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: a glass-roofed Doric temple (thought by some to be more like a metro station) erected by Beria in 1939. The rest of the poor neighbourhood in which it stood was demolished in the 1930s as Gori was redesigned to glorify its famous son. Immediately behind Stalin's birthplace is the massive Italianate museum to his memory that was defiantly built in 1957, the year after Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin and his crimes.
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.
With the exception of a few English labels in the section that displays the gifts made to Stalin, captions are in Georgian and Russian only, but detailed factual information is not likely to be your objective here. The displays are upstairs; the first floor deals with his youth and pre-revolutionary career - it's remarkable what a good-looking youth Stalin was (in a romantic revolutionary style), and how literary he was, writing quite passable poetry, working in secret presses and then being the first editor of Pravda. 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. It was once thought that Stalin might have been a double agent for the tsarist secret police in the pre-revolutionary period, but it's less clear which foreign power Lenin might have been thinking of - quite possibly Britain, which was vilified for its occupation of Transcaucasia.Two other key players in Stalin’s life — Trotsky and Khrushchev — remain unsurprisingly absent from the displays.
In the second room, bringing events up to World War II, he gradually becomes more Stalin-like, with the bristling moustache and bushy eyebrows and hair (which prevented his hats from fitting for many years). Kalinin and Gorky remain prominent, but Trotsky can only be seen in one of the photos, and there's no mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
The third room deals with the Great Patriotic War. The next room is dominated by tributes from a motley collection of world figures such as Kirov, ' Ordjonikidze, Ibarruri, Barbusse, Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle, and the museum culminates with a sort of symbolic lying in state by a bust of Stalin. After this there are more miscellaneous photos, and off the grand staircase a room of cabinets displaying gifts to Stalin and another room - a reconstruction of his first office in the Kremlin (which he occupied from 1918 to 1922). Naturally you can buy Stalin postcards and badges here, and those with a strong sense of irony might even want a bottle of Stalin-brand Saperavi wine for a souvenir.
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. There is an additional charge (GEL5) if you want to go inside.
To the people of Gori there's little purely political significance to the museum: Stalin is simply the only important thing ever to come out of Gori, and is revered as the 'strong man' rather than for his views or deeds. There's no doubt that the locals are far too quick to overlook his immense crimes, but you would in any case be foolish to expect any mention of the gulag or the Ukrainian famine in a museum like this, and if you ask you'll be told they're waiting for proof, much like George W Bush on climate change.