Iosif Jugashvili - aka Stalin

Gori Travel Blog

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People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

Gori and the surrounding environs have a rich History dating back more than 3000 years, but there is one name that really sticks in the mind when mentioning the town, that of Iosif Jughashvili aka Josef Stalin. Unlike almost any other town in the World, Gori refuses to acknowledge Stalin's heinous crimes and instead prefers to glorify the acts of its most famous Son. In fairness Stalin should receive some credit for his good deeds, which included industrialising Russia and thus turning it into one of the World's top two super powers and more importantly overseeing Russia's role in defeating the Nazi's in World War II.

Without Stalin we may indeed all be speaking German today, and whilst I'm not adverse to the language or the people, I'm more than happy with the World i grew up in.

On the flip side Stalin committed monstrous crimes against humanity, by imprisoning, torturing and more often than not killing millions in his gulags. His paranoia ran rampant and led to regular purges, not only of his enemies, but often his close associates. The Soviet population lived in fear of the secret police, who Stalin ordered to weed out any possible enemies of the State. More often than not, innocent people were condemned to death on a whim, the system really was that crude. Still, Gori sees fit to idolise the guy with statues and a Museum, but thats their choice i guess.

We opted to visit the area as a day trip from Tbilisi, as it is only 75 minutes away by marshrutka.
Julia isn't a Stalin fan to say the least, so we decided to leave this gory History of Gori until later in the day and jumped in a van heading to the ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe. At the bus stop we had bought some warm snacks that we hadn't managed to finish and the second we stepped foot off the marshrutka, a little dog came sniffing around us. I didn't really want to carry around the remains of the food, so we fed the dog and began to walk off. A few hundred metres down the road we realised the dog was following us, we had made a friend for the day!

Uplistsikhe dates back to 1000BC and is located on the bank of the Mtkvari River, 10kms from modern day Gori. The City held great significance and boasted up to 20,000 citizens in its heyday, but this History was erased when the Mongols destroyed the entire complex and its surroundings in 1240.
It wasn't until 1957 that the site was excavated by archaeologists, but i can't believe LP's statement that until then 'only the tops of a few caves were visible', as we saw plenty of graffiti on the walls that dated back to the 1800's!

I'm not sure if the dog that was with us was a trained guide, but it seemed to know its way around the site pretty well and showed us all of the key areas of interest. Starting at the main gate we went and took a look at the escape tunnel that ran down to the river, but we didn't make it all the way down as we were too lazy to want to walk back up to the complex again! The first building we looked around was possibly a Theatre and there were some nice carvings in the ceiling and also a pointed roof. From here we wandered across to the Temple of Makvliani and then to the Tamaris Darbazi (Hall of Queen Tamar).
This building was again interesting for the ceiling, which had been cut from the rock in a way that made it look like it was made from wooden beams. We finished the tour with a visit to the 'modern' 10th Century Uplistsulis Eklesia (Prince's Church) and then had to say goodbye to our adorable dog and headed back to Gori.

The next destination for the day was to be Ateni Sioni, which was 12km South of Gori and reachable by a decrepit old bus. The signs didn't look good when the driver spent a good five minutes toying with the machine before it eventually sputtered into life. Leaving the City we never got over 10km/h an hour and finally the bus ground to a halt. Having waited for 10 minutes to see if anything could be done, all the passengers gave up and started hiring taxis.
We shared a car with 3 other people and it ended up costing only 6GEL ($3.70), even though LP had quoted 30GEL ($18.40) for the return trip by taxi.

Ateni Sioni was built in the 7th Century and clings to the cliffs that overlook the river running through the Tana Valley. It was supposed to be shut for reconstruction, but when the caretaker saw us outside, he came to let us in and show us around. Outside the Church a cow wandered around, and after greeting another new animal friend, we went and viewed some reliefs that were carved into the walls. Inside the Church there were some pretty 11th Century frescoes that we admired for a short time before it was time to make a move back to Gori.

Walking down the road we were aware that there probably wasn't going to be a bus anytime soon, as they were scheduled to run hourly and with the last bus having broken down, there would therefore be more like a two hour gap before the next bus arrived.
Therefore the plan was to walk to the nearest town and try and hire a taxi, but no sooner had we set off walking, than a car pulled up and offered us a free lift. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, we jumped into the back and were taken as far as Gori railway station, from where we could catch a bus into the centre.

What really surprised me about Gori was that the City seemed to have no signs that it had been involved in a War with Russia only a few weeks earlier. On the news we had seen shelled buildings and homeless people, but it seemed like it must have happened to a different place. Later on we would speak to someone who had been to the same places as us just days after the War and they said it had been a mess, which means that the government did an incredibly good job of patching the place up in such a short space of time.

Having seen my first ever statue of Stalin that was located in Stalin Square, we wandered up the hill that Gori fortress was situated on. The ancient citadel was still in reasonable shape and during its History it had even been attacked by Pompey and the Romans in 65 BC. The views from the top were lovely, with sweeping vistas over the City and the Mtkvari River.

From here we went back down to see to the house where Stalin was born and then took a look at the train carriage that he travelled to the Yalta Conference in, in 1945. This meeting was significant for the fact that he outwitted the West and put a large chunk of Europe under Soviet rule for the next 45 years. Incredibly we saw wedding parties outside Stalins house posing for photos, how ridiculous! We opted against taking a look inside the adjoining Museum, which was a pricey 15GEL ($9.
20), as we were running out of time and we had seen the house and train carriage for free, which were in fact the two things I'd been most interested in. We therefore made a move back to the bus station and caught a marshrutka back to Tbilisi.

Deats says:
Only a few months before we arrived - 3 maximum. But it looked like nothing had happened as they had made such a job of cleaning up the wreckage
Posted on: Sep 01, 2009
almond72 says:
The fighting was very recent in relation to your travels ? Good thing there wasn't any all out shelling or tank battles. :)
Posted on: Sep 01, 2009
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photo by: HelenP