Borjomi is legendary for the mineral water of the same name, whose career began after the Caucasus War of 1864, of all times, when the Russian viceroy made Bordji his summer residence. From 1892 to 1895, the two-storey wooden palace was extended for the Russian Tsar.
Photographs from the historical museum in Borjomi (Applis 2015).
In 1894, Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov built a bottling plant in BORJOMI’s Mineral Water Park which continued to operate until the 1950s, duly bottling the water which by that time became famous all over the world. In the same year, Bordjomi received a railway connection and thus a representative reception building for wealthy travellers.
Historic station building; the timetable still shows train traffic from the Soviet era (Applis 2015).
The newly founded town of Borjomi quickly became famous for its mineral springs, diverse nature and mineral baths. It was a popular resort for the Georgian and foreign nobility from the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. Rich Persians, Azerbaijanis and Russians built magnificent villas. Large spa hotels and several parks were built. Among the spa guests in Bordjomi were the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the writer Leo Tolstoy.
After the Soviet takeover in Georgia, Borjomi was incorporated into the Soviet system of work recreation: Recreation was not simply free time, but was to be filled consciously and pedagogically; it included ideological training, theatre visits, getting to know people and places throughout the Soviet Union. The daily routine was geared towards shaping people not as individuals but as a collective.
At the same time, the heritage that the Soviet-era tourism system drew on was geared towards satisfying the needs of the former aristocracy and upper-middle-class society. In Georgia, we certainly encounter this opulence most strikingly in Borjomi. Thus, the wealth of the former Russian Empire became the benchmark for the subsequent Soviet regime. The masses were granted access to this bourgeois abundance with the double aim: On the one hand, to showcase the standard of living of the exploiting class. On the other hand, the masses were encouraged to adopt this standard of living for themselves (cf. the spa town of Tskaltubo via my blog post on SpacesandPractises)
Villa from the tsarist era and sanatorium from the Stalin era
After the end of the Soviet Union, the Russian tourists stayed away. The Georgian government accommodated refugees from Abkhazia in the spa hotels. The villas fell into disrepair, the spa gardens became overgrown and the population impoverished. Between June and September, Borjomi is visited by city dwellers from Tbilisi. Occasionally, youth camps are held in the city.
After the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, internally displaced persons were quartered in former spa hotels and hospitals; the spa parks and green areas were turned into gardens for self-sufficiency.
Today, the bottling plant still exists today, but is now owned by the Dutch-Georgian company Georgian Glass and Mineral Water (GG&MW). The company exports it mainly to Russia, but also to Western Europe, the USA and Israel. Exports account for over ten per cent of Georgia’s export volume.
The 76,000-hectare Borjomi-Charagauli National Park, which was opened in 2003, offers a chance for the revival of tourism. It is intended to attract holidaymakers from all over the world to Georgia’s unspoilt mountain world. In 2006, the sanatorium complex at the Tsar’s residence was sold for ten million US dollars to Kazakhstan’s state oil company, KazMunayGas.
In 2005, Borjomi unsuccessfully bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, a project initiated by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and intended to include Bakuriani.
In 2006, KazMunayGas Service, the state oil and gas company of Kazakhstan, bought part of the Likani State Recreation Complex, including a Soviet-era sanatorium, with the prospect of turning it into a recreation area that would attract tourists. However, nothing happened until 2011 when KazMunayGas Service and the Georgian Partnership Fund established the Borjomi Likani International. Although construction of the hotel began in 2011, it took until 2015 for the resort to be completed.
The project to restore Borjomi to a spa resort of international standing will definitely take some time. In general, it can certainly be stated that the development of the space is strongly understood from the development of the real estate. This has led to the fact that in the course of time some building complexes have already been acquired by interantional companies without any development having taken place. Since large corporations in the real estate business plan over long periods of time and focus primarily on capital development, it is also feared that Borjomi as a public space will not be accessible to large portions of the Georgian population because the prices will simply be too high, even for a still-developing Georgian middle class.
The ‚Yellow House‘ of Borjomi – Example of a Costly Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Project; pictures via https://www.nodelman.ru/page12.html
The everyday life of a large part of the population of Borjomi takes place without connection to the tourist developments of the region in very simple conditions, as elsewhere in Georgia. At most, they try to earn some money as drivers, with small accommodations for backpackers or by selling fruits and vegetables from their own garden.
Impressions of Borjomi’s architecture beyond the spa architecture
Text: Stefan Applis (2021)
Photography (except historical photos): Stefan Applis (2015)
Agenda.ge (2018). Resort town Borjomi to transform into “museum city“. https://agenda.ge/en/news/2018/1279
Agenda.ge (2018). Project concept for historical Romanov Palace in Likani revealed. https://agenda.ge/en/news/2018/2132
Agenda.ge (2019). Starting bid in auction for 5 star Borjomi Likani hotel set at $38 mln. https://agenda.ge/en/news/2019/2546
Forbes.ge (2017). Combining International Standards And Local Flavors. https://forbes.ge/combining-international-standards-and-local-flavors/