The most intriguing remnants of Georgia’s past are undoubtedly Soviet mosaics commissioned when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. Here’s where to find some of the best.
As a part of the Soviet Union until the 1990s Georgia received its fair share of Soviet architecture and monumental art as the government had commissioned countless mosaics, murals, reliefs and sculptures throughout the cities. There are now coffee table books dedicated to the esoteric world of Soviet bus stops, and walking tours of the eclectic Soviet modernist architecture are offered in Tbilisi. Dedicated Facebook groups map and record the best examples of Soviet mosaics in Georgia, and Instagram accounts dedicated to the country’s Soviet past.
Rather than being strictly ideological, many of the mosaics depict sports, space exploration and cultural themes, and, more often than not, are the work of unattributed authors, who saw the job as an easy way to make money, but considered it of little artistic value. All of that has changed and now, many visitors to the country are keen to discover these vanishing works of art. We have compiled a short guide to the best examples in Georgia, with some great tips on how to find more on your own.
Begin your journey into the world of Soviet mosaics in Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city. There is a popular airport here with cheap flight connections and so many tourists actually visit here before the capital. Kutaisi is a small city and the pace of life is nice and slow. There are plenty of amazing khinkali restaurants, great wine bars, and a gorgeous central market. It is on the side of the central market that you will encounter your first bit of monumental art, a large relief which depicts locals trading but goes largely unnoticed now. Visitors, however, are drawn to the relief and its particularly striking patterns.
The website dedicated to Soviet mosaics in Georgia lists all of the sites in Kutaisi, many of which are now impossible to access as they are in industrial areas. Try the mosaics on the sides of residential buildings first, as they are easy to find and you won’t encounter any of the trouble associated with sneaking around industrial estates.
Though slightly off the subject of mosaics, the abandoned sanatoriums in nearby Tskaltubo are well worth a visit. During the Soviet era, they were an important holiday destination, with a regular train arriving from Moscow. After the wars of the ‘90s and early ‘00s refugees moved to these abandoned buildings, and so whilst exploring, remember that people live there.
Although the food is outstanding, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Tbilisi. The Former Embassy on Aghmashenebeli Avenue is the relief that all visitors to Georgia’s capital flock to, as it is on a street in the city center and stands out to passers-by. It’s also a stop on many of the Soviet walking tours of the city. If you use the map linked above, you’ll find there are endless mosaics to discover further out of the city. Any bus ride through the country’s mountainous villages or into the city limits will reveal a host of mosaics and monumental art. So much so that the curators of the map are still asking readers to submit their own photos. It is very possible that on your journey through Georgia you will be able to unearth some long forgotten examples of Soviet monumental art.
Batumi is a strange seaside resort on the Black Sea and consists of casinos and garish contemporary architecture. Peel back the layers, though, and Batumi has a rich historical past. Behind the fancy, polished seaside developments stand Soviet-era architecture and infrastructure. Visit Batumi Cafe, which sits on the waterfront, and keep an eye out for the mosaic patterned sea creatures springing out of the grass. There are plenty more places to seek out in Batumi, especially near the bus station, where you’ll still find hammer and sickles in prominent places on buildings.
We love to see what our readers discover on their travels, so if you find mosaics and monumental art on your journey through Georgia be sure to tag us on social media.