If there is still some ambiguity about whether Georgia is now in Europe or Asia, there is certainty about its former role in the USSR as birthplace of big beast dictator, Joseph Stalin. His home town of Gori is reachable quite easily by public transport and combines nicely with former pagan worship site, Uplistsikhe, an expanse of caves and sacrifice pits over a flowing sandstone hill.
Getting there and away
It actually wasn’t the easiest to find information on trains, such is the proliferation of advice about set tours combined with hired drivers, but at one hour west of Tbilisi, a train works well. It’s fractionally bureaucratic, with passports needed, but a train out from Tbilisi at 0900, returning at either 1556 or 1915 costs GEL 14 / GBP 2.80. Soviet built trains clank along and are more or less reliable, though bring your own coffee. Uplistsikhe needs a cab, easy to pick up in the centre of Gori on the assumption that the driver will get you there, wait an hour, then drive you back for GEL 30 / GBP 10. Just a shame our’s tested his English by stating he was an Arsenal fan.
Stalin avenue gives way to Stalin square with his cottage of birth and museum at the epicentre of town. If Russians and post-Soviets are clear on strong leaders but divided on Stalin, in Gori it’s only a one man town. The museum is reverential of his legacy and focuses a mainly photographical display on his achievements industrialising the USSR from 1924 to 1953 and reaching out to the world through a room of gifts presented to him from overseas including pipes, swords and shaving kits.
Perhaps the highlights of the museum are the semi-mausoleum with a gold statue of his head in it. This contains the story of how he once shared a tomb with Lenin in Red Square before public opinion turned against him. Also of note was his personal train carriage and a gift shop with t shirts, water bottles and mugs with his mug on them, all in a worshipful sense. I don’t think I could carry the water bottle off in gym in even an ironic way, and definitely not at GBP 13. I have two boxes of matches instead.
Christianity is definitely one facet of society that tilts Georgia firmly towards Europe, especially with next door Azerbaijan being Islamic. Uplistsikhe was first a pagan worship site dug into a massively exposed rock in the countryside, though clearly a residence as well given the size of it. It works pretty well on a child’s level as well with kids excitedly running and jumping all over a the inclines up to an Orthodox Church on the peak. Consensus is this was an attempt to cover up the instances of goat sacrifice.
If this subterfuge ever worked is unclear, though it is perfectly crystal that religion is a big part of Georgia now. I’ve seen multiple people cross themselves before walking past churches, and sites themselves all have people selling candles, or in some cases icons, outside. Stalin’s more paranoid spells as dictator saw religion cracked down on as a form of intellectual challenge. I’m unable to judge if this is a break from the past with evidence of a plural society thriving, or if this is another barrier to overcome.
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