purposes was built; and what is more important, since the end of 1920-s owing to the Tbilisi Academy of Arts, founded in 1922, Georgia has acquired her own professional architects. But on the other hand, the method of the Soviet management, the centralization of everything, the mechanically understood concept of "heritage" in 1930-1950-s and beginning from the end of the 1950s, the superficially determined utilitarianism greatly hindered the activities of several generations of Georgian architects. That was the reason of it being so difficult to restore the genuine inner relationship with the national tradition and to share the experience and achievements of the 20th century world architecture. That is why one can see so many dull-looking settlements and districts in today" Georgia, that is the reason why our ancient cities have become so ugly. There is no doubt that there were good buildings and significant projects in 1930s and 1940s, and later too, but from the point of view of creative work the Soviet epoch has left more problems for us to solve than achievements.

It is difficult to say what way will be chosen by architecture in Georgia that has just regained its independence. New trends have already appeared, e.g. the revived church building. More private buildings are being built. Having got rid of the senseless planned construction we can see the signs of different, free thinking... But the new word in architecture is yet to be said, and it must be done by today's or tomorrow's Georgian architects.

Georgian Carpets

Would you like to get in original and exotics world? Georgia, and its capital Tbilisi, historically always was the route of Euro-Asia, because exactly here, ran caravan road from Europe to Asia. This is the reason, that Tbilisi becomes Caucasian market center. Once, on this place, you could meet European and Asian unique cultural masterpieces, valuable works of Iranian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Central Asian and Caucasian handmade carpets, kilims, embroideries, mafrashes, khourdjins (saddlebags) and etc.

 
Felt

Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers. The fibers form the structure of the fabric. While some types of felt are very soft, some are tough enough to form construction materials. Felt can be of any color, and made into any shape or size. Felt is the oldest form of fabric known to humankind. It predates weaving and knitting. Natural wool thread has been used in Georgia since ancient times to knit worsted, carpets, rugs, saddle-cloths, and striped cloths.

Cloisonne Enamel

The art of cloisonne enamel is a very popular form of ornamentation in Georgia. Those women who can afford handmade enamel pieces – they may have one big ring, a pendant or a pair of earrings – wear them with pride, regardless of their age or taste. This particular attitude of Georgians to this kind of enamel dates back centuries, as Georgia is presumed to be one of the motherlands of cloisonne culture.
It isn’t known exactly where it originated but cloisonne must date back to the 7th century and was probably born in the Eastern Christian countries. The first very compositional and rich cloisonne emerged in Georgia in the 8th century. Museum of Fine Arts has one of the richest collections containing over 200 samples of cloisonne. The Georgian samples of cloisonne are distinguished with full freedom. The blossoming era for the cloisonne in Georgia was in X-XII centuries. There is a significant change in its techniques. The cloisonne implies a very complicated process. It is made with the pure gold or with the unity of gold and silver called "electron”, on which the gold layers are being fixed. Afterwards, inside its contours the enamel is mounded. It is connected with a very scrupulous work.
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