The spa town of Tskaltubo in Georgia – once known as the Riviera of the Soviet Union – is flooded with unique sights.
One of the most amazing, according to Radio Free Europe photographer Amos Chapple, who visited for three days at the end of January, is that of “old ladies who slowly shuffled through large, crumbling atriums with crystal chandeliers.”
Such glasses were created because ethnic Georgian refugees from the 1992-3 conflict in Abkhazia – around 9,000 – are housed in various state sanatoriums.
Mr. Chapple, writing rferl.org, says this photo shows a resident of the ‘Metallurgy’ sanatorium from the Stalin era, once reserved for the metalworkers of the Soviet Union. It now houses families from Abkhazia
Decay: an abandoned theater in one of the Stalin sanatoriums in Tskaltubo
Madonna Mushkudiani (pictured with her granddaughter) has lived in a Tskaltubo sanatorium since the flight from Abkhazia in the 1990s, Mr. Chapple says
New Zealander Mr. Chapple, who took a number of fascinating photos during his visit, MailOnline Travel told that the city contains a mix of work spas and sanatoriums in various decay states.
Some are completely abandoned.
He said: ‘In the completely abandoned sanatoriums it is a very sad atmosphere. Georgia was hit harder than most republics in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so it is an illustration of a country that really has no foothold.
‘In the sanatoriums where people still lived, it is really something wonderful. To see little old ladies slowly shuffle through large, crumbling atriums with crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling is about as close as you can get to a real-life [Charles Dickens] Miss Havisham scene. It is a visual aesthetic that is probably unique to that one small town in Georgia. “
Parts of Tskaltubo resemble the set of a post-apocalyptic film, says Mr. Chapple
Mr. Chapple explained that two of the spas in the city are still working and in ‘beautiful condition’
The crumbling Hotel Sakartvelo, partly inhabited by refugee families, according to Mr. Chapple
In its heyday, this was a beautiful sanatorium swimming pool. Now it’s a creepy downfall
Creepy: Mother Nature is starting to reclaim this abandoned spa
According to Mr. Chapple, Stalin took a dip in this private pool in 1951
Chapple was attracted to Tskaltubo after hearing that Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is planning to buy and renovate his spas and sanatoriums
This theater from the Stalin era was once reserved for the Soviet defense ministry, Mr. Chapple said
According to Mr. Chapple, the image on the left shows’ dancing communist ‘pioneering children’. To the right you see the destroyed perimeter wall of an abandoned spa
He continues: ‘In the occupied sanatoriums, the inside of people’s apartments – I saw in two – was very cozy. When you go inside, there are TVs on it, cozy furniture, everything you would see in a middle class apartment in the capital Tbilisi.
“The interior of the apartments of the people I saw did not resemble the crumbling old corridors and facades of the buildings in which they were housed.”
Mr. Chapple explained that two of the spas in the city are still working and in ‘good condition’ and that he ‘took a smelly hot mud bath in one of them’.
He added that he spent two nights in one of the Soviet era hotels, but said it “has a lonely feeling, especially in the winter.”
Two visitors enjoy a little ‘I time’ in one of the city’s operational spas
A general image of Tskaltubo, depicted by Mr. Chapple during his three-day visit in January
A frieze from Stalin in one of the town’s bathhouses. It was part of the “Riviera” of the Soviet Union
Here residents made good use of the gigantic hole in the decaying structure
One of the spa baths during the heyday of the city (left). Pictured on the right is Bidzina Ivanishvili, who wants to refurbish the spas and sanatoria of Tskaltubo
The photographer was attracted to the city after hearing that Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a business magnate and leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, has plans to buy and renovate Tskaltubo’s spas and sanatoria – and new homes to build for the refugees who had settled in them.
The proposal has been welcomed by many of the refugees, but Mr Chapple says, mocking others.
Former President Mikheil Saakashvili, reported Georgia today, said on his Facebook page: “There has never been such a large-scale raid in the history of Georgia by one of his invaders.”
Chapple said: ‘I had seen photos of the place that roamed online, but it was more a topic for bloggers and travel photographers. I always wanted to go, but there was never an excuse to go there as a photojournalist. When the richest man in Georgia announced that he would buy up the sanatoriums and spas, and all sorts of discussions arose, I knew there was a good reason to go. ”