Displacement and Decay

Tskaltubo, Georgia

During the Soviet Union the Georgian town of Tskaltubo was a popular health destination famed for its therapeutic water and sanatoriums.

 

Trains arrived daily full of guests.

 

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the buildings were abandoned and fell into decay. Floors have been ripped up for firewood, the metal salvaged as scrap.

 

In 1992 a war nearby in Abkhazia broke out.

 

Displaced Georgians fled from the conflict and were given temporary shelter in Tskaltubo's unoccupied buildings.

 

Twenty-five years later, hundreds of families remain living in these architectural remains of a Soviet past.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

The Sanatorium Experience

During the heyday of the Soviet Union from the 1950's to 1980's some 100,000+ visitors a year including Stalin and his high-ranking officials from Moscow, frequented these facilities.

 

The town was renowned for its therapeutic radon-carbonate mineral spring water believed to treat an array of ailments.

The general public of the USSR were obliged to visit sanatoriums annually to revitalize which was intended to sustain a healthy and productive workforce.

Several masterplans by architects resulted in 22 different sanatorium buildings with hundreds of hotel rooms, spas, bathhouses and in-patient facilities.

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Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

Bath houses where patients were treated with radon-carbonate mineral spring water.

TIMELINE

1925

Architect Kalashnikov oversees the construction of the first sanatoriums, resorts and medical facilities in Tskaltubo.

1960s-80s

Peak of the Soviet Union with over 100,000 visitors a year coming to Tskaltubo.

1991

Fall of the Soviet Union and most of Tskaltubo's 22 sanatoriums and hotels are abandoned.

1992

War in Abkhazia, a separatist region nearby leads to 200,000 displaced people.

Thousands of Abkhazians are rehoused in the abandoned sanatoriums.

2018

Some buildings have been sold for redevelopment others continue to decay. Hundreds of refugees still live in the sanatoriums 25 years after arriving.

Ornate rooms designed in Soviet Classicism style adorned the most luxurious sanatoriums.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

On Stalin's personal bath house, a scene depicts him being welcomed by locals.

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Photographs of old Tskaltubo during the height of it's popularity.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
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War in Abkhazia

Almost 10,000 people displaced by the 1992-1993 war in the breakaway region of Abkhazia created makeshift shelters within these derelict abandoned buildings.

 

Many have lived here for over 25 years despite the Georgian government’s plan to use the sanatoriums only as temporary housing for people fleeing the conflict.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

Residents have drawn a map of Georgia on the wall, including the disputed region of Abkhazia.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

The Abkhazian town name of Gagra written on a sanatorium wall.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

Living in the Sanatoriums

Radisha, 82 years old

Like most of the approximately 800 Internationally Displaced People still living in Tskaltubo’s former Sanatoriums, Radisha fled from Abkhazia in 1992.

 

With 12 members of his family he walked over 100 km by foot with a bullet wound to the leg. Upon arrival in Georgia his injured leg was amputated.

 

Here he is pictured in his home,  once a functioning hotel named Samgurali.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

Children play in the halls of an old Sanatorium.

They were born and raised in Tskaltubo and are the grandchildren of the initial Abkhazian migrants.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

A painting by a resident depicts his old village in Abkhazia which he abruptly left in 1992.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
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Over the years, metal pipes and wires have been removed from the buildings to sell as scrap.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

The Future

While many of Tskaltubo's former hotels and sanatoriums have fallen into decay, several of the largest buildings have been sold to private investors.

There are plans to redevelop the town and invest millions of dollars into the reconstruction and renovation of some spa buildings.

The displaced people from Abkhazia have been told that they will be moved into new homes, however this transformation has been slow.

Much of the original architecture in Tskaltubo will be removed, along with the artifacts, objects and decorations which remain.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

The town's abandoned post office is full of old postcards and stamps from the 1960's and 70's.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

Tskaltubo's old train station once saw trains arriving daily, packed with guests visiting from within the Soviet Union.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans
Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

These ruins reveal architectural and ideological dreams, offering a window into Georgia's Soviet past.

Abandoned Soviet Sanatorium architecture buildings in Tskaltubo Georgia by photographer Ryan Koopmans

Only the future will tell what will become of Tskaltubo.

Sanatorium - A short film that explores some of Tskaltubo's architectural relics.

Ryan Koopmans (BA, MFA) is a photographer who focuses on the relationship between the built environment and our natural world. Celebrated for his architecture photography, he works on both commissioned and personal projects around the world.

RYAN KOOPMANS

About the photographer

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