Joseph Stalin was born in Gori and went to school here. An ethnic Georgian, his Georgian name was Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. The small building above was a home he lived in as a child. The larger building is the museum which was rather fascinating. No mention was made in the whole building of the millions of people who died of starvation, who were executed, exiled, imprisoned in labour camps and experienced other cruelties while he was the leader of the Soviet Union. Despite neglecting these details the museum was actually oddly interesting, giving information about the man and displaying some of his personal possessions, his office furniture etc. We went on an informative guided tour and then had time to look at things again on our own.
I learned that Stalin started out studying to be a priest (!) but that didn’t go so well after he became an atheist in his first year of the seminary. He was a good singer and grew up singing in the church choir. He read a lot and also wrote poetry in Georgian which was published anonymously. He read Lenin’s writings and joined the Bolsheviks in 1903. He became a revolutionary and participated in all sorts of things that got him arrested and given jail time seven times. Six of those sentences were to be fulfilled in Siberia, from where he managed to escape several times.
I learned that at first Lenin was impressed by Stalin and he rose up through the ranks of the Bolsheviks. Lenin supported him as leader of the party initially. But interestingly in Lenin’s final years of life (Stalin’s first few as leader), Lenin dictated what would became his testament with vicious criticism of the power hungry Stalin. In it he indicated that Stalin should be removed from the position of general secretary of the communist party, criticizing his political views, excessive power and ambition. When Lenin died, Stalin and friends prevented the testament from becoming public. A copy of it is on display in the museum.
I learned that except for one black and white picture (above), Stalin was always portrayed, painted, photographed etc wearing makeup and usually shown from the right side, so the scarring from the smallpox he had as a child would be covered up.
One room in the museum displayed all the lavish gifts Stalin had received during his time as leader of the Soviet Union (from the mid 1920s until his death in 1953). He’d recieved all sorts of things from leaders of the world and other Bolsheviks. Another room is devoted to one of 12 bronze copies that were made of Stalin’s death mask. Weird!
Outside the museum was Stalin’s train carriage, pretty nice inside and apparently bullet proof. He had a fear of flying so prefered to take the train.
After the weirdness that was the Stalin Museum we took a taxi to Uplistsikhe, the site that was once a large cave city, 10km east of Gori. Between the 6th century BCE and 1st century CE, Uplistsikhe was an important political and religious centre, with temples dedicated principally to the sun goddess. It later became the residencce of the Christian kings when Arabs occupied Tbilisi in AD 645 and became an important trade centre on a main caravan road from Asia to Europe.
It was pretty cool wandering around the site, imagining people living here two thousand years ago. There were caves, streets, stairs, evidence of temples and churches, a theatre, pharmacy, storage areas and amazing views. What we saw was just the 40,000 square metre ‘inner city’, less than half of the original whole! At its peak it housed 20,000 people- rather mind boggling! The place was destroyed by the Mongols in 1240 and has not been permanently inhabited since. What can be seen today has been uncovered by archaeologists since the 1950s.
Uplistsikhe is located on a raised area offering expansive views along the Mtkvari valley. Just below in the valley there were a lot of ruins, stone buildings etc.
We visited Uplistsikhe on April 25th, ANZAC day in New Zealand, so it was rather nice to see poppies here and feel a little connection with home.