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Gori is a city with a population of 55,000 in eastern Georgia and is the regional capital of Shida Kartli. It is about 80km or 1hr by road from the capital Tbilisi (and also may be reached by train). It is located along the principal highway which runs across Georgia and has consequently been a strategically important military stronghold throughout its history; As recently as 2008, in the South Ossetian War, the town came under attack from Russia.

gori georgia copyright robin whiting

Panoramic stitch of Stalin Avenue, Gori, as seen from the Intourist Hotel

The city has historically been noted for its hilltop fortress which overlooks the city centre, although for many visitors to the city, it is chiefly known for being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin (1878-1953); Stalin's birth name was Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, a Georgian name. Other places of note in and around Gori include the 18th century St. George's church of Gorijvari, the ancient rock-hewn town of Uplistsikhe (10km to the east) and the 7th century Ateni Sioni Church (10km to the south).

The centre of Gori typifies that of a (former) Soviet city with a long wide tree-lined avenue (Stalin Avenue) being the focal point of the city where the main business activities are located and there are plenty of spaces to sit and admire the fountains (when they are switched on). At the southern end of Stalin Avenue not too far from the railway station is the main attraction for the foreign visitor - The Joseph Stalin Museum. Although the actions of Stalin give no cause for cheer, the museum does offer a fascinating look into a man whom was dedicated to his convictions. A guided tour is available in English and the whole experience is very informative. The main museum itself is housed in a large palazzo in Stalinist Gothic style which was begun a few years before his death. Outside stands a statue of the man himself. The museum takes you through Stalin's life from his early childhood in Gori, through his revolutionary activities and rise to leadership. Near the end of the main museum visit is a large display piece with one of twelve copies of Stalin's death mask as the focal point. The museum contains a large number of wall mounted photographs, text and maps along with models and various artefacts including a suitcase, furniture and gifts presented to him. After exiting the museum, the guide will take you inside the hut in which Stalin was born and spent his first four year ( It may be seen from the outside without the need for a visit to the museum). The hut is enshrined inside a Greco-Italianate pavilion and as you face the front, on the left, the upper floor was the living quarters and below in a basement is where Stalin's father worked as a shoemaker. The final part of the guided tour takes you to the side of the museum to see Stalin's personal railway carriage which he used from 1941 onwards. Stalin never flew on a plane and so this green Pullman carriage went many paces (Including Yalta and Tehran). The carriage was specially adapted with armour plating, communications equipment and of course Stalin's sleeping and office areas.

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