Trip duration: 1-2 days | Approx cost: Free | When: You can go all year round but the winters can get very cold
Doinit factor: An urban explorers wet dream!
For the past 40 years the spa town of Tskaltubo has been slipping into anonymity. The chances are that if you have caught wind of this town, you’re either an urban explorer or a mature Soviet patron, two very different ends of the spectrums that aren’t often said in the same sentence. Myself not being either, stumbled across a blog whilst browsing itineraries off the beat and track for Georgia and thought it would be a great addition to my week.
Tskaltubo is a semi abandoned spa town a mere 10 km from Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city. In its hay day during the communist era, it grew to be the USSR’s largest spa resort, having up to four direct trains from Moscow arriving each day. Over 100,000 people were being treated a year across 20 or so individual sanatoriums where one could actually be prescribed recreational time here by a doctor in order to relax. The resort was so well thought of, that Stalin himself had his own favourite sanatorium that he would visit regularly.
With the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and the following Abkhazia conflict three years later in 1994, the local economy went with it. No longer being supported by the Soviet Government and streams of trains arriving, much of the town was abandoned, leaving only one or two sanatoriums running as the local population migrated to other parts of the country.
We arrive in Tskaltubo in the early afternoon, entering the town along the wide promenade’s that is so often seen as the staple of Soviet architecture. Instantaneously dozens of crumbling concrete buildings come into sight through the thick vegetation that grows; adrenaline starts to kick in. The town already has a strange eerie feel around it. There are a few people walking around, but the infrastructure is very un-kept. Weeds grow through the road; broken glass scatters the footpaths and stray dogs patrol the main square outside our hotel. We decide to break ourselves in gently and walk up a gentle hill behind our hotel, to a non-descript grey building we assume used to be part of the sanatoriums. It’s rather plain with a flight of stairs leading to an entrance of a symmetrical building with no signs of how to identify it. Not accustom to trespassing, I take the first steps up, fighting my common sense and every step feels like it is against my natural instinct, but I proceed and soon I’m inside. I’m under whelmed. I was inside a plain concrete room, with no features and hordes of broken tiles throughout. Still, I knew this was just the beginning and together with my rapidly increasingly pulse, I pushed through to walk down one side of the building. To my surprise, apart from the smashed windows and rubble, there was no evidence of antisocial behaviour. The walls were free of graffiti, there was no litter, and thank fully there was no smell of faeces that I’d expect to find in an abandoned building. It’s as if with a click of a finger, humans disappeared and hadn’t had a chance to return. I walked back through a dozen or so small chambers and out the entrance. This was definitely enough an introduction to want me to explore more of this abandoned spa town.
A huge complex centred around a courtyard that is now long overgrown but surprising still home to a handful of locals. A seldom walked path, leads from the entrance, through the courtyard and onto an external concourse that split’s the building and the vegetation coming through the arches. The first opportunity, opens up to a circular room with Romanesque columns and a dome ceiling. Whilst there are no signs of the spa’s history, the façade is grand and truly awe inspiring. Walking deeper, spiral marble staircases take you several floors up for a panoramic view of the resort and through the old theatre hall.
Centrosoyuz’s Sanatorium (Medea)
Perhaps the grandest exterior in Tskaltubo, is Hotel Medea. Whilst the left side of the building is totally abandoned, much of the right and rear is occupied by internationally displaced people from the Abkhazia War. The white Romanesque columns together with the design, bare a slight resemblance to the White House and make for some fantastic photo opportunities. Easily accessible from all sides, the best views come from the central entrance where a wide boulevard, lined with street lights once greeted patients. The courtyard is home to a few allotments where the locals grow vegetables and whilst they were extremely friendly and wanted to tell us their story, we didn’t think it appropriate to wander through the occupied areas.
Bath house 5
Perhaps due to the level of decay, this bathhouse is one of the simpler yet still manages to impress with his Greek like overgrown courtyard surrounded by columns. It stands at the entrance to the central park and is fully abandoned and accessible. Wandering around you will be able to see several of the large public pools, still with their original tiles in place.
Bath House 8
Located in the centre of the park, is Bath house 8. Best described as looking like a UFO, it is easily accessible and well located. Inside lie the remainder of individual baths in a concentric pattern with what must have been a water feature in the centre, feeding them. Evidence of toilets and bathrooms line the outskirts but many of the other features are long gone. Vegetation growth here is minimal and it is a great place to get some snaps, capturing the contrast between the blue sky through the dome and the grey crumbling roof.
The most famous of the remnants lies where the Sanatorium Iveria once thieved. News has it that this has been purchased by an investor determined to revive its former glory however for the past two years it appears to have been untouched. Technically off limits, a flimsy aluminium fence attempts to discourage any urban explorer from gaining entrance but a quick five-minute recognisance of the area finds a gap in the fence and opportunity to enter. Whilst we did not come across any security, there was a portable office that had been set up in the grounds. Not taking any chances, I ran straight inside the building so was unable to get many pictures from the outside. Finding the famous canopy is easy as it is located directly in the middle of the building and is as impressive as all the pictures make it out to be. Not much of the interior remains but just spending a few minutes here you can feel the grandeur and the proudness in this building.
This grand building is impossible to miss. It’s imposing architecture meets the eye in view from the main square. Both easily accessible and centrally located, there are great photo opportunities from the outside. From what we saw, the interior looked pretty basic, having succumbed to the test of time.
WHERE TO STAY
The near by city of Kutaisi may be your best bet. You’ll find ample choice in accommodation there.