Gori



Nestled in the picturesque Kartli Valley and surrounded by scenic mountains, Gori boasts a beautiful location at the meeting of the Mtkvari and Liakhvi rivers. As one of the oldest settlements in the Georgia country, Gori offers the discerning traveler an array of historical and cultural landmarks to explore.

THE HISTORY OF GORI

Gori district is divided into 2 cities – Gori and Tskhinvali, and dozens of villages and communities. The country’s sixth-largest city, Gori City is also the regional capital of the Shida Kartli region of eastern Georgia. Gori derives its name from the Georgian word “gora” which means “hill.”

The site upon which Gori lies has been inhabited since the early Bronze Age. Chronicles from medieval Georgia indicate that Gori town was established by Georgian King David IV (1089-1125) to settle Armenian refugees.

However, Gori Fortress seems to have already been in use by the 7th century, while archaeological findings reveal the existence of an urban settlement during the Classical Antiquity period.

In 1299, the town was taken over by Alan tribesmen fleeing the Mongols who had conquered their native homeland in the northern Caucasus. In 1320, King George V recovered Gori, pushing the Alan forces back over the Caucasus range.

During the Middle Ages, Gori was an important military stronghold thanks to its strategic location on the main highway linking eastern and western Georgia. Following the disintegration of the unified Georgian monarchy in the 1460s, it was fraught with invasions by the armies of regional powers.

First, it was taken over and sacked in 1477 by the Turks, followed by the Persians in the mid-16th century. By the end of the 16th century, it had briefly been under the Ottomans following the Ottoman-Persian War of 1578-90. It then became their key Georgian outpost until it was recovered in 1599 by Georgian King Simon I of Kartli following the heavy fighting. In 1614, the Persians garrisoned the town once more.

In the 18th century, Gori was occupied by the Turks (1723-35) and then the Persians (1735-40), before returning to Georgian rule under kings Erekle II and Teimuraz II, who made efforts to develop the town’s economy and culture.

After Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire, Gori was granted town status within the Tiflis Governorate in 1801. Through the 19th century, the town grew in population and size. A town plan from 1824 shows Gori nestled on the hill slopes below its fortress, with a moat surrounding it.

In 1920, Gori was destroyed by an earthquake but was almost completely rebuilt under Soviet rule. In Soviet times, Gori was an important industrial center. The post-Soviet crisis of the 1990s that followed Georgia’s independence led to economic collapse and mass migrations in Gori.

In 2008, Gori came under aerial attack by Russian forces during the Russo-Georgian War. Both military targets and residential areas were hit by airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties. By August 11, 2008, Gori was captured and occupied by the Russian military and South-Ossetian separatist militia, who withdrew from the city ten days later.

The Georgian government made considerable efforts to rebuild Gori after the war. And today, having risen from the ashes of its war-torn past, Gori has developed into a worthy Georgia tourism destination.

PLACES TO VISIT IN GORI

Although Gori dates back to the 6th century, it is best known as the birthplace of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In addition to monuments to Stalin, Gori offers a host of other attractions, the most interesting of which is the ancient cave-town of Uplistsikhe.

Uplistsikhe

One of Georgia’s oldest urban settlements, Uplistsikhe is an ancient Georgian cave town-fortress. Throughout its history, Uplistsikhe was an important religious, political and cultural center of the Georgia country. Today, it has been included on the Tentative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Uplistsikhe features a diversity of structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages. The cave-town is notable for its unique combination of different rock-cut cultural styles of the region, most notably from Anatolia and Iran, along with the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture.

The Uplistsikhe cave-town complex spans eight hectares and is divided into three parts: the lower/ south, central/ middle and upper/ north. It is estimated that there were more than 700 structures when the cave-town was built, although only about 270 have survived to the present-day.

The central part is the largest and features most of the cave-town’s rock-carved structures. It is connected to the southern part via a narrow rock-carved pass and tunnel. Staircases, tunnels and narrow alleys radiate from the main “street” towards the different structures.

Most of the caves do not have any decorations except for the central part. This is the most interesting part of the cave-town complex as it consists of Tamaris Darbazi (Queen Tamar’s Hall), a large hall with a coffered tunnel-vaulted ceiling, as well as the palace complex.

The ribbed ceiling of the hall showcases complex decorations carved out of the rock. Supported by two rock-carved columns, the ceiling has a smoke outlet that also lets in light. The hall also has niches on the back and sides that may have been used for ceremonial purposes.

Other highlights of the Uplistsikhe complex include a 6th century rock-carved church, a well-preserved and functioning 10th century brick church, an amphitheater, prison, bakery, pharmacy, living quarters and pagan places of sacrifice.

Joseph Stalin Museum

Gori is the birth town of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), and visiting his house-museum is the top reason why most travelers include the city in their Georgia itinerary.

Born Ioseb Besarionis dzе Jughashvili, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin went on to become a key figure in 20th century history. The Joseph Stalin Museum complex is dedicated to him and consists of the memorial house in which he was born, an exposition building and his personal train carriage.

Impressive in design, the museum exposition building is a huge palace built in the Gothic style. It was established in 1957 and has more than 60,000 displays documenting Stalin’s life and career, including the purges, the Gulag and his 1939 pact with Hitler.

The museum is filled with paraphernalia and media that charts Stalin’s journey from the Gori church school (1888–94) to the leadership of the USSR, the Yalta Conference at the end of World War II, and up to his death in 1953.

It depicts his entire life, from childhood, his rise to power, becoming one of the key figures in the 20th century, to his death. This is done through many documents, letters, manuscripts, newspaper articles, and personal memorabilia. Everywhere you look are photos, portraits, and busts of Stalin.

A hall upstairs displays exhibits from his childhood and adolescence, including his pastoral poetry. It continues into his early revolutionary activities in Georgia, his seven jail terms under the Tsar’s rule (six in Siberia), the revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s death in 1924. Also on display is Lenin’s statement from 1922 describing Stalin as coarse and power-hungry, and advising his removal as General Secretary of the Communist Party.

One room holds a bronze copy of Stalin’s death mask, while another features a collection of gifts from world leaders and other Bolsheviks. Beside the staircase is a reconstruction of his first office in the Kremlin, with personal belongings such as his glasses, pipes, and cigars. At the foot of the stairs is a small section that focuses on political repression under Stalin.

Preserved outside the exposition building is the Jughashvili family’s wood and mud-brick house in which Stalin lived until he was 4 years old. The first floor of this two-story house was occupied by the family, while the ground floor held the shoe workshop where Stalin’s father worked.

On the other side of the exposition building is Stalin’s personal armored train carriage, in which he traveled to Yalta in 1945, as he did not enjoy flying. The elegant interiors of the bulletproof carriage feature carved furniture, Venetian glass mirrors, a bathtub, and an air-conditioning system.

While the one-sidedly nostalgic portrayal of Stalin in the museum can be unsettling for visitors, the exhibits are actually quite impressive.

Ateni Sioni Church

Located 12km from Gori, Ateni Sioni is an impressive ancient domed church nestled within a beautiful setting that overlooks the gorgeous Tana Valley grapevines. Dating from the 7th century, Ateni Sioni is modeled after the Jvari Monastery in Mtskheta.

The walls of Ateni Sioni Church feature inscriptions that mention several religious and historical figures. The writings were made using the early Georgian alphabet dating back to between the 9th and 11th centuries.

Attractive reliefs of stags, a knight and a hunting scene are carved into the facade of the church building. Fine examples of medieval Georgian art, the 11th century frescoes in the church interior depict biblical scenes and Georgian rulers.

Ateni Sioni is situated within the Ateni Gorge that offers an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. On a clear day, views of the Caucasus range from the church are breathtaking.

There is a resort near the church that offers special therapeutic baths made from sulfur mineral waters. Soaking inside the mineral baths is believed to treat a host of illnesses. The resort season typically stretches between June and September.

Gori Fortress

Gori Fortress is an ovoid citadel that stands on a rocky hill in the middle of the town. Partially rebuilt, the fortress dates back mostly to the Middle Ages, with 17th century additions. It once controlled major economic and strategic routes and accommodated a large garrison. The best time to visit Gori Fortress is at sunset when you can enjoy panoramic views over the city.

Archaeological findings along with ruins on the northern slope suggest that there was a fortress on this site as early as the 1st century BC. The fortress is first mentioned as “Gori Prison” in historic chronicles from the 13th century. According to some historians, the fortress was built by medieval King Heraclius to store ammunition for use in battles against the Persians.

Memorial of Georgian War Heroes

Located at the base of Gori Fortress, the Memorial of Georgian War Heroes comprises of a semi-circle of 8 mutilated metal warriors. Created between 1981 and 1985 by Georgian sculptor Giorgi Ochiauri, the sculptures were originally positioned around the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in Tbilisi’s Vake Park.

In 2009 they were moved to their present location in Gori, in honor of those who lost their lives during Georgia’s war with Russia in 2008.

The Great Patriotic War Museum

The Great Patriotic War Museum is dedicated mostly to the heroic achievements of the Red Army, and to the Gori people’s involvement in World War II. The museum also has a display on the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, with photos of the devastated city, including civilian casualties.

In the lobby are several pieces of Russian artillery from this war, including a cluster bomb that was dropped on Gori’s main square. On display are numerous medals, photos, uniforms, guns, mortars and ceremonial flags. There are also portraits of Gori’s “heroes” who bravely fought in the war.

Virgin Mary Cathedral

Boasting beautiful surroundings, the Virgin Mary Cathedral is a Catholic church built between 1806 and 1810. The church was heavily damaged by the 1920 earthquake. In the Soviet era, Gori’s Music School was situated inside the church. In the 1990s, the building was handed over to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Sergi Makalatia Gori Historical & Ethnographical Museum

Established in 1935, the Sergi Makalatia Gori Historical & Ethnographical Museum boasts a great collection of more than 48,000 exhibits and archeological discoveries from prehistoric to early modern Georgia.

History buffs can admire cultural exhibits including weapons, paintings, furniture, manuscripts, traditional jewelry, folk costumes, decorative sculptures, unique coin collections and a vast archive of photos. The exhibits offer fascinating insights into the lives of the Gori people over many millennia.

Ruisi Cathedral of Transfiguration

Located 7km from Gori, the Ruisi Cathedral of Transfiguration was constructed by King Vakhtang Gorgasali between the 8th and 9th centuries. While the original structure of the church building was not preserved, its 8th century architectural details are still visible.

The Ruisi Cathedral of Transfiguration is linked to several important political events of the feudal period in Georgia, including the coronation of George II (1072-1083) as king of Kartli.

Gardateni Village

Gardateni is a village situated 6km from Gori city. The village has several historic Georgian monuments including Vere Fortress, Vere Church of the Virgin Mary, Tsedisi Fortress, the Church of Saint George and the Green Transfiguration Cathedral.

Gori State Dramatic Theater

Situated inside a stunning building, the Gori State Dramatic Theatre was the first professional theatre established in Georgia. Inside is a museum with information on past events and performances. Although plays are performed in Georgian and Russian languages only, the theater is still worth visiting if only to admire the beauty of its building.

Stalin Park

Stalin Park has a huge statue of Stalin, an aviary, a paintball range, a Ferris wheel and a few old rides. On summer evenings, the park is often crowded with locals and is a great spot for people-watching.

Few of the many statues of Stalin erected throughout the former Soviet Union have survived, and Gori’s is arguably one of the most magnificent and well-preserved.

For a long time, the large statue stood in front of Gori’s city hall until 2010 when it was suddenly removed in the middle of the night by the current pro-Western government. The statue was then re-erected in Stalin Park facing the Joseph Stalin Museum.

There are 2 other Stalin statues in Gori. A replica of the main statue that is also found in Stalin Park, and another of Stalin as a young man, situated next to the Gori State University.

Samtavisi Cathedral

Located 30km from Gori City, Samtavisi Cathedral is a monastic complex that consists of a church, dwellings and a cemetery. A fine example of medieval Georgian architecture, the cathedral served as a prototype for the Kashveti Church in Tbilisi.

Samtavisi Cathedral traces its roots to the 5th century when the original church was built, and whose remains now lie under the cathedral’s floor. The original building was shaped like a basilica and featured a huge dome.

In the middle of the 6th century, the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers – monks who spread Christianity in Georgia, began to build monasteries. Their most famous achievements were the Ikalto Monastery, Nekresi Monastery and David Gareja Monastery. Isidor Samtaviski, one of the monks, founded the monastery that bears his name “Samtavisi.”

Later in 1030, the present-day Samtavisi Cathedral was erected on the site of the basilica by architect Hillarion Samtavneli. Since then, the church has been reconstructed several times. In the 15th century, its damaged dome was built anew. Soon after, the western wall of the cathedral was re-done.

The present-day Samtavisi Cathedral is remarkable for the beauty of its proportions and refined carving on its facades. It has a cross-domed, square layout that is shorter than similar structures from that era.

The eastern façade is decorated with a large ornamented cross and window trim with lozenge patterns beneath them. The overall decoration of the façade features a blind arcade with beautifully-executed carvings and a fascinating bas-relief under the right arch. The interiors feature fragments of frescoes dating from the 17th century.

Within the enclosed area of the cathedral are the remains of a dwelling known as the Bishop’s Palace. A gate belfry from the late feudal period stands at the entry to the enclosure. The cathedral is featured on the Tentative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Iakob Gogebashvili House-Museum

Regarded as the founder of scientific pedagogy in Georgia, Iakob Gogebashvili was a famous public figure, teacher, scholar and writer of Georgian literature. One of his most famous works is Deda Ena (mother tongue) an introduction to the Georgian language for children, which he published in 1876.

Founded in 1958, his house-museum in Variani Village displays Gogebashvili’s memorabilia and personal belongings including first edition copies of his books, works by famous Georgian painter Elene Akhvlediani, and photos and documents from that period.

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT GORI

Gori weather is characterized by hot summers and cold, dry and cloudy winters. The best time to visit Gori for warm-weather activities is between late June and early September, when the skies are clear and there is plenty of sunshine.

WHERE TO STAY IN GORI

Travelers seeking accommodation in Gori can choose from a range of Gori hotels, with the recently built Royal House being the best option. There are also several guesthouses and vacation rentals available to suit different budgets.

WHERE TO EAT IN GORI

Gori has several decent eating options situated in the town center. An array of Gori restaurants serve local cuisine dishes in pleasant settings. Most guesthouses in Gori also provide traditional Georgian food dinners.

HOW TO GET TO GORI

For flights to Georgia landing at Tbilisi airport, you may hire a car and drive 1.5 hours to Gori (86km). That said, driving in Georgia can be challenging if you don’t speak the Georgian language or understand the Georgian alphabet. The most convenient option would be to get to Gori via private transfer.

Final words and travel suggestions

Most tourists visit Gori to explore the birthplace of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. While others seek a journey back in time, wandering through the ancient Uplistsikhe cave-town. Whatever your pleasure, Gori is guaranteed to deliver on a great day-trip in Georgia.

You can book Gori hotels in advance with our travel agency. If you prefer to drive to Gori, we have a modern fleet of rental cars available for hire. We also offer Georgia tour packages to and from Gori which include private transfers to and from Tbilisi airport.

Even better, create your own custom vacation package that includes the specific places you want to visit and tourist activities you want to enjoy in Gori. Fancy a journey back in time? Order your custom tour package to Gori today and explore one of Georgia’s oldest settlements!

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