Located in eastern Georgia, the town of Gori is the regional capital of Shida Kartli, which covers the districts of Kareli, Kaspi, Java, and Khashuri. Archeological finds reveal that Gori truly is one of the oldest cities in Georgia. Discovered in the area are prehistoric clay walls, red tiles, jugs, and clay utensils that suggest an organized settlement that used to thrive in the area during the early Bronze Age.
There is so much history here but what this town is really known for is that it was the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. He was born on December 18, 1878 in this humble town and became Russia’s strongman in 1917. The communist leader died on March 5, 1953 and left an indelible mark in the history of Georgia, Russia and the world. He left behind two imposing reminders: the Stalin Park and monument across the city hall and the Stalin Museum located at the heart of the city.
The Georgian government intended to remove these grim reminders of the dark days under communist rule but the people of Gori requested that they be left untouched. Despite the atrocities and crimes Stalin committed against humanity, he is highly revered in his birthplace until today.
Stalin, however, is recent history, and this ancient city is much richer than that. Stalin’s memory and his monuments are dwarfed by the majestic Gori Castle, also known locally as Goris Tsikhe. At the very center of the city, this medieval citadel stands tall on top of a hill, protected within the ancient walls of Gori Fortress. The castle has seen and withstood wars after wars beginning from the 1st century. Today, both fortress and castle lie in ruins. There is nothing to see inside but a ghostly reminder of their past glory.
Apart from the Stalin memorabilia and ancient castle, the eerie and intriguing village of Uplistsikhe is a must-see. A tour to this very old Georgian city will echo in the minds of tourists many days after they have left and gone back home. Uplistsikhe is an inhabited village that used to be the center of pagan worship in all of Caucasus. More than 3,000 years ago, this village thrived until the king of Iberia converted to Christianity. All the pagan temples were destroyed and soon the village sunk into its own abyss. It sunk even faster and deeper when the Mongols seized the area in the 12th century.
Today, Uplistsikhe is getting the international attention it deserves having been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most notable spots are a well-preserved 9th-century church that sits on top of the ruins of an even older pagan temple, an amphitheater and cave tunnels. The entire area, however, is plagued by poverty and no signs of urban development can be seen anytime soon. The only opportunities for work are as tour guides or English translators.
Gori, on the other hand, provides employment in its railway station, textile mill, factories, cannery, agricultural land, vegetable/fruit centers, research institute, a couple of schools, and tourism facilities.
Gori is accessible from Tbilisi by bus (marshrutka) or taxi. It is only about 75 km from the capital city. Other attractions available are the Great Patriotic War Museum, Historical Ethnographic Museum, Academic Theater and the central bazaar. The city has not changed much since the Soviet years.