Tskaltubo – in its heyday luxurious spa town, currently, city dotted with abandoned sanatoriums and bathhouses. Although it’s around 10km from Kutaisi in which, yet again we appeared, till the last moment not knowing if we will find time to check it. Oh, how much we would miss out if we would not hitchhike there!
Healing springs of the area of Tskaltubo were known already around the 9th century, but it was in 1920 when the chemical analysis of water has proven its uniqueness. Over time and especially during the 50s many facilities were built – all together: 19 sanatoriums and an enormous park with 9 bath houses located inside. At the entrance, we could see Stalinist style buildings here and there, some shadowed by the over growing trees. The amount of them made us later eat fast something small for lunch and start exploring. For starters, we wanted to check out the most “famous” one, located in the centre, huge Hotel Shaxtiori. After reading online many reports how the area is now owned by the rich and there is no way in, we were both prepared well and expected nothing. Quick glance at the high metal fence, beautiful columns and arches gleaming behind it – we were motivated to go and have a chat with security. It was our poor Russian skills or just the fact that the guys were bored to death but… they let us in! What’s more, we got fully guided tour by one of them.
Needless to say, we’ve never encountered anything like it in our lives before. The Hotel’s grandeur and its signs of luxurious past amazed us and we walked in silence with mouths open. Marble columns on each level, ornamented arches and ceilings and few curtains left to float in the wind – going through the long, long hallways, we tried to grasp with our eyes as much as possible. At the same time each moment we stopped in one room made us hope that the tour will not end after it. Among many beautiful chambers, we had a chance to see: kitchen, theatre, puppet theatre and also quite a view from one of the watchtowers. Later on we realised that Shaxtiori is also unique in the area itself, the rest of the buildings we’ve seen are heavily looted or incomparably smaller.
There was no trouble to get in the terrain of hotel Iveria. Actually, our loud landing from the wall on the steel plate scarred well another couple of explorers that were finishing their tour there. Except from the surviving wallpapers in the rooms and impressive hole (we don’t know the proper name for it) in between the floors there was not that much to see. On our way out though we meet very interesting French photographer, with whom we exchanged our views on various places in Georgia.
Time was passing and there was still so much to see. We rushed to the huge park area which once was famous for its bathhouses. Nowadays, majority of them is taken over by nature, so maps.me app is very helpful to localise them. Accompanied by stray dogs we walked through those forgotten buildings of the city, to which once 4 daily trains from Moscow were coming. Sounds of the dripping and flowing water could be heard in every corner, some chambers were warm and steamy from hot streams underneath the floor. Flora must have liked this facilities particularly – from roofs and open hallways liana-like vines were growing deep into the interior. Walking through the big park from one bath house to another we could spot many maintenance workers – gardeners and cleaners – all of them having a rest on the benches, beside them there were no other people. Later we learned that majority of them are actually Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) – basically war refugees from Abkhazia, who came here around 25 years ago. It is they who inhabit the rooms and chambers of other Tskaltubo hotels, something what was supposed to be a temporary action and turned into most probably permanent situation. Next on our plan was, if possible, to pay them a small visit. Before that, on the way out of the park we took our time to admire the main bathhouse, built specially for Stalin. Since the facility was well maintained and working, we could not enter, looking at the relief of people awarding the autocrat with flowers and, wondered how his used-to-be-private pools look inside.
Accompanied by local dogs again, we followed the old, ragged asphalt road. Our eyes were locked on wonderful structure, slowly appearing through the woods and thicket. Finally, we stood in front of it looking at the most beautiful arcades with slim, tall columns. We climbed the stairs underneath them, keeping our heads up, the setting sun rays pierced between the arches, making the turquoise ceiling glow faintly. After reaching the column level, we could explore the run-down courtyard. Balconies supported by set of massive columns, overgrown by plants, resembled some kind of long-forgotten roman temple. Here and there, in the wings of the building the movement could be observed. Those were not the visitors, but the mentioned before IDPs. Since then we’ve taken a great care not to invade their space without permission. Dogs showed us the way up to the roof, so at the top we rewarded them by sharing khachapuri breads that got crushed in our backpacks. Apparently they decided that once they got fed their job was done, so for the further road we were left alone.
Walking on the creaky wooden floors of the building wing was actually kind of creepy, since it was mostly abandoned but at the same time we could hear steps and sounds everywhere. Going with a staircase and admiring all the rich details on the walls and ceilings we encountered a blockade. The level floor was cut off from the staircase by knocked over tables. Since we did not want to bother the tenants, we had to restrain our curiosity and follow the road down to the exit. Suddenly some kids run through the halfway and after them a woman appeared. “Come on, just jump over”, she said, and disappeared in the hallways. We did jump over the blockade and now continuing our walk, we hoped that other people there are as cool with it as this lady was. Finally, a long balcony which we spotted first from under the arcades. There we met a group of people – some mid aged ladies and a very old looking man. They did not seem to mind us much, but we managed to have a quick chat. One lady told us, how after the Abkhazia Georgia war government promised to accommodate the refugees, but the years were passing and nothing really happened…till today. She was talking loud and fast (Marek tried to catch up her Russian) and on her motionless face one could see that this woman went through many hardships in her life. She continued to describe how they were treated by Abkhaz separatists during the conflict in 1992. Our eyes met for maybe first time really, her tired stare showed great confidence – “But god will punish them all, once he will punish them, I’m sure”. The tone changed once other joined the conversation – we learned that they actually enjoy the visits of tourists and have no problems with them. After showing us the rest of the facilities of the old hotel from the balcony, we got instructed how to reach them through the hallways.
Sun was getting low and we still wanted to see at least one more hotel, on the outside, we met a lady selling coca-cola to the visitors. After buying a bottle, she showed us where is the next place of our interest – hotel Metalurgi. It was there, where we met most beautiful people that invited us inside, but about this we wrote in the older post.
Tskaltubo town is just another amazing place to see in Georgia. Between its abandoned buildings of amazing beauty, we could find a lot of magic, adventures and hospitality. Reading about this place and about the history of IDPs is surely fascinating, but being there and experiencing it in reality is an unforgettable experience.