Even before becoming the focus of world headlines in August 2008 after being subject to Russian military attacks and subsequent occupation in the wake of the conflict in nearby S. Ossetia, the Georgian town of Gori was well-known to some abroad due to the fact that it was birthplace and hometown of the former leader of the USSR, Joseph Stalin (real name Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili).
Though most visitors to Georgia put Gori on their itinerary due to its Stalin-related attractions, it is actually a town with quite a few worthwhile sights.
Gori can trace its history back at least 1300 years when the fortress of Gori (Goris-Tikhe) is assumed to have been built.
This ancient citadel on top of a hill overlooking the town, has over the centuries been the subject of attacks and occupation from Armenian, Persian, Ottoman and Russian invaders (not to mention a severe earthquake in 1920), but still looms proudly. The town’s defiant spirit in emphasized in the artwork dotting various points around town.
Though the country of Georgia is renowned for its tea and tobacco, the Gori market is a boon for those in search of fresh homemade cheese and vegetables.
A short walk from the bazaar leads to city hall (the same location where a Dutch journalist was killed on August 11, 2008 during a Russian air raid). Beforehand the area had the somewhat less onerous distinction of having one of the very few standing statues of Stalin anywhere in the world, as the thousands of others were brought down all throughout the USSR and the Soviet block in the years following “Uncle Joe’s” passing in 1953.
A left turn at city hall leads to a walk down Stalin Avenue and Stalin Park.
Off to the side of the park is the very interesting museum of the Great Patriotic War, commemorating, of course, the war led by Stalin between 1941-45 against his erstwhile and ersatz ally, Hitler.
At the end of Stalin Avenue stands a compound with various treats for history buffs and fans of Uncle Joe, first being the preserved hovel where he was born in 1878.
Next to it is the Stalin museum containing dozens of pictures of his life, gifts given to him while leading the USSR, examples of Soviet agit-prop and even a bronze death mask left from March, 1953.
Stalin’s personal train which he used to travel in relative comfort throughout the USSR while the country usually suffered through war, famine and other hardships is also a part of the museum’s collection.
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Ergo, keep Gori in mind as a travel destination once peace returns to this charming and historic town in the Caucuses.
Author and Photographer – Arya Kazemi.