The centre of town is the wide Stalinis moedani (Stalin Sq). The main street, Stalinis gamziri (Stalin Ave), runs 600m north from here to the large Stalin Museum, and 700m south to a bridge over the Mtkvari River.
One of Georgia’s most interest- ing museums, this impressive 1957 build- ing exudes a faintly religious air. The visit includes the tiny wood and mud brick house where Stalin’s parents rented the single room where they lived for the first four years of his life. This stands in front of the main museum building, under its own temple like superstructure. The rest of the poor neighborhood in which it stood was demolished in the 1930s as Gori was redesigned to glorify its famous son.
The museum charts Stalin’s journey from the Gori church school to leadership of the USSR, the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII and his death in 1953. It now gives a slightly less starry-eyed account of his career than it used to, with guides referring to the purges, the Gulag and his 1939 pact with Hitler. A small two-room section beside the foot of the main stairs is devoted to political repression under Stalin.
Upstairs, the first hall details Stalin’s childhood and adolescence, including his rather cringeworthy pastoral poetry, and then his early revolutionary activities in Georgia, organising unions and setting up illegal printing presses. Stalin’s involvement with Lenin is detailed, taking us through Stalin’s seven jail terms under the tsarist authorities (six of them in Siberia), the revolution of 1917, the Civil War and Lenin’s death in 1924. This hall displays the text of Lenin’s 1922 political testament that described Stalin as too coarse and power-hungry, advising Communist Party members to remove Stalin from the post of General Secretary.
One room is devoted to a bronze copy of Stalin’s eerie death mask, lying in state. The next one has a reconstruction of his first office in the Kremlin, as People’s Commissar for Nationalities in 1918, plus personal memorabilia such as his pipes and glasses, and a large collection of tributes and gifts from world leaders and other Bolsheviks.
To one side of the museum is Stalin’s train carriage, in which he travelled to the Yalta Conference in 1945 (he didn’t like flying). Apparently bulletproof, its elegant interior includes a bathtub and a primitive air-conditioning system.
This oval citadel stands atop the hill at the heart of Gori, a short walk through the streets west from Stalinis gamziri. A fortification existed here in ancient times but most of the present building dates from the Middle Ages, with 17 th century additions. There are fine views from the fortress and it’s a good place to be around sunset. At the northeast foot of the fortress, a circle of mutilated metal warriors forms an eerie memo- rial to those lost in the 2008 war.
This museum, 400m south of the Stalin Museum, is mostly devoted to Gori people’s involvement in WWII, but also contains a small display on the 2008 war. A makeover is in the offing, presumably to downplay the Soviet side of things and up- play the Georgian. Outside is a memorial with a long list of local people who died in the fighting over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s.
This fascinating and once enormous cave city affords expansive views along the Mtkvari valley from its site on the river’s north bank, 10km east of Gori. Between the 6th century BC and 1st century AD, Uplistsikhe developed into one of the chief political and religious centres of pre-Christian Kartli, with temples dedicated principally to the sun goddess. After the Arabs occupied Tbilisi in AD 645, Uplistsikhe became the residence of the Christian kings of Kartli and an important trade centre, with a main caravan road from Asia to Europe running through it. At its peak Uplistiskhe housed 20,000 people. Its importance declined after King David the Builder retook Tbilisi in 1122 and it was irrevocably destroyed by the Mongols in 1240. What you visit today is the 40,000 sq metre Shida Qalaqi, or Inner City, less than half of the original whole. Almost everything here has been uncovered by archaeologists since 1957, when only the tops of a few caves were visible. The many round pits dug in Uplistsikhe’s rock are thought to have been used for corn storage or for sacrificial purposes; tadpole-shaped pits may have been ovens.
To enter by the old main track into Uplistiskhe, go about 5m up the rocks opposite the toilets and cafe at the entrance, and follow the rock cut path to the left. Metal railed steps lead up through what was the main gate, with the excavated main tower of the Shida Qalaqi’s defensive walls sitting under a corrugated roof to the right. Ahead you’ll find a cave overlooking the river, with a pointed arch carved in the rock above it and a ceiling carved with octagonal Roman style designs. Known as the Theatre, this is probably a temple from the 1st or 2nd century AD, where religious mystery plays may have been performed.
Returning towards the main gate, turn left to wind your way up the main street Down to the right is the large pre Christian Temple of Makvliani, with an inner recess behind an arched portico. The open hall in front has stone seats for priests.
A little further up on the left is the big hall known as Tamaris Darbazi (Hall of Queen Tamar). Here, behind two columns cut from the rock, is a stone seat dating from antiquity. The stone ceiling is cut to look like wooden beams, and there is a hole to let smoke out and light in. This was almost certainly a pagan temple, though Georgia’s great Christian Queen Tamar may have used it later. To its left is an open area with stone niches along one side, thought to have once been a pharmacy or dovecote. A large cave building to the right of Tamaris Darbazi was probably a sun temple used for animal sacrifices, and later converted into a Christian basilica.
The church near the top of the hill is the 10th-century Uplistsulis Eklesia (Prince’s Church). This triple-church basilica was built over what was probably Upliistsikhe’s most important pagan temple.
On your way back down, don’t miss the long tunnel running down to the Mtkvari, an emergency escape route that could also have been used for carrying water up to the city. Its entrance is behind a reconstructed wall beside the old main gate.
This impressively ancient church has a beautiful setting above a bend of the pretty, grapevine-strewn Tana valley, surrounded by high hills and cliffs, 12km south of Gori.
Ateni Sioni was built in the 7th century and modelled on Mtskheta’s Jvari Church. Beautiful reliefs of stags, a hunting scene and a knight were carved into the exterior walls later. Inside, the 11th-century frescoes, depicting biblical scenes and Georgian rulers, are among the finest medieval art in the country. They have been painstakingly pre- served to prevent further fading, although there are no plans to restore them to their full glory, as it is precisely their ancient nature that makes them interesting.