The House of Stalin. Tbilisi
On a leafy street on the outskirts of the Georgian capital Tbilisi is a small nondescript house hidden behind a wall. It is not featured in many top tens of things to do in this vibrant city, but I found it to be one of the most interesting places I visited in Georgia. For this home was the base of a Bolshevik effort to spread revolution and topple the Tsar of Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the main protagonist being one Joseph Stalin.
To gain entry you have to wait outside the modern brick building next door, the headquarters of the Georgian Communist Party, until someone decides to open the door. The Communist Party has fallen on hard times in the western culture embracing modern Georgia, but although unpopular they are keeping this fascinating piece of history open.
I am met by Jules, the Vice Chairman of the Communist Party, who enthusiastically shakes my hand and opens his arms pointing to the large Stalin exhibits in an open plan room next to the entrance. He only speaks Russian with a very few words of English, but his enthusiasm carries the tour.
|A young Jospeh Stalin, taken from a Police mugshot|
Photographs of a young Stalin, much better looking without the large moustache that adorned him later as Soviet leader, are displayed next to a large map showing the spread of communism through Europe. Jules flips the switch, and there is much buzzing as red lights shine across the continent, except for a few around the Black Sea whose bulbs have blown.
The museum is interesting, and shows a level of Stalin appreciation that is unknown elsewhere in the world. Georgia takes it even further with a massive museum dedicated to him in his birthplace, the small town of Gori. But the house with the printing press was what I really wanted to see.
|The Stalin Museum inside the Georgian Communist Party Headquarters|
We walk out of the Communist Party headquarters into a small a yard. A small single level house stands in the middle of a clearing. This is where Stalin lived and secretly wrote and produced incendiary posters and documents calling for the overthrow of the Tsar. Looking remarkably inconspicuous, and also in need of repair with rotten floorboards, it was cleverly designed with a hidden room located underneath the house.
This was accessible not through any trapdoor or stairs but by a convoluted process whereby Stalin would be winched down a well behind the house. Near the bottom, but above the water level, was the entrance to a small corridor, which led to a ladder which the future Soviet leader climbed via a ladder before entering a crawl space into the printing room. He would not have wanted to have forgotten his lunch after making this difficult journey.
|A plan of the access route to the hidden printing room|
It was only discovered by chance during a police raid, when a piece of burning paper was thrown into the well to check its depth, and it was sucked into the side passage, leading to the discovery of the hidden room and the printing press. Stalin was not there at the time, and left Tbilisi to relocate to Baku before beginning the long journey that led to him becoming the leader of the Soviets.
|The restored printing press in the hidden room|
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the museum, which had been relatively popular in Soviet times, was abandoned and all funding withdrawn. It is only recently that the Georgian Communist Party have taken over running it, and opened it up to the public again.
Entrance is free, but a donation should be given to help with its upkeep.