Tskaltubo’s abandoned Spas, Springs and Sanatoria

Imereti

Imereti

Tskaltubo’s abandoned Spas, Springs and Sanatoria

Introduction

For reasons that can only be guessed at you can’t look at a British newspaper, go to the BBC website or by looking for information about the Georgian town of Tskaltubo without coming cross articles, pictures or videos about the ruined health spa buildings (which were hugely popular in Soviet times and even after the so-called ‘collapse of Communism’) in the town.

It’s not that these buildings have been in the condition they are found today for a short period of time. They fell into disrepair when relations turned sour between Georgia and Russia over the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which led to open warfare in August 2008. The fighting war only lasted 5 days but the consequences have been around for much longer.

One of those consequences which has had a direct impact on the town of Tskaltubo was the use of the former spa resorts and hotels as homes for some of the thousands of refugees.

I don’t know exactly in what state these buildings, some of them huge and which had been the holiday home for hundreds in their heyday, were in the summer of 2008 but a refugee crisis that could have been handled with some sort of compassion seems to have been left totally to individual initiative and lacking any semblance of organisation.

By that I mean to imply that those who arrived first took what was useful to themselves and there was no communal approach to make the fullest – and most efficient – use of the structures of the former hotels.

Under the ideology of the Soviet Union (when it could still have been considered a Socialist state) the emphasis in such establishments would have been placed on the communal areas. This would have meant that the lower floors (including basements) would have been devoted to dining and concert rooms, general meeting areas and facilities for leisure activities (such as cinemas and theatres) and extensive kitchens to cater for so many people in a relatively short space of time.

It would have been on the upper floors where the bedrooms would have been found – but they were likely not all to have had en suite facilities (this was an invention even the likes of Britain took some time to adopt) and certainly no means of cooking.

Yet these were the spaces the refugees rushed to and which they then adapted to cater for the individualistic lifestyle they were attempting to establish. No doubt, in the process, any useful materials would have been looted from the communal areas below making them virtually useless at any time in the immediate future.

By all accounts there were many more refugees from the conflict in Tskaltubo than there are now but I visited at least seven of the old resort sanatoria which still had a substantial population in the autumn of 2019.

What dismayed me (but which the cretinous film crews and semi-professional photographers that have been swarming all over the place in recent times) was the very degradation and filth that characterises the communal areas. Some of this decay can be witnessed in the slide show a the end of this post. There could have been many more examples but I started to become both angry and depressed at recording such wanton vandalism and thoughtlessness that had made the living conditions of so many people so much worse.

I had the ‘opportunity’ of only visiting one person’s home – that of an old Abkhazian woman who tried to sell over-priced booze and cakes to any foreigner, like myself, who pointed a camera in the direction of the buildings. She was in the sanatorium I have called ‘It’s my business’ as I haven’t been able to discover its proper name and that was the phrase she used all the time during the few minutes I was in her ‘home’. I was given to believe that there are women like her in some of the other refugee occupied hotels.

It was truly sad to see how the fine entrance halls, staircases, dining and concert rooms – with decorated and vaulted ceilings – and the general communal areas had been allowed to arrive at such a state of filth and decay. Nothing that was considered communal was of consideration at all. This also meant there was no lighting in the entrances and stair wells meaning torches were a necessity once it got dark. Such a situation would do nothing in creating a feeling of safety and security

Wooden parquet flooring had been torn up, presumably to be burnt for cooking and/or heating. Anything of use on these lower floors – such as floorboards – had also been torn up leaving the surface below to degrade and in the process creating holes into the cellar. And the general lack of concern for an area that was ‘not their’s’ meant rubbish started to accumulate – and here I not just talking about historic rubbish but contemporary plastic drinks bottles. I suppose once the collective decision to live in shit has been accepted any more shit is neither here or there.

Broken water pipes and dangerous electrical wiring was everywhere and added to the build up of inflammable rubbish creating a haven for disease and vermin as well as storing up problems for the future.

The refugees from the 2008 war could have lived in relative luxury. They chose not to but to live in dirt and degradation.

But the Western European pricks with their expensive cameras and drones to provide an overall view of these once magnificent buildings don’t see anything other than an opportunity to demonstrate their cultural superiority.

But there’s also a political aspect of this highlighting of these sad ruins. Such a situation is always described with reference to the Soviet past implying that it was the Socialist system that was in some way responsible for the consequences of the present.

It is conveniently forgotten that even the Revisionist Soviet Union ceased to exist 30 years ago (and it hadn’t been a socialist country for more than 40 years before that), that in the years since the so-called ‘fall of Communism’ the ‘superior’ economic system of capitalism has singularly failed (as it could but not do) to resolve the ‘problems’ that existed under Socialism.

Even though the present Russian leadership and all its robbing hangers-on would have ended their days in a Siberian gulag at the time of Socialism they are considered to be tainted with the ‘evil’ of Communism. Any attack on Russia (as indeed is any attack on the now capitalist China – witness the way matters are being twisted over the management of the present (2020) coronavirus crisis when if it had broken out in the capitalist west free market economic forces would have prevented any effective measures to contain the outbreak – can anyone believe that any British government would put London in lock down?) has nothing to do with what policies they are pursuing at the present time but a propaganda effort to make sure that they get punished for being the first country that had the effrontery to challenge the capitalist system and establish a workers and peasants socialist republic.

And the targets for this denigration of any idea of establishing revolutionary socialism are the very people whose only long term guarantee of freedom from exploitation and oppression is the making of such a revolution – that is the workers and peasants of the world.

At the same time it has to be recognised that there are some very strange examples of how those people who had been brought up in a socialist system react to the environment around them when those systems (for various reasons) have collapsed.

Present day Albania is a prime example where the people seemed to have accepted the destruction of the very economic basis of their country for nothing in return. There’s a definable correlation between the vast migration of Albanians from their country to elsewhere in the world to the existence of an almost limitless number of abandoned and looted factories in the country. Added to that the division of the land into small plots virtually killed off a national agriculture.

But it isn’t just in the post-Communist countries that we see people destroying the vestiges of a past social system and reverting to a more basic economy. When the Roman Empire retreated from Britain in the 4th century the remaining Britons were incapable of taking any lessons from the invaders and reverted to a life style similar to what they had followed more than 400 years before. Lessons in hygiene and sanitation which the Romans had developed (of course only for a few) were forgotten and diseases related to such poor or non-existent sanitation were to kill millions in the subsequent centuries – cholera doing its worse well into the 19th century in Europe.

A look at some of the buildings, both those being now used as refugee accommodation and those that were visiting Soviet workers would visit to take ‘advantage’ of the curing radon infused waters and mud.

Sanatorium Aia

Aia

Aia

This is one of the newer buildings that make up the whole complex of Tskaltubo, i.e., constructed in the 1960s or 70s when demand for places at the spa town continued to rise.

As is the case in all the buildings the gardens and approaches immediately surrounding Aia hasn’t been cared for in years. The ground floor which housed the communal areas and dining rooms had been stripped of anything decorative and all you are left with is the bare concrete floors. Where it was coming from I don’t know but there was a lot of standing water. This water would have come from inside the building suggesting that the pipes (fresh water or sewage) are not in the condition they should be. I would also have thought a breeding ground for mosquitoes in the summer.

Aia also demonstrates something which is common in all the buildings, some of the finest dating back to the 1940s (or earlier), and that is the efforts to grab more living and storage space from the limited amount available. Many of the balconies had been blocked in with various scraps of wood or metal thus grabbing a few more square metres for the inhabitants.

Aia is basically a shanty town in the air.

Another common addition was the satellite dishes. I haven’t seen a great deal of Georgian television but I would be surprised if they are served up anything more edifying than the mind-numbing generic productions that dominate most country’s TV output.

As I was walking around this building the woman who directed me to the decoration in the old dining room also suggested that I go to the first floor where there was a woman who would sell the chacha and cake. Each building, it seems, has one.

The Tile Mosaics

Aia - Grape Harvest

Aia – Grape Harvest

I don’t know why but I was expecting more internal decoration in the hotels than was the reality. Previous to my visit to Aia I seen the facade of Spring No. 6 – which has the bas relief depicting a visit of Joseph Stalin to the town. Many of the older buildings do have the lavish use of marble, parquet flooring, chandeliers and a general feeling of opulence but there was no real presence of the Socialist Realist art that I was expecting. Apart from at Aia – where there are two examples.

The first is in the area that would have been the dining room where one wall is covered with colourful tiles depicting the whole of the wine growing process. In the centre, and by far the largest characters, are two young Georgian woman reminiscent of the statue of Mother Georgia in the hills above Tbilisi. There is some damage, some of it which looks deliberate, but considering the circumstances in which the mosaic has to cope it is in a surprisingly good shape. There’s no protection from the elements, the damp conditions can’t help and it can get cold in Tskaltubo in the winter.

There’s another tile mosaic high up on the wall that would have looked down on the hotel’s garden. This depicts musicians and dancers in traditional Georgia dress. Unfortunately, this has not fared as well as the one in the dining room, many tiles have fallen away and it also shows signs of serious staining and water damage.

Sanatorium Imereti

Imereti

Imereti

This was one of the grand creations of the early days of Tskaltubo as a spa resort. Built slightly up the hill from the main park which was the location of the bath houses Imereti is a neo-classical structure – not the utilitarian of the later Aia.

To approach the main entrance the visitor had to go up a sweeping, double set of steps to arrive at an imposing facade. Once in the building the entrance hall has marble classical columns which direct the visitor to a wide and high staircase that would lead to the bedroom floors.

At one end there is a rotunda that housed a concert room with a vaulted ceiling and an internal circle of narrow columns, breaking up the space.

It would have been an impressive sight to a visiting Soviet worker. Now it’s a ruin in which no one should live – not even the cow that was feeding when I visited.

At the back of the building was a square where visitors would have congregated on warm summer evenings but now some of the space has been used as small vegetable gardens and the communal clothes washing area.

Sanatorium ‘It’s my business’

'It's my business' Spa Hotel

‘It’s my business’ Spa Hotel

Try as I might I haven’t (yet) discovered the true name of this building – hence the nickname based on the phrase used by the Abkhazian woman I met on my visit.

This is another of the really large and impressive early buildings. (Although I haven’t seen any dates for the construction of all the spa buildings a large commemorative urn that sits on a table in the main entrance to Spring No. 6 has pictures of many of the spas in Tskaltubo in full operation. The urn is dated 1961. The later Revisionist leaders of the Soviet Union went for utilitarianism rather than style.)

This takes its influence from early Italianate buildings, with large blocks of stone being used at the lower level and the square column topped towers that rise up on either side of the main entrance.

Apart from the ‘standard’ large communal rooms there are internal patios (with now derelict fountains) at the back together with roof gardens. Now all filthy with mould and overgrown with weeds.

It’s a long time since the lift in the main entrance was used and various side rooms are being used as plastic rubbish bins.

One interesting external decoration is the bas relief (I assume metal) high up on the east wall of the building, looking down on the terracotta mosaic of telephone workers.

Sanatorium Medea

Medea Sanatorium

Medea Sanatorium

This is one of the most impressive of the sanatorium which takes its architectural influence from the classical period. In a sense the area of the main entrance is purely decorative and serves little function. It’s more the impression the visitor got (and still gets – even though now in disrepair) when approaching the building.

The stone clad circular entrance has an external stair on either side which leads to a first floor colonnaded area. This is open on all sides and serves, really, no practical purpose. From here there is access to the main building but everything appears somewhat mundane after the initial reaction provided by the approach from the road. If this area does have any practical use it’s as a viewing platform of the area of the park and the hills around Tskaltubo.

As in some of the other hotels there are also patios and roof areas where visitors in the past would have enjoyed the summer warmth.

The not so interesting accommodation which is off to the left of the main decorative entrance is yet another that is being occupied by refugees. I can only imagine that the conditions on the lower floors are the same as in the places already mentioned. After a while it gets draining and depressing going into the different buildings to witness the same level of decay. It becomes even more depressing when you know that these are peoples’ homes and that some have been there for years and it seems an intrusion to constantly make a record of the squalor which surrounds them.

(I perhaps haven’t mentioned that there are a number of the old hotels which are completely empty of any refugees – or any other occupants with problems in finding a proper home – which are like blots on the landscape of the town. There is supposed to be an intention to develop some of these buildings but some are so huge and the clientele numbers will never reach anything like what was achieved during Soviet times that so many of these plans will remain pipe dreams.)

In front of Medea’s accommodation block there’s a small, circular fountain which is surprisingly deep considering there would have been many children in the area. Obviously this fountain is nothing more than a dirty, waterless hole now and the statues (of a young girl on an ‘island’ in the centre and four young, naked boys kneeling on the rim) are in reasonable, if not perfect, condition.

Sanatorium North-west

North-west Sanatorium

North-west Sanatorium

This is another building whose true name I have been unable to discover. It sits just outside the main park, in the north-west, beside the road that goes around the park. This one was, in fact, the first one I visited and it didn’t look that bad from a short distance, much of the building being shielded by the mature pine trees that separate the building from the road.

Once close up the same signs of decay mentioned before emerge. Like many of these hotels the entrances are impressive this one having a stone balustraded stairway on both sides of a small (now totally ruined) fountain, reached by a few flights of steps from the road.

The two storied building to the right of the entrance would have been the communal area and is a total ruin, to the extent that all the windows have been removed. On top there’s an open yet covered roof patio, again providing an outside area to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Where there are people living they have followed the same practices as already mentioned. All of these buildings are architecturally unique but they have been reduced to the lowest common denominator by the addition of the makeshift additions and adaptations as well as the ubiquitous satellite dishes.

Sanatorium Iveria

Sanatorium Iveria

Sanatorium Iveria

This is the sanatorium which is located furthest from the main park and the area of the baths but in many ways is one of the most attractive. There are not that many pictures of this building in the slide show as after I had squeezed my way through the corrugated sheets supposedly preventing access I didn’t have much enthusiasm to explore more.

I assume that this building would have been used to house refugees in the past but there is no one living there now. Added to that all the doors and windows have been removed so this might have been a tactic used by the local/national authorities to prevent the re-colonisation of these buildings when the previous inhabitants had either been rehoused somewhere more appropriate of had found an alternative themselves.

Unique in its design it has hexagonal stairwells at various points along the facade which are surmounted by small columned, hexagonal towers. The main entrance door is very distinctive in that it is under a very tall columned loggia, which extends two floors in height.

The ground floor entrance and the beginning of the main staircase is also in a better condition than many, much of the blue paint of the walls remaining as well as the plaster work on the ceiling being in a good condition. Probably why it has appeared in most articles about these sad buildings.

Spas, Springs and Baths

As well as the hotels a number of the spas, that are predominantly located in the central park, have also fallen into disrepair. These are in a different category to the hotels and resorts that were used to house refugees after the Russian-Georgian conflict. Tensions between the two countries increased, the spas and bath-houses that were built to cater to thousands were receiving fewer and fewer visits and after the war there was no where for them to stay.

Present day visitors can still take the water (and mud) treatments in Springs No. 1, No 3 and No 6. Numbers 1 and 3 are relatively modest buildings where Spring No. 6 is a much larger and grander structure. It is also the Spa that contains the extremely luxurious spa that Stalin used on his visits to the town.

Spring No. 4

Spring No. 4

Spring No. 4

There’s not a great deal that can be said about Spring No 4. It’s a one level, square building, probably built in the 1950s but today (of all the buildings from the glory days of the Soviet Union) it is the most difficult to enter and it is protected by substantial locked gates. Whether it is hiding some particular gem I have yet to discover. It can be found at the northern end of the park, close to the Palace of Sport.

Spring No. 5

Spring No. 5

Spring No. 5

Spring No. 5 is a little bit more decorative that No. 4 – probably indicating it was built some years earlier.

As I type this I start to think that probably the change in the architectural styles indicate the the simpler, concrete structures, of both the hotels and the spas, were part of Khrushchev’s attack on the Socialist developments that were achieved under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The magnificent Metro stations that were in major cities such as Moscow and Leningrad also started to become more mundane and ‘normal’. This change in approach started very soon after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (of 1956) where Khrushchev – in a secret speech – denounced the great Marxist-Leninist leader of the party and implicitly all that had been achieved in the years since 1917.

The words Khrushchev and culture didn’t, and still don’t, really belong in the same sentence. He had no concept that what was produced for the workers and peasants should have been as good, well constructed and attractive as – or even better – than that produced for the wealthy. But he was a mere manager and started the thinking in the Soviet Union that was to soon lead it to revert to being a bastion of capitalism – even when under the name of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

It’s the largest of the abandoned springs and is second only to number 6 in size. The impressive loggia over the front, principle entrance is its main attraction but the large, individual tile faced baths which shoot off from the main corridor indicate it was a centre for water treatment.

Spring No. 8

Spring No. 8

Spring No. 8

Spring No. 8 is another interesting construction. Probably from the late 1950s it’s a low, one level, circular building which doesn’t seem to have a special entrance. In the middle of the concrete ceiling there would have been a large glass dome (long gone), both bringing in natural light and the heat when the sun was shining.

The very layout and decoration of this building indicates to me that it was designed for children. They could play in the warm waters, supervised, whilst their parents might have been having treatment for whatever their medical ailment might have been.

Tskaltubo's Springs and Sanatoria

Tskaltubo’s Springs and Sanatoria

 

 

 

Click on image to download a much larger pdf version

 

 

Key to Map

  • 1 Sanatorium Iveria
  • 2 Sanatorium Shakhtar
  • 3 Sanatorium Imereti
  • 4 Sanatorium ‘It’s my business’
  • 5 Sanatorium Metallurgist
  • 6 Sanatorium North- west
  • 7 Spring No. 4
  • 8 Spring No. 5
  • 9 Sanatorium Savane
  • 10 Spring No. 8
  • 11 Sanatorium Medea
  • 12 Sanatorium Aia
  • 13 Sanatorium Sakartvelo

 

Mother of Georgia – Tbilisi

Mother of Georgia from Tbilisi old town

Mother of Georgia from Tbilisi old town

Mother of Georgia – Tbilisi

Kartlis Deda, the 20m high, aluminium statue that presently stands on the top of Sololaki hill, overlooking the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, is the work of the sculptor Elguja Amashukeli.

And that seems to be all that is agreed upon by those who make reference to one of the most notable landmarks in Tbilisi. When I decided to write about this statue I thought it would be an easy and straightforward exercise – a few facts, a slide-show and them move on to the next topic. But that’s not the case.

To explain.

The Name

Kartlis Deda is the transcription from the Georgian to the Roman/Latin alphabet but there’s no agreement on what should be the English translation. Most references like ‘Mother of Georgia’ but that version presents difficulties when considering what the image represents to the population of the country. This translation gives the impression that the Mother gave birth to the country – strange but in pre-historical mythology even stranger ideas were considered valid.

Contrast this interpretation with ‘Mother Albania’ – the name given to the statue which stands high above the city of Tirana, Albania, in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery. Here ‘Mother Albania’ stands as a protecting symbol for all the people and it’s from this concept that we get the term ‘Motherland’. But I’ve never seen any reference to ‘Mother Georgia’.

It gets even more complicated. Another translation is ‘Mother of Georgians’. This suggests that she is the mother of all those who are genetically Georgian. The problem here is that Georgia is, and has been for centuries, a country that has had large populations who were not genetically Georgian. Now many of these people can trace their ancestors back generations, they would probably – in many ways – consider themselves Georgian but not according to the ‘Mother’. So we have a national symbol which doesn’t represent all the people within the national borders – potentially somewhat divisive I would have thought.

Then the third translation is ‘Mother of a Georgian’. This is even more complex. Which Georgian? A male or a female? Why was s/he chosen? And why doesn’t anyone know who s/he is? And why should that have any meaning for the millions of other Georgians (or the people who live in the country)?

The Symbolism

When it comes to the symbolism there’s even a difference of opinion here. There seems to be general agreement that the bowl she holds in her left hand symbolises hospitality, the welcoming of a stranger, or visitor, with a offering of wine – which was first cultivated in Georgia around 6,000 years ago.

The sword, however, has a couple of interpretations. One is that it is to fight off any enemies and that seems fair enough and possibly valid in the past. The other is that it represents the Georgians’ idea of independence and freedom. If the second interpretation is pushed then Deda will have to give up her sword – although Georgia is not too friendly with Russia at the moment they would dearly love to become part of the European Union – like most so-called ‘independent’ countries (or wanting to be countries) many ‘nationalists’ want to change one dominant power for one, more powerful, multi-state entity.

The Date

Next there’s even a disagreement about when the statue was erected. Many refer to 1958, as the 1,500th anniversary of the founding of the settlement of (what is now) Tbilisi. But in the only ‘authoritative’ source I’ve come across it states 1959 – in the Georgian text as well as the English translation.

Two Versions

Probably the most interesting point I came across in my research was the fact that what stands above Tbilisi now (whatever name it might be called in English) is not the same statue that was erected in 1958 (or 1959) – see, it starts to get complicated.

This reference is in a digital book entitled ‘Elguja Amashukeli – Sculpture, Painting’, published in 2013. It was a collaborative affair but the text is attributed to an Art Historian called Tamta-Tamar Shavgulidze with another Art Historian, Nana Shervashidze, as editor.

”The Mother of the Georgians’ also underwent changes later by the efforts of the author himself and became more womanly: the masculine image was transformed into a feminine one.’ p6

The original mother

The original mother

And here is the only picture I’ve come across of the original. Quite different from what we can see now and when comparing the ‘before and after’ the text by Tamta-Tamar Shavgulidze below makes sense.

'New' Mother of Georgia

‘New’ Mother of Georgia

‘In 1959, in connection with the 1500th anniversary of founding Tbilisi, he [Elguja Amashukeli] made a model for the monument ‘The Mother of Georgians’ which was erected in 1959. The monument was made of steel [this must be a bad translation, it would have been aluminium from a aircraft factory] sheets at the Tbilisi aircraft factory, while the base was a wooden sculpture which could become rotten with time. Besides, although ‘The Mother of Georgians’ had a symbolic charcater, Elguja was worried that he had failed to give his creation, so aggregated and original, the form of a round sculpture. That was why, quite a long time after, he worked on the sculpture for nearly one year, and as a result the subject remained the same although the face and the body became more feminine having acquired the elements of a round sculpture.’ p32

Unfortunately, there’s more confusion caused in the text of this book. The dates under the image of the ‘Old’ Mother are 1958-1963 yet the date under the ‘New’ Mother is 1995. Also when it comes to the 1995 statue it is called ‘Mother of Georgians’ whilst in 1958-1963 version she is called ‘Mother of Georgia’ – probably the most schizophrenic sculpture I’ve encountered.

‘I gave preference to the ‘old’ version,’ p6,

Shavgulidze writes, and I think I agree.

How Georgian sculptors portray the female body

Whichever version you look at the strange breasts (even more pronounced on version one) are ‘noticeable’ – perhaps where Madonna got her ideas. I thought this was a later, revisionist affectation but it obviously was accepted in a very public arena at the end of the 1950s. Whether this was following a Georgian sculptural convention that had been around for some time I don’t know. Yet another gap in my knowledge I’ll try to fill at some time in the future.

Mother of Georgia

Mother of Georgia

This also might make some of the points I made in reference to the young woman in the terracotta sculpture of telecommunications workers in Tskaltubo desiring of revision – again when there’s more clarity of the local conventions.

What is clear, however, is that this is a clear departure from what had been the tradition of Soviet Socialist Realism (as seen in Tbilisi on the facade of the Rustaveli Cinema) and whether this was as a result in the changing attitudes in the Khrushchev ‘era’ or just a maintenance of a local approach remains to be seen.

At least I haven’t seen anything as bad as the ‘modern’ statue of the Albanian People’s Heroine Liri Gero that appeared in Fier a few years ago.

Workers nominate for art prize

One other notable point that comes from this study on Amashukeli is that;

‘ .. ‘The Mother of Georgians’ was nominated for the Rustaveli Prize by the staff of the Kirov Machine-Tool Plant together with the Union of Artists and the Union of Architects.’ p5

After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 the road to Socialism became rough but still, at least in the early years, there existed a situation where workers in a local factory were making nominations for an art prize. Where have you ever seen that in present day capitalist societies?

Another ‘Mother’

Although ‘The Mother’ is big in Tbilisi I haven’t been aware of seeing such statues in other parts of the country. Perhaps I’ve just missed them or if they did exist in the past they might have been victim of anti-Communist vandalism.

Mother of Georgia - Tskaltubo

Mother of Georgia – Tskaltubo

However, there is at least one example – and that’s in the spa town of Tskaltubo. On the east wall of the ‘It’s my business’ Sanatorium there’s a metal bas relief with the figure as ’rounded’ as the one in Tbilisi became. It’s high up on the wall and that might have saved it from destruction. In fact it looks down on and across the road from the telecommunications workers’ mural.

How to get to ‘The Mother of Georgia’/’The Mother of Georgians’/’The Mother of a Georgian’

The easiest way to get to the top of Sololaki Hill is to take the cable car from the southern end of Rikhe Park, on the other side of the river from the old town. This runs from 10.00 – 00.00 and costs GEL2.5, but you’ll need the Tbilisi Transport Card.

If you want to walk then head down Shalva Dadiani Street from Freedom Square, at the end turn left along Lado Asatiani Street for 100 metres or so to Betlemi Rise on the right that ends at a set of steps (view from photo at head of post). This is a steep climb but there are good steps all the way. Also passes close by a couple of churches and a half way viewpoint.

Mother of Georgia from footpath

Mother of Georgia from footpath

This approach also gives you the opportunity to have a reasonably close look at the statue from the front. Once at the top the structure is so close to the edge that when you are at the plinth and look up you are looking up Mother’s nose.

Mayakovsky in Kutaisi, Georgia

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky in Kutaisi, Georgia

Vladimir Mayakovsky, was born in Baghdati, about 15 kms south of the city of Kutaisi, in western Georgia, on 19th July 1893. Described by Joseph Stalin, in 1935, as

‘the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch’

he also criticised the Soviet intellectual establishment of ignoring Mayakovsky’s achievements after his death on 14th April 1930 adding

‘indifference to his cultural heritage amounts to a crime’.

Mayakovsky and Marxism

Mayakovsky got involved in the growing revolutionary movement in Russia soon after moving to Moscow in 1906 and during that time developed a passion for the works of Marxism.

‘Never cared for fiction. For me it was philosophy, Hegel, natural sciences, but first and foremost, Marxism. There’d be no higher art for me than ‘The Preface’ by Marx,’

he wrote in his autobiography ‘I, Myself’.

And when he is writing about ‘The Preface’ he means that to Marx’s 1859 book ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’. But not all the preface, there’s one section that is almost hidden amongst some dry text which springs out at the reader as a work of poetry, beautifully constructed, with complex ideas but expressed in a clear and concise manner. It’s no wonder that, as an aspiring poet when he first read those words, they made such an impact upon the young Mayakovsky.

Mayakovsky and Russian Futurism

But for a number of years prior to the October Revolution he bounced around and, as he also wrote in his biography;

‘Revolution and poetry got entangled in my head and became one.’

In this period he was very much involved in the Russian Futurist movement, one of the avant-garde movements that developed in the early 20th century, which rejected the past and praised industry, technology, city living and speed.

Mayakovsky as a Socialist Propagandist

Immediately after the end of what became known as World War One 14 imperialist nations (who had been knocking hell out of each other for four years) invaded the young revolutionary Russia to assist the White reactionaries forces. Since the October Revolution they had been inflicting death and destruction in the Red (pro-Soviet) areas murdering anyone who had the temerity to stand up against exploitation and oppression. In this environment Mayakovsky threw his knowledge and skills into producing revolutionary propaganda to instil in Russian workers and peasants the determination to resist the re-establishment of the old order.

Ukrainians and Russians have a Common War Crime - Pan will not be the master of the worker

Ukrainians and Russians have a Common War Crime – Pan will not be the master of the worker

‘Art must be everywhere – on the streets, in trams, in factories, in workshops, in workers’ apartments’,

he stated and estimated he had created about 3,000 posters during the Civil War.

Mayakovsky and Lenin

Mayakovsky was a life long admirer of VI Lenin, the great Marxist and leader of the revolutionary Bolshevik Party. He showed his respect for the Lenin by producing a 3,000 line epic poem, called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’ which was published in October 1924, nine months after Lenin had died on 21st January of that year.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin - a poem

 

The dual language version of the poem published by Progress Publishers, Moscow, in 1970.

 

Mayakovsky admired Lenin but such respect wasn’t always reciprocated.

On May 6th, 1921 Lenin wrote to AV Lunarcharsky (People’s Commissar for Education from 1917 to 1929);

‘Aren’t you ashamed to vote for printing 5,000 copies of Mayakovsky’s “150,000,000”? It is nonsense, stupidity, double-dyed stupidity and affectation. I believe such things should be published one in ten, and not more than 1,500 copies, for libraries and cranks. As for Lunacharsky, he should be flogged for his futurism.’

VI Lenin Collected Works, Volume 45, p138

However, on March 6th, 1922 Lenin said in a speech to the Communist Group at the All-Russia Congress of Metalworkers:

‘Yesterday I happened to read in Izvestia a political poem by Mayakovsky. I am not an admirer of his poetical talent, although I admit that I am not a competent judge. But I have not for a long time read anything qn politics and administration with so much pleasure as I read this. In his poem [Incessant Meeting Sitters] he derides this meeting habit, and taunts the Communists with incessantly sitting at meetings. I am not sure about the poetry; but as for the politics, I vouch for their absolute correctness. We are indeed in the position, and it must be said that it is a very absurd position, of people sitting endlessly at meetings, setting up commissions and drawing up plans without end.’

VI Lenin Collected Works, Volume 33, p223

Mayakovsky’s Death

Mayakovsky in 1930

Mayakovsky in 1930

On 14th April 1930 Mayakovsky committed suicide. As with any death of a ‘celebrity’ there’s a shed full of conspiracy theories surrounding the circumstance of their demise. I won’t be even going there. There is a somewhat prurient photograph of the dead Mayakovsky showing a blood stain in the region of his heart – an unusual choice of target in a suicide. Perhaps a sign of his vanity and didn’t want to destroy his looks.

Why Mayakovsky in Kutaisi?

During the period of Socialist construction – which effectively ended in 1956 after Khrushchev made his infamous speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU – Maykovsky was praised and respected for the work he had produced in times of crisis, i.e. the Civil War from 1917-22, as well as the efforts he made in the establishment of a new sort of writers organisation where ‘intellectuals’ would serve the people and not be the lackeys of rich patrons.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

In the period that followed the denunciation of Comrade Stalin by Khrushchev at the 1956 Congress the revisionists in the Soviet Union then turned on anything that challenged the direction they wanted to take the Soviet Union – now a post-Socialist state. This meant that Mayakovsky’s involvement in the Russian Futurist movement was played up in an inverse ratio as his role in the construction of Socialism was played down.

Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union into an openly capitalist society – the inevitable consequence of the decisions made in the 1950s. Georgia split from the erstwhile Soviet Union and gradually relationships between the two countries got worse and this exploded in a short 5 day shooting war. Although the firing stopped the animosity didn’t and as a consequence many of the manifestations of the Soviet past were either destroyed or neglected (such as the monument to the Unknown Soldier and the statue of Victory in Vake Park in Tbilisi which has just been left to rot.)

And the same fate has befallen Mayakovsky. Even though he was born in Georgia, in a small village close to Kutaisi (where he went to school until leaving for Moscow in 1906) he was, and still is, obviously too tainted with the Soviet Union to have a statue of him treated with any respect. I can’t imagine that where it is now to be found (in the courtyard of the Kakabadze Fine Art gallery in Kutaisi) was it’s original location.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

This courtyard is sometimes called (in the crass British guide books) as a ‘Sculpture Park’ but presently it’s more of a dumping ground for statues that aren’t politically acceptable (for whatever reason) to be on real public display. The courtyard is more correctly described as the designated smoking area for the art gallery staff.

Despite the above reservations it is a place to visit if you head to the art gallery. When I went it was the only place I could visit as although the gallery was nominally open it wasn’t to the public as ‘something was being set up in the gallery space’. (I think this was just an excuse that is given by museum staff when they don’t feel like making an effort. I encountered a similar situation in the Kutaisi Military Museum.) The only place I could visit was the courtyard.

But it was worth it. I’ll talk about the other sculptures in another post but here I want to concentrate on one statue – that of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

It’s not in a good condition – but not as bad a condition as some of the statues who share the space. It seems to be made of stone – but not a particularly hard stone as the environment it has been living in for I don’t know how many years has not been very conducive to its preservation. There’s a fair amount of algae growing on the surface and this seems to be taking its toll. The courtyard doesn’t really get any movement of air and it’s probably quite cold and damp in winter – and even in summer the warmth from the sun is only there fleetingly and it can be quite humid.

This is where Vladimir now lives. For how long I, and I’m sure nobody, knows. As with the other damaged statues in the courtyard it might be the weather that really determines their fate. Once past a certain level of decay the expense of restoration would become prohibitive.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

I would like to have know more about the statue; where the statue originally stood, when it was moved – but have only been unable to identify the sculptor who was Irakli Ochiauri, who was born in Tbilisi on 24th November 1924 and died on 4th December 2915 (place unknown).

Location

The courtyard of the Kakabadze Fine Art Gallery on Rustaveli Avenue 8, just across the road and slightly to the centre of town from the Information Centre in the older part of Kutaisi.

GPS

42.2709

42.7008

Opening times

Monday – Friday 10.00 – 18.00

Entrance

GEL 1