Chiatura – the City of Ropeways
Chiatura stands out as one of Georgia’s eccentric niche destinations. Chiatura is located about an hour east of Kutaisi and 3 hours northwest of Tbilisi in the western region of Imereti. This town of around 12,000 residents sits at the vortex of a deep crevasse along the Qvirila River.
The village was settled in antiquity and exploitable ores were discovered in 1849. Chiatura was officially founded as a town in 1921 due to subsequent large scale manganese and iron ore mining in the peripheral area.
Chiatura was slightly more vibrant during the Soviet era when the population was almost triple the current figure. Regardless, it remains one of the largest manganese mining operations in the world and one of Georgia’s niche tourism gems.
The major attraction here is the Stalin-era cable car system which is still in use and serves as the main mode of transport around the city. The cable cars traverse the Qvirilia River gorge connecting the town to the mines above via 10 cars for passengers and 2 cars for manganese transport. Some of the stations are adorned with murals of Soviet heroes. This aerial tram system spans over 6 km of cable and is highly regarded as an exemplary feat of Soviet engineering.
Chiatura is well known among dark tourism enthusiasts. The cable cars are sometimes jokingly referred to as “metal coffins” as the system has only been minimally updated since its inception in the mid1950s and many of the cars are in a somewhat decrepit state. None the less, visitors with a sense of adventure – and courage – flock to Chiatura to get a bird’s eye view of an authentic Georgian mining town.
Chiatura is also notable for its landscape and natural scenery. The contrast in elevation from the river bed to the stratified limestone cliffs is pronounced, further enhanced by the town’s location at the foot of the Greater Caucasus range.
The residents of Chiatura are known for their distinct Imeretian dialect which sounds quite similar that of Samskhe-Javakheti. The lingua franca is Russian and English proficiency is not as common in Chiatura as compared to the more developed parts of Georgia.
Chiatura has a quirky positive vibe and the locals welcome visitors with curiosity and hospitality. Its zany aura and unlikely scenery have inspired artists and filmmakers. Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan was recently filmed here.
Mghvemevi Monastery and its Cathedral of the Savior are carved out of the eastern cliff face. The site draws tourists and locals due to its well preserved frescoes which document the life of Jesus and his 12 apostles.
Approximately 13 km from Chiatura is Katskhi Pillar. This naturally eroded 40 meters tall limestone tower supports a medieval monastery where stylite ascetics performed secret worship of St. Maximus. Nowadays, the monastery remains as the full-time residence of a solitary monk.
Regional Imeretian cuisine can be found at a few restaurants along the river. Many of the smaller pastry shops in the center of town are rumored to serve some of the best Imeruli style khachapuri cheese pastry and lobiani bean pastry available anywhere in the region.
Chiatura has only basic accommodation, guest houses, homestays and budget hotels. Meals are generally included in the price.
Getting in & Around
Chiatura is somewhat rural so travel by car, bus, or marshrutka is the most realistic means of transport. Busses and marshrutkas from Kutaisi and Tbilisi normally leave and return twice daily.
Taxis are present and affordable but best reserved by phone rather than hailed street side. The cable car system is the preferred mode of transport in Chiatura.