The spa resort of Tskaltubo in Georgia – once known as the Riviera of the Soviet Union – is awash 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 shuffling slowly through grand, crumbling atriums with crystal chandeliers’.
Such spectacles have come about because ethnic Georgian refugees from the 1992-3 conflict in Abkhazia – around 9,000 of them – have been housed in several of the town’s state-owned sanatoriums.
Mr Chapple, writing on rferl.org, says this picture shows a resident of the Stalin-era ‘Metallurgy’ sanatorium, once reserved for the Soviet Union’s metal workers. It now houses families from Abkhazia
Decay: An abandoned theatre in one of Tskaltubo’s Stalin-era sanatoriums
Madonna Mushkudiani (pictured with her granddaughter) has lived in a Tskaltubo sanatorium since fleeing Abkhazia in the 1990s, says Mr Chapple
New Zealander Mr Chapple, who took a set of fascinating photographs during his visit, told MailOnline Travel that the town contains a mixture of working spas and sanatoriums in various states of decay.
Some are completely abandoned.
He said: ‘In the fully abandoned sanatoriums it’s a very sad atmosphere. Georgia was hit harder than most of the republics in the wake of the Soviet collapse, so it’s an illustration of a country that’s really yet to find its feet economically.
‘In the sanatoriums where people still lived, it’s really something amazing. To see little old ladies shuffle slowly through grand, 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’s a visual aesthetic that is probably unique to that one little town in Georgia.’
Parts of Tskaltubo resemble the set of a post-apocalyptic movie, says Mr Chapple
Mr Chapple explained that two of the spas in the town are still working and in ‘beautiful condition’
The crumbling Hotel Sakartvelo, which is partly occupied by refugee families, according to Mr Chapple
In its glory days, this was a beautiful sanatorium swimming pool. Now, it’s an eerie ruin
Creepy: Mother Nature is beginning to reclaim this abandoned spa
According to Mr Chapple, Stalin had a soak in this private bath in 1951
Mr Chapple was drawn to Tskaltubo after hearing news that Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, plans to purchase and renovate its spas and sanatoriums
This Stalin-era theatre was once reserved for the Soviet Defense Ministry, said Mr Chapple
According to Mr Chapple, the statue on the left depicts ‘dancing communist “pioneer” children’. Pictured right is the ruined perimeter wall of an abandoned spa
He continues: ‘In the occupied sanatoriums the inside of people’s apartments – I saw inside two – were very cosy. When you step inside there are TVs on, cosy furniture, everything you’d see in a middle-class apartment in the capital, Tbilisi.
‘The interior of the people’s apartments that I saw bore no resemblance to the crumbling old corridors and facades of the buildings that housed them.’
Mr Chapple explained that two of the spas in the town are still working and in ‘beautiful condition’ and that he ‘took a stinking, hot mud bath in one of them’.
He added that he spent two nights in one of the Soviet-era hotels, but said it’s ‘a lonely-feeling place, especially in winter’.
Two visitors indulge in a little ‘me time’ at one of the town’s operational spas
A general view of Tskaltubo, pictured by Mr Chapple during his three-day January visit
A frieze of Stalin in one of the town’s bathhouses. It used to be part of the Soviet Union’s ‘Riviera’
Here residents have made good use of the gigantic hole in the decaying edifice
One of the spa pools during the town’s heyday (left). Pictured right is Bidzina Ivanishvili, who wants to refurbish Tskaltubo’s spas and sanatoriums
The photographer was drawn to the town after hearing news that Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a business tycoon and leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, plans to purchase and renovate Tskaltubo’s spas and sanatoriums – and build new homes for the refugees that had settled in them.
The proposal has been welcomed by many of the refugees, but derided, Mr Chapple says, as a land grab by others.
Former president Mikheil Saakashvili, reported Georgia Today, said on his Facebook page: ‘There has never been such a large-scale robbery in the history of Georgia by any of its invaders.’
Mr Chapple said: ‘I had seen photographs of the place floating around online, but it was more a subject for bloggers and travel photographers. I had always wanted to go, but there was never enough of an excuse to go there as a photojournalist. Then when Georgia’s wealthiest man announced he would buy up the sanatoriums and spas, and all kinds of discussion broke out around that, I knew there was a good reason to go.’