Possibly the most interesting museum in Georgia, the Stalin Museum (75215; www.stalinmuseum.ge; Stalinis gamziri 32; admission incl photo permission and guide in English, German or French 15 GEL, video permit 400 GEL;h10am- 6pm) is an impressive 1957 building that exudes a faintly religious air. The visit includes the tiny wood-and-mud-brick house where Stalin’s parents rented the single room in which they lived for the first four years of his life. This stands in front of the main museum building, perfectly preserved and with its own temple-like protective superstructure. The rest of the poor neighbourhood in which it stood was demolished in the 1930s as Gori was redesigned to glorify its famous son.
The museum charts Stalin’s journey from the Gori church school to the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII and his death in 1953. What’s missing is any attempt at a balanced portrayal of Stalin’s career. This is a purely selective exhibition telling the glorious tale of a brave local lad who rose to the highest office in the land and defeated Hitler. No mention of the purges, the Gulag, the Ukraine famine or Stalin’s 1939 pact with Hitler.
The first hall details Stalin’s childhood and adolescence, including his rather cringeworthy pastoral poetry. The emphasis quickly shifts to his political work and revolutionary activities in the Caucasus, organising unions in Tbilisi and setting up an illegal workers’ press in Batumi at the end of the 19th century.
Stalin’s involvement with Lenin is then thoroughly detailed, taking us through the revolution of 1905, Stalin’s Siberian exile, the revolution of 1917, the Civil War and Lenin’s death in 1924. The first hall does display the text of Lenin’s 1922 political testament that described Stalin as too coarse and power-hungry and advised Communist Party members to remove Stalin from the post of General Secretary, but your guide is unlikely to draw this to your attention. Two other key players in Stalin’s life – Trotsky and Khrushchev – remain unsurprisingly absent from the displays.
One room is devoted to Stalin’s eerie death mask, lying in state, while the next one is full of tributes and gifts to Stalin from world leaders and other senior Bolsheviks. Off the staircase leading downstairs, another room contains more gifts presented to Stalin and a reconstruction of his first office in the Kremlin (which he occupied from 1918 to 1922).
To one side of the museum (and included in the tour) is Stalin’s train carriage, in which he travelled to the Yalta Conference in 1945 (he didn’t like flying). Apparently bulletproof, it has an elegant interior that includes a bathtub and a primitive air-conditioning system.