Blog / A journey through Georgia on the trail of the USSR Georgia, Culture & History, Blog | 05.06.2018

A journey through Georgia on the trail of the USSR

On 26 May 2018, Georgia proudly celebrated the 100th anniversary of its national independence from the Russian Empire. It was an important day for people who, because of their turbulent and conflict-ridden history, love freedom like no other.

However, these 100 years of «de jure independence» have to be put into perspective: For it took just 4 years until Georgia was occupied again by Soviet Russia in 1922 and later even integrated into its gigantic empire. Difficult years followed for the Georgians. Great artists, high clerics, politicians and other influential people were persecuted and partly executed. Churches and monasteries were converted into warehouses and manufactories. Small farms were merged and turned into mass production. Large steel factories were built. There was only one goal left at that time: to give the red giant even more wealth and power.

At this point it should be said that in the years between 1922 and 1991 by no means everything was bad: Due to the many jobs created, many poor people had the chance of a reasonable income and the right to a flat. So it is not surprising that today one hears again and again older people who regret the end of the Soviet era.

This took place 18 years ago under the first President Swiad Gamsakhurdia, when the independence movement in Georgia was finally so great that the Soviet Union had to give in. A few politically volatile and conflict-ridden years were to follow until the «Switzerland of the Caucasus» came to the face it shows today: religion can be freely lived out again, the Georgian economy is booming, tourists travel from all over the world and there is far and wide no trace of corruption. The only thing that has remained from the time of Lenin, Stalin and Co. are countless contemporary witnesses made of steel and concrete.

We have set out on a search for traces and in this article, we present sights and places that remind us of this difficult, but no less fascinating time. And we promise: You can't escape this charm either.

Tbilisi, capital of the GSSR

A trip to Georgia is most likely to start in the capital Tbilisi (Georgian: Tbilisi). Even though this city has certainly developed the most in the last 25 years, not all traces of the Soviet era are completely concealed here. If you want to get an idea of the years between 1921 and 1991 – when Tbilisi was the capital of the GSSR (Georgian Socialist Soviet Republic) – you should definitely include the following sights in your itinerary.

Georgian National Museum

To better understand the background to the rough but incredibly interesting occupation period, a visit to the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi is definitely worthwhile to begin your journey. There is an impressive exhibition dedicated to the period of occupation. Letters, photographs, videos and other documents of the time mainly unroll the dark chapters from this period.

Address: S. Janashia Museum of Georgia, 3/10 Shota Rustaveli Avenue, 0105 Tbilisi. The exhibition is located in the «Soviet Occupation Hall» on the 4th floor.

Bank of Georgia – Soviet architecture at its finest

One of the most famous and characteristic buildings from the Soviet era is the present headquarters of the Bank of Georgia. It was built in 1975 by architects Giorgi Chakhava and Zurab Jalaghania as an administrative building for the Soviet Ministry of Road Construction. The building blocks stacked on top of each other are modeled after a forest. With a bit of imagination, you can recognize the tree trunks in the two-building cores and the tree crowns in the beams. In any case, this architectural masterpiece is worth a detour to the north of the city.

Address: 29a Iuri Gagarini Street, Tbilisi

Bank of Georgia

Fabrika – a new interpretation of a factory

While the Bank of Georgia's main building can be seen mainly from the outside, this place invites you to stay. In a former Soviet sewing factory, one nowadays finds studios of artists, shops and cafés. Interesting people from all over the world gather here all day until late at night. To us, this is a highlight that shows the spirit of Tbilisi very beautifully: To know and appreciate the past but to be open for the future.

Address: 8 Egnate Ninoshvili Street, 0102 Tbilisi

Fabrika Tbilisi

Residential buildings

In the 1960s, the construction of mass housing also dominated in Tbilisi. This led to many panel skyscrapers, characteristic of the Soviet Union. One of the most famous complexes can be found in the Saburtalo district. This mixture of tristesse and massiveness is frightening and fascinating at the same time. It is the ideal place to feel yourself in the position of a «simple» Georgian during this time. Those who are still not satisfied with these contemporary witnesses from the Soviet Union and want to continue the journey on the tracks of the red giant should not miss the following cities and monuments.

Soviet architecture Tbilisi

Gori and Joseph Jugashvill

Joseph Stalin was born under this name on 18 December 1878 in Gori, just 50 kilometers from the capital, Tbilisi. He spent his entire youth in the medieval city until he moved to the seminary in Tbilisi, the most important educational institution in Georgia, at the age of 16. Even if, or precisely because, the later dictator created very dark chapters in the history of mankind, this place is surrounded by a very special aura.

As a tourist, you should not miss the Joseph Stalin Museum. The life of the tyrant is documented with personal objects, photographs and other contemporary documents. Also very impressive are the small mud hut in which he was born as well as the armored railway car with which Stalin drove to the Yalta Conference during the Second World War.

Stalin Museum Gori

In this museum, one quickly notices that Gori is proud to have produced such a formative personality. One or two side notes testify to the persecutions and executions that he was responsible for. Another exciting detail: The only photo of Stalin taken by US-Americans and thus not reworked shows the bad skin on his face. The picture hangs in an inconspicuous corner directly in front of the entrance to the small room, which reminds of his last resting place.

More information on our page about the Joseph Stalin Museum
Address: Stalin Museum, Avenue Stalin 32, 1400 Gori

Monument to Georgian-Russian friendship

Even though artistic freedom in the Soviet era was strongly controlled and restricted by the state, there are certainly works worth visiting. For example, the monument on the Georgian Army Road. It was built in 1983 and dedicated to the friendship between Georgia and Russia. On a large circular wall, a huge mosaic designed by the painter Nodar Malasonia depicts Russian and Georgian legends. In the center, Mother Russia holds her protective arms around Georgia in the form of an innocent boy. The colorful work of art in the middle of the threatening mountain landscape gives this place something magical. The artwork is also known as the «Treaty of Georgievsk Monument».

Directions: From Tbilisi towards Stepantsminda (Kazbegi). About 4 km after Gudauri the monument is located on the left side of the road.

Chiatura, the cable car town

The signpost from Sestaponi to Chiatura is inconspicuous and doesn't exactly raise expectations. After about 40 kilometers through the beautiful region of Imereti, you descend into a rugged mountain landscape and suddenly you can see them everywhere: The countless cable cars span the city of Chiatura like long clotheslines. During the Soviet era, it was regarded as an exemplary example of a flourishing industrial city. The approximately 1 million tons of manganese mined in the numerous mines each year were mainly used in heavy industry as an alloying component of steel – one of these huge steel factories with its high chimneys is still located 40 kilometers away in Sestaponi.

Cable car in Chiatura

Of the 60 ropeways that were once in use in Chiatura and carried both manpower and manganese, 22 are still in operation today. Anyone who dares to climb into one of these cabins, some of which are quite rusty, should definitely do so - as a little reassurance: There has never been a cable car accident in Chiatura before. When you reach the top, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city with its numerous buildings and monuments from the Soviet era. If one forgets now for a short moment the mobile phone in the trouser pockets and if thinks away the modern cars down in the streets, then one can feel almost like transported back to the time of the Soviet Union.

Arrival: By car, you reach Chiatura from Tbilisi in about 2.5 hours of driving time. In Gomi leave the main road and turn right to Chiatura.

Tsqaltubo and its spas

Not far from Kutaisi, Georgia's third-largest city lies Tsqaltubo. This place became famous when it was connected to the railway network in 1934 and in the water that gushes from the slightly radioactive thermal springs is known for its healing effect. following years sanatoriums and hotels sprang up like mushrooms. The once small town began to flourish and attracted many spa guests from the Soviet Union. One of them was Joseph Stalin, who swore by the water in Tsqaltubo and regularly spent his holidays in one of the pompous sanatoriums. With the end of the Soviet Union came the break: A large part of the spa guests stayed away and so many hotels and spas had to drain the water and close their doors.

Tsqaltubo Resort

Plants and animals have long since claimed a large part of the monumental buildings such as the former Hotel Shachtjor, the Hotel Sakartvelo, or the former department store «Sataplia». But what has remained is the flair of the Soviet Union, which is particularly noticeable in these places.

There are, of course, many other places and sights where the very own charm of the Soviet era is still sprayed today. It would be impossible to list them all. But if you are interested in following in the footsteps of the Soviet Union, you shouldn't miss our matching tour. Further information can be found here.

Arrival: By car, you can reach Tsqaltubo from Kutaisi in 20 minutes. The village is located 15 km northwest of Kutaisi.

Soviet Tour in Georgia

Are you interested in the Soviet history of Georgia? On our exclusive 12-day tour through Georgia, you will experience the Soviet past of the country up close. We visit Tbilisi, Gori, Chiatura, Tsqaltubo and many other highlights. Learn more about the tour «On the tracks of the USSR».

Interested in further travel reports?
«Whether skiing in Georgia is worth it» (Travelogue by Stephan Frey, Switzerland)
«On the Road with MyCaucasus in Georgia» (Travelogue by Joe Worthington, Food and Travel Magazine)

Read also our article «10 exciting facts about Georgia».

Author: MyCaucasus
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