Chiatura, also spelled Čiatura is located in West Georgia, Imereti region, along Kvirila River, in the mountain valley of the Greater Caucasus range, 340-500 m above sea level. As of 2014, the town is considered to have 12,803 residents.
Founded in 1849 as a mining colony, Chiatura quickly became a popular source for manganese ores and iron, that was being taken from the hilly gorges in the area. By some estimates, Chiatura used to produce more than 50% of the entire world’s supply of manganese and accounted for about 75% of Georgia’s economy.
Besides being a thriving mining town, during 1905 Chiatura was also the first Bolshevik stronghold in mostly Menshevik Georgia. It is said that the town held a soft spot in Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s heart, who under the code name “Koba,” recruited local Bolsheviks groups and hid out here before the Russian revolution occurred. Stalin understood how time-consuming it was for thousands of workers to get back and forth between the town and steep hills. To resolve this issue, in 1954 the Stalinist Government installed a crisscrossing system of cable cars around the valley and up to the mines: 50 cable cars were used to transport the ore, materials and 26 cables to transport people which drastically reduced the time of their journey and contributed to growing productivity.
After the dissolution of Soviet Union, the entire industry collapsed and many residents left the city. During 1992-2004 Chiatura transformed into some sort of ghost town, where there was no gas, water, or electricity.
During the past years, Chiatura started recovering slowly. Nowadays the travelers can still visit manganese and coal mines to observe the whole production process. The aerial tram system spans over 6 km of cable connecting every corner of the city and is highly regarded as an exemplary feat of Soviet engineering. 18 cable cars still operate, 11 of them are used by the miners and other inhabitants for getting down to the city center.
The gloomy town especially attracts dark tourism enthusiasts, who flock to the ‘Ghost town’ every year to catch a ride in “Stalin’s death coffins” and enjoy breathtaking views from above. The cable system has been minimally updated in the past 60 years and most cars are in a rusty and dire state. With no safety mechanism in case of a cable break, the only option is a fatal plunge to the bottom. The smell of Soviet rust and the crackling sound of the engines gives goosebumps, making the trip an unforgettable experience for everyone.
Besides its impressive Soviet Heritage, Chiatura is also notable for its beautiful landscape, natural scenery and architectural monuments:
Katskhi Pillar- the 40 meter-tall natural limestone monolith in the western Imereti region, situated 10 km away from Chiatura. Also referred to as ‘pillar of life’ and a symbol of the true cross’ the column is one of the most sacred landmarks in Georgia. Katskhi pillar complex incorporates a church of Maximus the Confessor, standing atop the column (6th- 8th c), a burial chamber, a wine cellar and three hermit cells. A curtain wall surrounds the surface of the column. At the base of the rock, there stands a church of Simeon Stylites, with a belfry and ruins of an old wall nearby. Long before Christianity took hold, the pillar served as a pagan holy place and was most likely used for fertility rituals.
Until 1944 the pillar remained unreachable by anyone. Today monks are the only people allowed to climb the steel stairway to Heaven.
Mgvimevi Cathedral (10th-11th centuries)- a two-nave Georgian Orthodox monastery (8th-11th c) in the region of Imereti. The Complex consists of a two-storey bell tower (12th–14th c) a hall church partly carved within a natural cave, a long tunnel under the church and a circuit wall. The most important objects from the Monastery-an engraved icon and a rare curved wooden door made in the 11th century, currently are stored in the Georgian National Museum.
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