Monday, 12 December 2011

Gori, Stalin and South Ossetia

So you would think that if a town was the birth place of Stalin it wouldn't be something the residents would want to brag about. Not Gori. The town takes its link to Stalin very seriously. There is a museum dedicated to the infamous Soviet leader, located at his childhood home, bang in the middle of the town - incredibly convenient of Stalin to have happened to be brought up in a house so well located. His little house is right outside the museum entrance, with a mausoleum-esque building protecting it. It is also incredible that the house was spared during the earthquake of 1920 whilst the rest of the town was devastated. Another attraction outside the museum is Stalin's railway carriage. Inside the rather over priced museum there is no mention of gulags or the like, and a spooky room houses Stalin's death mask.

Gori has more recently starred in the history of Georgia when nearby South Ossetia erupted into violence in 2008 and the Russians temporarily occupied the town. Buildings on the main street, called Stalin Avenue of course, still show evidence of this and are peppered with bullet holes. We climbed up to the fort which overlooks the town, and affords views of South Ossetia and the mountains to the north. James and I had invited ourselves to stay with a friend now working for the EU Monitoring Mission. Aaron had a cosy flat on Stalin Avenue. The one snag was that the water supply to the flat, and most of the street, had been inexplicably turned off, so we had to head across town to a local restaurant to eat, making sure we used the loo before we left. There we were able to chat about the current situation and what the future may hold.

Whilst in Gori we also managed a quick visit to Uplistsikhe, a UNESCO world heritage site comprising ancient cave dwellings. After a pleasant afternoon exploring the caves and underground secret passages, we returned by hitching a lift with a bus of primary school children, their teachers and mothers. All the Mums on board seemed drunk and insisted on dancing in the aisle to Justin Beiber.  They took a particular liking to James. He seemed to induce lots of giggling as the woman he was sat next to flushed scarlet.

James in the Staling Museum

Uplistsikhe, ancient cave town

Uplistsikhe caves and more recent church

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