See the abandoned Soviet bunkers hidden beneath Georgia's capital city

A photographer ventured underground to explore the Communist-era ruins.

By David Tabagari
Published 23 Feb 2022, 11:01 GMT
A massive door separates two wings of a Soviet-era underground bunker in Tbilisi, Georgia. If one ...

A massive door separates two wings of a Soviet-era underground bunker in Tbilisi, Georgia. If one area of the shelter was damaged in an attack, the door would protect the other half.

Photograph by David Tabagari

There is an underground city beneath Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union allocated a large budget to prepare for nuclear and other attacks. Under Tbilisi alone there are about 450 bunkers, one of which includes a huge control panel to provide communication with bunkers below other Georgian cities.  

In the 1980s, a huge water reservoir was planned below one of the suburbs of Tbilisi, but the project was never completed.

I always wanted to witness and photograph this hidden part of Tbilisi. I knew the location of several of the bunkers, and my friends and I found others through our research. With a trained eye, it is not difficult to locate them. (See how Communist-era bunkers were transformed into museums in Albania.)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the bunkers were abandoned, although some still require special permission to access. I am not making public their exact locations to prevent vandalism. Entering the bunkers is dangerous: Many are damaged and partially collapsed. Bats and stagnant water present other perils. I never knew what to expect. Preparation and special equipment were required to remain safe.

A tunnel called Rustaveli 2 provides a way to move below the center of Tbilisi. Access to it today is controlled by the government.
Posters from the late Soviet era decorate the walls of a bunker.

Since these places are cloaked in darkness, I brought my own light and tried to capture the mysterious mood of these places during my voyage below Tbilisi.

The phosphorescent control panel on a diesel generator glows green in the dark.
An unfinished tunnel reveals efforts to supply air and remove earth underground.
A dark staircase leads back to the above-ground city, in this case near the Tbilisi airport.
Part of the government bunker libraries where Soviet literature was stored.
It is the cafeteria of the government bunker. Here I found ‘Vodka Stalin’ drink. The bottle probably hit there in the 90s.
In the event of a nuclear attack, a control panel would allow communication with other Georgian cities, which are labeled on the buttons.
Photographer David Tabagari shines a flashlight on the ventilation pipes in the main government bunker.
Photograph by David Tabagari
The bunker near Tbilisi Airport was designed to shelter 150 people. The massive airtight doors would have protected them from whatever dangers lurked above.

David Tabagari's text was translated by Natia Khuluzauri.

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