Tskaltubo – between Urbex and Dark Tourism

9. June 2023



Tskaltubo is about 15 km from Kutaisi. There are slightly radioactive thermal springs there. Already started as a spa in the 19th century, it was developed as one of the largest spas during the Soviet era. There is a very large park in which a few sanatoriums and spas were located directly and many often very large sanatoriums and recreation homes around it. These buildings were built in the mid-20th century in the neo-classical style, i.e. grandiose, opulent, ornate and, in contrast to the other Soviet brutalo-concrete architecture, very beautiful to look at.


All this spa tourism in the Soviet Union (check my blogpost visit in the sanatorium Goluboi in Kyrgyzstan, too) was financed at state expense and served not only physical recreation and healing but was also linked to education and culture. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, spa tourism also collapsed and all the large buildings stood empty. Due to the conflict in/around Abkhazia since the beginning of the 1990s, there were huge numbers of refugees seeking shelter in Georgia. They were accommodated in empty buildings, often unused old hotels and sanatoriums and the like. I had already seen this in Tbilisi and Borjomi in 2008. In Tskaltubo, many of these people lived and still live in precarious living conditions in great poverty. Here, too, Stefan Applis can help with information, e.g. in these Articles.




Besides the buildings/parts of buildings used for refugees, there is also a lot of decaying empty space – a kind of El Dorado for Urbex fans, i.e. for people who like to look around in no longer used industrial plants and other abandoned buildings. And so I was also curious to see what this place now looked like and what there was to discover.


I have to admit that I somehow overread about the refugees in the advance information, but noted it down in the back of my mind as quasi incidental. In reality, however, the discussion about this took up a lot of space. I’ll just tell you one by one what I experienced there.


First I looked into Sanatorium No. 6, which is a large sanatorium in the park that continues to serve as a sanatorium. I don’t know how many parts of the building have been restored, I only went into the entrance hall, which looked like an almost normal hotel and where there were also guests. I didn’t want to look around curiously and thought that there was much more to discover elsewhere. Opposite the park, I came to a large building where a lot had obviously fallen into disrepair, but where people were still clearly living in parts. I looked around a bit, but it was also sort of embarrassing for me to see their poverty. But I took some photos of the little I saw:


big house






basement – uninhabited


1. floor, maybe inhabited






Afterwards, I thought I’d better look specifically for old sanatoriums and went to an uninhabited one where some tourists were supposed to be happily snapping away. I was indeed not alone, but the others were less than 10 people.




This sanatorium was very magnificent and large. However, you could only get into this part upstairs and the right part, the left much larger part was inhabited by a yapping dog. Here are my impressions:


upper part


pillar hall


pillars from higher position




part watched by a dog


The next sanatorium was inhabited in a wing. A woman looked out of her window there and demanded entrance fee. Maybe that would have been OK, but I didn’t like her way and so I didn’t go.


Sanatorium with entrance fee


Some of the sanatoria have been purchased by now and are renovated. Here is one of these construction sites:




entrance part


At two other sanatoria one couldn’t see ongoing work, but big fences denying entrance:


not to enter


It was lunch and I thought I didn’t see much yet.


lunch break


But then I found a very large ex-sanatorium to look around for a long time. It had magnificent old rooms and a very large part where refugees had lived. Maybe it was not so long ago that they had left the place, there were still some legacies to see. Here are a lot of pictures:








































This visit triggered a lot of emotions in me. Primarily, my dog (and snake) fear was still there, so I was tense all the time. Then I had no idea why the Soviet Union was able to build such wonderful buildings and on the other hand so many terrible ones. A certain beauty is always very important to me. But what touched me most were these abandoned refugee rooms. I tried to imagine their lives. Did they have electricity? Where did they wash? Where and how did they cook? How did they keep warm in winter? That was not evident anywhere. Why were things left behind and why was so much destroyed? (e.g. many mattresses, quilts, etc.) And how does one actually live as a refugee here – does one hope for an improvement in the situation and return? Do you just look from one day to the next? Do you make plans?


There is the concept of dark tourism, i.e. one looks at the misery elsewhere, so to speak. On the one hand, there is something disgusting about that, but on the other hand, it makes sense to deal with the dark sides of a country in an attempt for better understanding. And going there instead of reading or something like that does something else to you. But it’s also doesn’t feel right to just look at misery or problems. It has happened to me several times that I have been to places of misery. And always helpless – and yet it enriched me with the realities of others.


Finally, I saw some healing water – at least I think so. It didn’t say anything and there were no people there either.


healing water


And bathhouse No. 8, I would have loved to have seen that in operation! I wonder if there was someone in every bath. Was it the same inside each?


bathhouse Nr. 8


bath tubs?




On the way back, something nice happened to me. I already know how to drive a marshrutka, it’s easy, the driver tells you what it costs and you pay. In Kutaisi I had to drive a bit further and a bus stopped, 2 tourists with backpacks jumped in and I followed. Then I asked around: yes, it goes to the centre. But the problem was: where do you actually pay? The driver didn’t want anything. There were strange machines with Wifi signs on them and one that looked more like a stamp machine. A nice young lady explained it to us: you buy a card somewhere else and hold it in front of the wifi sign and it’s debited. Yes, but what do first-time and one-time riders like me and the others do? A shrug of the shoulders. A moment’s thought. Oh, I’ll just give you a lift on my card! She held it up in front of the Wifi sign three times and didn’t want any money from us. Well, wasn’t that nice?


That was the end of my time here and I moved on again.