Gori Ė Stalinís Birthplace. May 1998

I have owned by car for only a few days and it is time to go for a ride. Driving in Tbilisi is crazy because of all the traffic and peopleís lack of respect for traffic laws. So I will drive on a day-trip to Stalinís birthplace 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Tbilisi.

Samtavisi Cathedral.

I am fortunate that my house is near the river because there is a good road that follows the river upstream to Georgiaís main highway. My first destination is the Samtavisi Cathedral. I have found it on my map and there are small signs by the highway announcing my arrival in each village. The only problem is that the signs are in Georgian and Russian. At full speed I can usually decipher three letters in Georgian before I pass the sign. With Russian, some of the letters are the same but many are different. Anyway, if I slow down I can figure out which village I am in.

I saw the sign for Kaspi so I asked a young man standing in the road for directions to get to Samtavisi Cathedral. He points me up a side road and after a few kilometers there it is. For a small village it is a huge church with intricate carvings on the outside walls and frescoes inside. It was built in the eleventh century, a busy church-building time in Georgia.

In less than two hours I have arrived in Gori. It is an old industrial town without many buildings of distinction. There is an old fortress on a big hill in the center of the city. It is not clear to me how one finds a path to walk up there because it is very steep. Also the weather is not cooperating as it sometimes starts to rain so I am reluctant to go too far from my car.

I do find my way to Stalinís birthplace. He was born in a very humble house that has been preserved. They have torn down all the adjoining houses in the block, created a park and put a pavilion on top of Stalinís house, but it is still there. There are a handful of tourists and a buy an ice cream cone from a street vendor.

Stalin's Birthplace Stalin Postcard

Next door is the Stalin museum. It occupies a large building. Outside is the train car that Stalin used when he traveled around the country. Inside are lots of newspaper articles, papers and other mementos. Unfortunately the signs are only in Russian and Georgian and I am not interested enough to seek out a guide who speaks English. They would probably force me to stay much longer in the museum than I want to. I do buy a postcard with Stalinís picture.

Outside again I walk to the market and buy some cheese pastry for lunch and then I try to find my way to the cave city of Uplistsiche. I can tell from the map that I have to cross the river and turn left, but there are no road signs and when I cross the river I donít see any left turns. So I ask directions and find out that I have crossed the river on the wrong bridge and soon I am on my way.

Uplistsiche Cave City

Uplistsiche is a much busier tourist attraction than the Stalin museum. There are several busses in the parking lot. I buy my admission ticket and the ticket-seller shows me how to get there. A couple thousand years ago people dug caves into the soft limestone cliffs above the river and they created a real city here. There are still hundreds of caves. Many are connected by passageways and there is a church at the top of the cliff. Iím impressed.

My final stop is a seventh century church, Ateni Sioni a few miles south of Gori. Even in Georgia this is considered old. Like most Georgian churches it was built in the middle of nowhere. A washed out dirt road winds up the hill passing through a couple very poor villages but finally I arrive. It is a small church with nowhere to sit. The alter area is blocked by a screen. There are frescoes on the walls. It is a typical old Georgian church. The boys sitting outside at the bus stop to escape the drizzle insist that I take their picture.

Ateni Sioni -- Seventh Century Church

I have survived my first excursion on my own, driving my own car. I didnít get lost, I found my destinations and a place to eat some lunch. I appreciate the freedom and am looking forward to exploring more of Georgia.

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