Just over an hours drive west of Georgia’s capital Tbilisi is Gori. We took a mini-bus from the outskirts of Tbilisi near a rail station, to reach the town. The journey travels initially through the mountains which surround Tbilisi and then into a broad fertile valley.
Gori is not large and is physically dominated today as it has been since the 13thc, or earlier, by a castle, Gori Fort. Though the upper part is a ruin this is a must visit for the overview of the town. However, in all other respects, the town is dominated by its most famous son, Joseph Stalin.
Located in the grounds of the town’s museum, dedicated to Stalin, is a small house that is apparently his birthplace and discretely implies ‘local boy made good’, so to say.
The museum is small and naturally, as it’s in Stalin’s hometown focuses on positive aspects of the man, rather than the negative ones that might be key in other countries. The museum has a decidedly antiquarian ambience, with cabinets and natural light creating almost a Nicholasian (the Russian equivalent of Edwardian, I guess) appeal. Its well worth a visit – simply for the atmosphere.
Beyond Gori is a settlement of cave dwellings, Uplistsikhe. We took a taxi for the half-hour drive.
The car itself was interesting as it was a gas-powered vehicle and was filled at what seemed a regular petrol station. Uplistsikhe is possibly one of the oldest settlements in Georgia and though a bit disappointing in itself, it was clearly an ideal location to live in as it looks over a small river with its fertile floodplain.
Driving back it was obvious that we were very near the new defacto Russian Georgian border. This new border was created after the 2008 Russian invasion, which created two new Ruritanian puppet statelets, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This pushed the de-facto border in places almost 100km beyond the previous internationally accepted border. Often the new border was literally next to the main road through Georgia. Tbilisi is now a short Russian Tank drive down the road, or along a cargo rail track if a new conflict breaks out. Everywhere the EU flag can be seen, as if a magic protective Totem.