Located 15 km northwest of Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia, Tskaltubo was one of the largest spas in the Soviet Union during the Soviet era. In the 1970s, the system of health resorts comprised „around 6000 sanatoriums, prophylactic clinics and boarding schools, in […] [which] ca. 13 million people were cared for annually; […] around 90 percent were provided at privileged conditions at state expense“ (Schlögel 2017, 305 with reference to Kozlov 1979). Because of its slightly radioactive thermal springs, Tskaltubo has been used as a health spa since the 19th century. In the course of the Soviet spa policy to maintain the socialist labour force, it was expanded with historicising building complexes in the style of the Soviet neo-classicism of the Stalin era between 1939 and 1955. In a second peak phase in the 1970s, buildings in the style of classic Soviet modernism followed.
Just like its capitalist Western counterpart, the Soviet industrial state developed mass tourism forms in which recreation was standardized. In other words, holidaymakers spent their time off from industrial work in the same way year after year in the same places.This becomes visible, for example, in the structurally standardized offer of accommodation. This becomes visible, for example, in the structurally standardized offer of accommodation. All mass tourism activities are timed to coincide and are aimed at interchangeable groups of tourists. To this day, the Mediterranean coasts of Italy, Spain and Turkey are full of such hardly distinguishable, always the same looking holiday resorts.
The Soviet system of health care and spa treatment was based on strictly scientific principles. For this purpose, separate institutes of spa and recreation science were founded, such as the one in Tskaltubo. For the health resorts served primarily to „restore the health and working capacity of the working people, to educate them to care for health and hygiene, to perform extensive and differentiated cultural and educational work“ (Kozlov 1979, 15; quoted according to Schlögel 2017, 306).
After the Second World War, there was a considerable need for this, since there was a high number of physically injured people as a result of the war years. The people were also emaciated because of the nutritional deficiencies that had existed for decades, and they could not fully utilise their working capacity unless efforts were made to maintain their performance.
From an ideological point of view, the Soviet Union was about the production of the Soviet human being as a type (see remarks on homo sovieticus et al. in the work of Svetlana Alexievich, 2013).
To the Soviet man belonged among other things that he could be assigned to production units. In Tskaltubo the building complexes were divided according to the affiliation of their users as, for example, „Sanatorium of miners“ and „Sanatorium of geologists“.
„Recreation was not simply a leisure activity, but was consciously and culturally designed to serve the development of ‚all-round educated people‘, including further education, theatre, regional studies and gymnastics. […] The daily routine was oriented towards the dispatch and management of collectives […], not towards the condition of individual guests“.(Schlögel 2017, 314)
The Soviet system was able to draw on the tsarist heritage of many health resorts in the establishment of seaside and spa resorts such as Tskaltubo. This, with all its bourgeois splendour, still forms the centre of most former Soviet health resorts today. In Georgia, one encounters it above all in Borjomi, the former tsarist spa resort of the Lesser Caucasus (cf. in detail Schlögel 2017, 306-316 on the first military and then cultural appropriation of the Black Sea coast and the Caucasus by aristocracy, entrepreneurs and middle-class middle classes as the ‚Russian South‘). The Soviet successor regime „took measure of this splendour“ (Schlögel 2017, 308). On the one hand, the aim was to make this splendour accessible to the masses and to demonstrate to the workers the standard of living of the exploiting classes. On the other hand, the ideology of the exploiting class was to be overcome in the new Soviet spa architecture (see Schlögel 2017, 312-316).
Tskaltubo lacked the bourgeois heritage of the tsarist spas or that of the short phase of Georgia’s First Republic (1918-1921). But it is replaced by the pompous buildings of Soviet neo-classicism, which imitated the bourgeoisie in its orientation towards the timeless classicism. This architectural style is dominant in Tskaltubo.
The other spa buildings built since the 1970s represent in their architecture the aesthetics of constructivism, the so-called „classical Soviet modernism“, which was the program for other famous spas, such as Sukhumi in Abkhazia.
Text: © Stefan Applis (2020)
Pictures: The historical photographs were released by the Tourist Office of the Tskaltubo Municipality. I would like to thank Deputy Director Irakli Maisashvili for scanning and transmitting the pictures. It was not possible for the Tourist Office to trace any individual rights to the pictures.
Alexievich, S. (2013): Second-hand time. Life on the ruins of socialism. Berlin.
Kozlov, I. I. (Ed.) (1979). Zdravnicy profsojusov SSSR. Kurorty, sanatorii, pansionaty i doma otdycha profsojusov. (Izdanije pjatoepererabotanoe i dopolnennoe). Moskva.
Schlögel, K. (2017): The Soviet century. Archaeology of a perished world. C.H. Beck: Munich.
Naumoviu, O., Otorovich, G., Otorovna, M. (1990): Health resort Caltubo i ego lchebnye istochniki. [ Курорт Цалтубо и его лчебные источники. Научно-медицинское общество курортов и и грузинскои CCP.] Nauchno-medicinskoe obshhestvo kurortov i fizioterapevtov Gruzinskoi SSR. [Научно-медицинское общество курортов и физиотерапевтов грузинскои CCP.]