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Photos Inside the Ruins of Luxurious Soviet Spas and Sanatoria

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The Soviet Utopia: sending your hard-working state citizens on a health holiday to one of the empire’s many sanatoria. Originally conceived in the 1920s, these USSR sanatoria offered a combination of health and medical benefits alongside thermal baths and spas. These institutions were once among the most innovative buildings of that era.

The system was brilliant: holidays were booked through a state-funded voucher system. Guests of sanatoria were carefully monitored by health professionals during their stay. The Soviet worker returned home with renewed strength, in good health and full of energy.

Monumental arches adorn this open-air-treatment gallery inside a former sanatorium. Tskaltubo, Georgia.

It’s 2018 and these sanatoria became curious relics of the former USSR. Many of them are abandoned. They no longer serve any purpose other than being vestiges of another era.

For this series, I photographed many of the remaining sanatoriums in Georgia. The Caucasus lived up to be perfect for the construction of spa resorts, mainly due to the presence of hot mineral springs and water containing radioactive isotopes. Resorts focused on balneotherapy to treat people with circulatory, respiratory and pulmonary diseases. The people loved it.

The view on the grand entrance hall inside a neglected sanatorium. This building will be redeveloped into a luxurious hotel. Tskaltubo, Georgia.

At its peak, the sanatoria attracted a couple hundred thousand visitors a year. High-ranked officers and lieutenants from the Russian Army relaxed at these resorts – even special dedicated military sanatoria were constructed, serving only military personnel. With the majority of the USSR leaders based in Moscow, they simply connected these spa resorts with a direct train line to the capital. In Mother Russia, anything is possible. Stalin frequented the baths many times and a shrine devoted to the communist leader still reminds us of those glorious times.

Nature is taking over this beautiful corridor. This passage connected the main thermal spa facilities with the private rooms of patients and guests. Tskaltubo, Georgia.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

However, the USSR era ended. The once-mighty Soviet Union got dismantled. It’s the nineties and the socialist nation gets split up into splinter states, each gaining independence, and sovereignty. The influx of health seeking Russians came to a halt. The visitors dropped. The magnificent sanatoria fell into decline.

Left in dismay, the view inside one of the many dining halls where the Soviet elite used to gather, featuring ornate arches and beautiful colors. Tskaltubo, Georgia.

One by one these magnificent buildings became abandoned. Today, only a very small portion of the spa resorts are active. It’s heartbreaking to see the ruins of these grand buildings left in dismay. But they’re not completely abandoned… these crumbling complexes now house refugees who were displaced from their homes during the Abkhazian-Georgian war. These people made a new home amongst the debris of the ruins. Some have access to water, some have electricity, some have basic comfort, but there’s one thing these refugees don’t have: a clear outlook on what the future will bring. Meanwhile, they remain in exile.

Roman columns and an ornate ceiling decorate this dining hall inside a former sanatorium. Salvageable objects like parquet floors, statues and metals have long been vanished. Tskaltubo, Georgia.

The Future

What will happen to these sanatoria? During my visit, I could see that little by little things are put into motion. Railway stations are being renovated, whereas I expected them to be in a very bad state. I saw many gardeners maintaining the lush gardens and landscapes. I noticed security keeping an eye on the still active buildings. On all of my visits, I had a warm welcome by the kindest people inviting and showing me around into the former ballrooms, leisure rooms, patios and private rooms. The outdoor pool had fresh water, the roads in and around many buildings were being asphalted anew.

Maybe, just maybe, the utopian dream is not lost.

A little fountain has dried up in front of the entrance of a former spa resort. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
An exterior passage leads towards one of the many bathhouses, popular for its curative water treatments. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
A derelict bathhouse is seen inside the thermal spa town of Tskaltubo. The water still flows through and underneath these baths, causing the buildings to deteriorate even faster. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
Broken glass and peeling paint – this beautiful passage is slowly deteriorating with the passing of time. The blue boxes on the wall were part of the heating system, so patients and guests could enjoy a view on the magnificent gardens during winter time as well. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
A crumbling spiraling staircase is seen inside this former Soviet sanatorium. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
Roman columns and a grand staircase decorate this entrance hall of a former sanatorium. This building now houses many refugees from the Abkhaz-Georgian and Russo-Georgian conflict. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
Concrete is starting to collapse inside this hallway connecting a theater with the main building. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
The remains of a theater inside a former Soviet sanatorium. The wooden stage and curtains disappeared long ago. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
Roman columns and a grand staircase decorate this hall inside a former sanatorium. This building now houses many refugees from the Abkhaz-Georgian and Russo-Georgian conflict. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
Billiard tables are left to rot inside this leisure room. Sanatoria were immensely popular with the Soviet elite and holidays were arranged via a state-funded voucher system. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
The exterior view on one of the many remaining spas. Men & women bathed separately, explaining a mirrored layout of the bathhouses. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
Nature is slowly reclaiming this building that was once used for dining. An open air terrace is seen on the left side, atop the main corridor. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
A derelict passage leads towards one of the many bathhouses, popular for its curative water treatments. Tskaltubo, Georgia.
The impressive entrance hallway to a former Soviet sanatorium alongside the Russian Riviera. It was later reconverted into a hotel but was left abandoned since the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. Gagra, Abkhazia.
The impressive entrance hallway to a former Soviet sanatorium alongside the Russian Riviera. It was later reconverted into a hotel but was left abandoned since the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. Gagra, Abkhazia.
Past grandeur: the view inside an ornate room where patients with respiratory problems were treated. Many of the ex-Soviet sanatoria all featured light blue paints, benefiting to a very refined and typical style. Gagra, Abkhazia.
A marble staircase is seen inside this impressive former Soviet sanatorium at the Russian Riviera. It was later reconverted into a hotel but left abandoned since the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. Gagra, Abkhazia.
The exquisite view from the terrace of a former sanatorium along the Black Sea. This region was dubbed the Russian Riviera back in its heydays. Please note the total lack of cargo or any other ships due to the trade embargo implied to this breakaway region. Gagra, Abkhazia.
The remains of a sanatorium alongside the Russian Riviera. Benefiting from a sub-tropical climate, this region was immensely popular for the Soviet-elite during the USSR era. This particular sanatorium was built in the early 1900s and severed heavily by shelling and gunfire during the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. Sokhum, Abkhazia.
The crumbling staircase inside a former sanatorium alongside the Russian Riviera. Benefiting from a sub-tropical climate, this region was immensely popular for the Soviet-elite during the USSR era. This particular sanatorium was built in the early 1900s and severed heavily by shelling and gunfire during the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict. Sokhum, Abkhazia.

About the author: Reginald Van de Velde (Belgium, 1975) scouts the unknown and the unseen. As a wanderer of wastelands, he journeys all over the world, trying to capture the momentum of splendor still undisturbed by the turmoil and temptations of modern society. He is a vagabond for lost beauty, a chronicler of forgotten magnificence. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.

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