Tourists rarely get lost in the city of Chiatura in western Georgia. Too bad, because the Imeretian mining town is unique, especially its public transport. In contrast to other cities, where buses or trams carry the inhabitants, in Chiatura cable cars take over this task.
Most of these ropeways date back to the 1950s, the period in which Josef Stalin was in charge of the USSR. The huge reserves of manganese ore in and around Chiatura had been known for a long time and had been mined since the end of the 19th century, but the Soviets professionalized production in the 1950s and massively expanded the infrastructure.
76 cable cars used to exist in Chiatura
Since Chiatura is located in a valley surrounded by steep hills, it was not easy to transport the workers to the mines and the material from the mines. The solution was cable cars. And the Soviets built 76 of them: 26 cable cars were used to transport people, 50 to transport materials. At that time, Chiatura was the most important manganese mining plant in the world. After the collapse of the giant empire, the entire industry collapsed and many inhabitants left the city. Chiatura had degenerated into some sort of ghost town. The fact that between 1992 and 2004 there was no gas, water or electricity in the city contributed to this.
Today Chiatura has recovered a little. 18 cable cars are in operation, 11 of them for passenger transport. Their use is free of charge. The cable cars are still used today by the miners, but also by all the other inhabitants, whether to do the shopping or simply to get down to the city center. Among the few tourists who visit Chiatura, the «flying coffins», as the locals call their flying tin cans, are also very popular.
The Katshki Pillar, not far from Chiatura, is a huge monolith of limestone, which clearly towers above the surrounding forests and hills with its 40 meters. Particularly remarkable: there is a small church on the rock, which is difficult to access.
The small church consists of three hermit cells and is only accessible by means of a dizzying climb up a steel ladder. Until the Ottoman invasion in the 15th century, the Katskhi Pillar was a busy place. After that, it was abandoned for 500 years and fell into oblivion. Only in 1944 was it climbed again: by the Georgian mountaineer Alexander Japaridze.
Only accessible for monks
Today there is life again at Katskhi Column. Unlike in the 10th and 11th centuries, there are no monks living on the rock today. But they still regularly take on the nerve-racking, 20-minute climb up the steel ladder. People who do not belong to a religious order are denied access. Women are also excluded. At no time in history were they allowed to climb the monolith.
In the past, when even less was known about the Katskhi Pillar, it was considered an absolute mystery. For example, a Georgian scholar wrote in the 18th century: «In the gorge, there is a rock that stands considerably high like a column. On the top of the rock there is a small church, but no one is able to climb it, nor does anyone know how to do so».
The legend and myth
Over the centuries, many legends have grown up around the Katskhi Pillar. One of them says that one day God decided to create a new Garden of Eden. So he asked the angels to cultivate the land, plant flowers, and make sure that the animals would multiply. So far so good, the angels did him the favor. But under a big stone, a colorful snake was hiding. This enraged God and he let boiling lava rain down. The nest of snakes was immediately destroyed. As the hot mass cooled, it solidified into a column, a symbol of victory over temptation and evil.