Tskaltubo – Prometheus Cave

Prometheus Cave

Prometheus Cave

Tskaltubo – Prometheus Cave

What’s there?

A wonderful and not too exploited and damaged natural wonder. There may be many of them in the world – after all so much of the world’s land mass was once under the sea – but that doesn’t lessen the amazement of what you see and pass that took millions of years to create.

And I think the Prometheus Cave is a good example of the different manner in which these limestone caves evolved into the natural wonders they are.

There are the classic stalagmites (rising up from the ground) and the stalactites hanging from the ceiling – the way we were taught to remember the difference when I was young was the idea that tights come down.

But as in all limestone caves there is everything in between – and more.

Cascades that look like frozen waterfalls. Huge globes of accumulated limestone which have percolated through the rock above. And shapes which are difficult to imagine how they were formed with the accumulation of a grain of sand at a time. Every time I’ve had the opportunity to visit such caves I’ve seen something I had never seen before.

Once you have an idea of the process of the construction of these weird and wonderful formations you realise how insignificant our short time is on the planet. When it takes a thousand years for a small stalactite to grow one centimetre and then you see huge pillars that have taken millions of years to reach such proportions we should reflect of the minor part we play in the Earth’s development although play the major part in its destruction.

We are told that Georgians have really embraced religion since the fall of the Soviet Union. How deep that religious feeling is I don’t know. When certainties collapse people have often, historically grasped for something to take its place. The fact that such beliefs can provide some comfort goes no way in solving the economic, social and political problems that gave rise to the uncertainty in the first place.

That being the case I always wonder how Georgians, clutching at these religious straws, rationalise locations such as the Prometheus cave. Why would a all-powerful God make something of sea creatures, then push that land high into the air and then ‘destroy’ the creation by forcing water through it? It must be great when you accept a religion (of whatever brand) as it allows you to avoid the awkward questions of life and you can just switch the brain off.

Why go?

Because if you are near by it would be a shame to miss it. You could take the approach that once you’ve seen one limestone cave system you’ve seen them all. But that’s not true. Every time you go around a corner you see something unique and unrepeatable. A result of the structured chaos that is nature.

And the way the whole cave is illuminated makes a difference. I thought, in the main, the lighting in Prometheus was used in a reasonably subtle manner. And digital cameras are great at creating a colour scheme that wouldn’t have been possible with film – unless you spent hours in a darkroom.

What’s presented in the slide show below is an idea of what you would see in an hour or so walk in the semi-darkness.

It might be worth mentioning that there are a lot of steps, both going up and down, on this expedition. It’s also wet, after all the water dripping through was what created the cave and its architectural wonders in the first place. If that’s a problem DON’T GO!

How to get there

From the nearest town of Kutaisi (unless you are staying in the spa town of Tskaltubo) take the No 30 Marshrutka from the other side of the Red Bridge to the town centre – to the west of the market area. They leave every 20 minutes, more or less, on the hour, 20 and then 40 past. The guide books say GEL 2 but the cost is GEL 1.20 (shown normally on a piece of paper above the driver’s head at the front of the mini-bus). Journey takes about 20 minutes and get off at the market area, just after you pass the large Hotel Prometheus on the left. The road into Tskaltubo goes around the outside of a park and it’s when you leave the park behind and head into the commercial part of the town that you want to get off.

When you get off the No 30 look for the No 42 – or if you look like a tourist they will look for you. This has no set timetable but will leave when there are at least 3 people. In the low season that might mean a bit of a wait – I was there for over an hour before two other people arrived looking for transport. The journey takes less than 20 minutes and you will be dropped off at the car park at the entrance to the Visitor Centre. Cost of one way journey GEL 2. The driver will wait to take you back – about an hour or so later.

Cost of visiting the cave

I thought it was against World Trade Organisation rules for there to be a different price for locals as opposed to foreigners. That is increasingly not the case as I have now experienced this situation in a number of countries.

Assuming anyone reading this is not Georgian then the prices are:

Adult entrance: GEL 23

For the boat trip at the end of the walk: GEL 17.25

Prices for children are roughly half the adult fare.

Sitting in a boat in a cave doesn’t really rock my boat but it might some. More for the children, I think.

Once out of the cave system turn left, uphill a bit, and about 10-15 minutes later arrive at the car park where the No 42 Marshrutka that brought you will be waiting.

Opening times

10.00 – 16.00

but last ticket will be sold a little more than an hour before closing time.

Closed on Mondays.

Sataplia

There’s another cave system close to Kutaisi, this time at Sataplia. This is not that easy to get to by public transport as some guidebooks would suggest. The direct marshrutka wasn’t running the day I visited and I had to take the one that dropped me off at the bottom of a 2.5km climb up quite a steep road. The road is a dead end as it only goes to the cave.

Sataplia is now open everyday, 10.00 – 18.00. Cost is GEL 17.25 for foreign adults (less than half that for locals).

There is a guided tour with set departure times. They alternate between being Georgian/Russian and Georgian/English. Apart from the cave there’s also a small ‘museum’ with information about the park (in Georgian and English) as well as a moving (and roaring) model of a meat eating dinosaur.

A cafe and viewing platform – with a glass floor – has also been constructed which provides a view down on the valley of the River Rioni as well as the town of Kutaisi.

Personally I was disappointed with Sataplia. Perhaps I had been led to expect more. I thought Prometheus by far the better of the two. And unless you have your own transport it isn’t always convenient to get to and away from.

Dinosaur footprints

Sataplia is also unique in the fact that it is the site of an small area where dinosaur footprints, dated more than 100 million years ago, can be found. What also makes it quite unique is the fact there are prints of vegetable feeders as well as meat eaters – although separated by a few thousand years.

This, I must admit, I found slightly underwhelming. The fact they are there is more interesting than the reality. Preserved footprints, however old, don’t look much more interesting than a dog’s footprint in modern cement. But then I might just be being churlish.

Gori – Rediscovered statues of Joseph Stalin

Stalin in Akhalbagi, Gori

Stalin in Akhalbagi, Gori

Gori – Rediscovered statues of Joseph Stalin

For those of us who bemoan the fact that the statues of Comrade Joseph Stalin – who used to stand proud in most towns and cities of the Soviet Union before he was attacked by the arch Revisionist, Nikita Khrushchev, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 – are now few and far between will be pleased to learn that he can still be found in a place of honour in the town of his birth, Gori, in Georgia.

Long after Khrushchev’s denunciation; the fall of the arch Revisionist himself; the years of betrayal of the principles of the Great October Socialist Revolution; the all-round restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union; the ludicrous involvement in Afghanistan; the eventual fall of the Soviet Union as an entity; the break-up of the union of constituent states; and the leadership of a once proud workers State that had defeated the power of German Nazism being led by a vodka sodden buffoon a statue of Comrade Stalin still stood in the square that bore his name in the centre of Gori.

That was until the Georgian people were foolish enough to elect a similar buffoon, perhaps less vodka sodden but one who was determined to be the most enthusiastic brown nose to the capitalist west, who, on 24th June 2010, in the dead of night, sent in a crew who removed the 17m statue in opposition to the wishes of the people of the town.

I was unable to definitively discover where it is now or what has been its fate. Local people told me they had no idea where it is but someone knows and now that the Georgian buffoon who ordered its removal (Mikheil Saakashvili) is now wanted in his own country to answer for other crimes during his Presidency I see no reason why Uncle Joe shouldn’t be cleaned up and brought back home.

But then Georgia wants into the European Union. Like so many ‘countries’ and Nationalist political parties that value and are proud of their ‘independence’ (such as Albania, the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales, Sinn Fein in Ireland) they want to hand everything over to the un-elected functionaries in Brussels. And the EU would look down upon a country, like Georgia, making an independent decision such as to choose who to have standing in the squares of their cities.

So the fate of the big statue is uncertain.

As a response to the removal of the big statue (an empty plinth still ready and waiting for its return) a smaller one was erected facing the entrance to the Stalin Museum, at the back of the building in which Joseph was born.

I personally don’t like this statue. It’s a little more than life size and made of stone. It’s not a particularly good likeness and the pose is all wrong. He’s standing with his right hand on top of a book (of his own writings – which I stated in my post with videos and images from the Stalin Museum would never be the case) which is resting on waist high stump of a tree trunk. Now who have you ever seen in such a pose in real life? It’s more something that was produced to represent a poet during the Romantic period, following a neo-classical, Greek tradition. Added to that he’s looking dreamily into the distance and he has his left hand in his trouser pocket. That’s not Stalin. And it’s certainly not Socialist Realist Art.

He should be depicted as determined to push through measures that promote the development of Socialism. He should be carrying a copy of a newspaper and if a book it should be tucked under his arm as if he was going to refer to something in it at a meeting. He should be presented as if he were speaking to a meeting, making an argument. He should be shown sure and steadfast. This statue outside the Museum to the great man says nothing.

However, all is not lost for those who want to see the real Stalin. For in Gori the visitor has two opportunities to do so – although they appear to be two different versions of the same pose – perhaps one the original plaster master and the other the final result in bronze.

Stalin in Akhalbagi

The bronze version stands just a little inside the big park (Akhalbagi) on the western edge of the town centre, just to the south of the Gori Public Service Hall, the main market and the bus station. The park also houses the city stadium.

He’s dressed in his normal military style uniform on top of which he is wearing a full length overcoat which is unbuttoned. His right arm hangs down straight by his side but his left arm is bent as he is holding a folded newspaper or document in his left hand. Although the style is different there are similarities in the pose with the sculptures of Stalin that are behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana, Albania.

There’s a plaque (it’s not easy to work out what is written upon it) but there’s the date 1948, presumably when it was created and also when it was installed in the park.

Location and how to find Uncle Joe

The main entrance of Akhalbagi is at the junction of Guramashvili and Amilakhvari. Once inside the set of gates you are faced by a couple of circular fountains. Beyond them you will see the Georgian flag flying from a flag pole before a circular flower garden. In this garden, which is well tended – which is a rarity in Georgian public space – is a tall plinth upon which stands a dignified and determined representation of the former leader of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

GPS

N 41º 58.921′

E 44º 06.182′

Stalin, Gori Railway Station

Stalin, Gori Railway Station

Stalin in Gori Railway Station

The second one appears to be very similar to the bronze one on the plinth in the park. I say ‘appears’ to be because I wasn’t able to get close enough to make a definite comparison of the two. It’s in a locked waiting room off the main entrance/ticket hall of Gori Railway Station.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise it was there until my train to leave Gori was literally just about to enter the station. I could only take a couple of pictures though the glass and that made it difficult to achieve results that could allow for later investigation. It looks like it’s made of plaster and that indicates to me that it was the model for the eventual bronze version.

I’m also sure that given more time and a little bit of pleading it would have been possible to get someone to open the door to get closer to the statue. What is certain, as can be seen by the picture above, is that the room is pristine. It’s not a room that’s been locked and forgotten about. It must be kept clean on a regular basis and perhaps the main reason it is locked is to make sure that casual visitors don’t make the area dirty. Also the decoration is very recent – with no flaking paint that is even evident in the Stalin Museum and especially the portico over Stalin’s birthplace, which is starting to look seriously neglected.

How to see the statue in Gori Station

If you enter the main station building from the platforms you come into the ticket hall. Once inside the building look to your left and you will see an extended waiting room through the glass doors. There’s a sign that ‘foreigners’ aren’t allowed entry but I assume that is just a translation error which really means anyone not part of the railway staff.

Although I was unable to inspect the statue at the station with the time I would have liked I was happy to have ‘rediscovered’ these two statues – ignored in all the guide books that I’ve seen.

Gori – Stalin Museum

Stalin - outside entrance to Museum

Stalin – outside entrance to Museum

Gori – Stalin Museum

The Stalin Museum in his birthplace of Gori, in the centre of Georgia, is one of the few places in the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) where you will see any reference (let alone a positive reference) to the leader of the world’s first socialist state.

(Before the success of reaction in the Soviet Union, in the 1990s, there used to be a much larger museum dedicated to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, just off Red Square, in Moscow. This was called The Central Lenin Museum. That museum space is now devoted to the successful war against the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 – by ignoring their Soviet past the Russian people have had to go back more than 200 years before they can hold their heads high.)

I don’t know when they were created but the life-size Stalin statues outside the museum and the copy which stands on the first landing of the stairs to the exhibition halls are probably some of the worst likenesses of JV Stalin to be seen – apart from the terracotta wine container I obtained in Tbilisi. This, I can only assume, is deliberate. Georgian sculptors are no less able than those in different parts of the world to re-create an accurate image of an individual. To not do so is not a matter of artistic incompetence but a political statement attempting to erase the past. 

And one thing that demonstrates the dis-ingenuousness of these statues is the fact that Stalin’s right hand is resting on a book of his own writings, with his name in Georgian script on the spine. Never in his lifetime would Stalin self-reference in such a manner. If his hand would be on a book it would have been either on one of Marx, Engels or Lenin – never himself.

Comprising mainly of artistic representations of Stalin’s life (paintings and statues) and reproductions of photographs – many of which anyone with an interest in the period would have seen before – there are also a few personal artefacts. Uncle Joe wasn’t really into ‘consumerism’ and so there are few of the latter.

The aim of this blog is to provide a video and photographic impression of the museum for those who have not yet had the opportunity to visit this unique location. To go to a video of the various parts of the museum click the link on the individual Rooms (numbered from 1 to 6, plus the Illegal printing press in Tiflis (Tbilisi), the reconstructed Kremlin Office and Stalin’s Birthplace). (Apologies for the low quality of the videos – no Oscar for me this year.) Then there’s a quite extensive photographic slide show/gallery at the end of the post.

For more information about one of the world’s most important revolutionary leaders follow these links to Stalin’s political works and biographies/ appraisals of the life of Stalin.

Young Stalin

Young Stalin

Room 1 – Early life, through Revolution and Civil War to the death of VI Lenin

Highlights of this room include: a full size statue of the young Stalin; a maquette of his birthplace; a bust of the young Stalin and a maquette of the illegal printing press (see below).

The house of the illegal printing press, Tiflis

The house of the illegal printing press, Tiflis

The illegal printing press in Tiflis (Tbilisi) 1906

Just before the entrance to the second room, in the middle of the floor, can be found a maquette of the building which hosted the illegal printing press that Stalin was instrumental in establishing (and for which he wrote many articles and leaflets) that existed for a short time in 1906 in Tiflis (present day Tbilisi). From looking at this model you can appreciate the amount of effort and planning that went into the hiding of this press from the Tsarist reactionary forces (and especially its ‘secret’ police, the Okhrana). It also makes you think about the determination of the Georgian/Russian revolutionaries to defeat the exploiting class. Such imagination, determination and dedication of present day ‘revolutionaries’ would be more than welcomed.

Stalin with the future

Stalin with the future

Room 2 – From Collectivisation and Industrialisation to the beginning of the Great Patriotic War

Highlights in this room include: Stalin at a meeting with workers in a locomotive works; Stalin with Collective Farm workers; Stalin greeting a young female collective farm worker; a series of postcards produced in the 1930s and a large bust of an older Stalin.

Stalin tank lamp

Stalin tank lamp

Room 3 – The Great Patriotic War

Highlights in this room include: a lamp incorporating a Stalin tank; a section on Stalin’s family (his wives and children); military maps describing some of the major campaigns of the Great Patriotic War and Stalin with his generals.

Soviet power annihilates Nazism

Soviet power annihilates Nazism

Room 4 – A review of his life and the 19th (final) Congress

Highlights in this room include: a carved wooden shield with Stalin in profile amongst a number of symbols representing the Soviet Union and the image of a Russian sword smashing through a swastika at the bottom right; pictures taken a various stages of Stalin’s life; two large carpets with an image of Stalin (one of them also with Kliment Voroshilov); an image of Nazi banners being dragged through the dirt of Red Square in front of the Lenin Mausoleum and a picture of one of Stalin’s last public appearances at the 19th Congress of the CPSU.

Stalin lying in state - 1953

Stalin lying in state – 1953

Room 5 – Stalin’s Death

Highlights in this room are: Stalin’s death mask; a painting of Stalin lying in state and a maquette of the Mausoleum in Red Square bearing the names of both Lenin and Stalin.

Stalin and Mao

Stalin and Mao

Room 6 – Presents

It’s in this room where there are more artefacts and this consists of presents and other objects bearing the image of Stalin, of other Communist leaders and items brought from former Socialist countries representing their culture. There are many objects (many depicted in the slide show) but it’s worth mentioning a picture of Stalin and his daughter, Svetlana, as a young girl; a textile print of a meeting between Stalin and Chairman Mao Tse-tung; a number of large carpets with Stalin as the central image; a couple of images of Stalin with his mother; a large, Chinese silk portrait of Stalin and a large, circular, metal plate with a mosaic of Stalin in the centre.

Stalin's office in the Kremlin

Stalin’s office in the Kremlin

Stalin’s Kremlin Office Reconstruction

On leaving the first floor, where the majority of the exhibits will be found, by taking the right hand staircase this will lead you to the reconstruction of Stalin’s Kremlin Office (the first door on the right). Really the office is just the collection of chairs and sofas with a desk immediately on the right as you walk through the door. The rest of the space is taken up with further images of Stalin, both in paint and intricate marquetry; one of his ceremonial uniforms; two maquettes of the Stalingrad War Memorial and (quite unique) an image of both Lenin and Stalin made from tobacco leaves (just above the piano).

Stalin's armoured carriage

Stalin’s armoured carriage

Stalin’s Armoured train carriage

Outside the museum, to the left of the building, is Stalin’s armoured carriage. He didn’t like to fly and travelled to the major conferences with the US and UK ‘allies’ at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam in this carriage. This can be visited as part of the general ticket to visit the museum.

Stalin's Birthplace, Gori

Stalin’s Birthplace, Gori

Stalin’s Birthplace

The humble building in which Stalin was born is almost unrecognisable now. Although restored to an almost new condition the two room building – of which on the tour you only see one – has been surrounded by a grand and almost temple like Doric structure. This is topped by a glass dome on which is a magnificent star and in each corner there’s a hammer and sickle symbol. This was erected in 1939. This is lit up at night and looks quite impressive with the various light temperatures, giving off a golden and green glow at the same time.

Practicalities

Location

The Museum, Stalin’s Birthplace and the railway carriage take up what is the top of an inverted triangle of Stalin Park, with Stalin Avenue on either side and Kutaisi at the top. It’s right in the centre of town and not difficult to find.

Opening times

1st November – 1st April 10.00-17.00

2nd April – 31st October 10.00-18.00

Closed 1st January and Easter Sunday

Entrance

Visit of exhibition halls, memorial house and Stalin’s Railway Carriage:

General 15 GEL

Students 10 GEL

Schoolchildren 1 GEL

Under six Free

It’s not necessary to take the tour but for that extra bit of information it’s worthwhile. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any set time for the tour but English tours take place quite regularly, at least between April and October. They take about 45 minutes so if you miss a tour my suggestion is that you find out the time of the next tour, more or less, have a walk around the museum and then head back to the entrance of Room 1 at the time the next tour will be starting. The tour takes in both the train carriage and Stalin’s birthplace as well as the museum.

Stalin Museum Website (in English)    

GPS

 

 

DMS

N41º 59.210

E44º 06.798