Stalin’s Underground Printing House, Tbilisi
"Police can arrest and even kill people, but they are powerless to suppress the idea.
The idea is stronger than the police".
Wilhelm Elfes, 1954 intro to his book of impressions on Stalin’s Underground Printing House
Stalin’s Underground Printing House is one of the oldest printing rooms in the Caucasus. From its underground tunnels, which run nearly 15 meters below the surface of the earth, anti-tsarist Russian materials were printed from 1903-1906 and distributed throughout Georgia, Russia and Europe.
Located in an obscure corner of Old Tbilisi’s Avlabari District, today this little museum is a truly eye-opening slice of pre-Communist history.
Printing House History
The illegal Bolshevik printing house was opened in 1903 by a young revolutionary named Josef Jughashvili, now better known as Josef Stalin. The project was so secretive that the construction workers who built it were constantly rotated so that no one person would know all of the details of its layout.
From the street, the printing house appeared like all the other wooden homes in the area. Yet in the yard was a well with an underground opening, which at a depth of 15 meters was connected with horizontal tunnels that led to the printing house. In 1904, 24-year-old Stalin often visited this house to write and publish his revolutionary articles and leaflets. The end goal of the Bolsheviks was to remove Russian Emperor Nicholas II from power and replace him with a Soviet government. The house was also used as a secret meeting place for the young communists who were busy printing revolutionary pamphlets in the Georgian, Armenian and Russian languages.
The publishing work continued for three years until the printing room was discovered on April 15, 1906. Policemen who had been tipped off to its whereabouts searched the house thoroughly but could find no trace of the illegal printing house. Finally, the well was examined and the underground entrance discovered. Upon climbing down, the officers discovered the secret tunnel and printing press. They destroyed many of the materials, set fire to the house and set off explosives in the basement.
After Stalin’s rise to power, the remains of the printing house opened as a museum in 1937. Stairs were added to reach a section of the secret chamber that remained intact. Inside the chamber, the printing press and other materials were exhibited until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, at which time the museum was abandoned. The building remained in the possession of the Georgian Communist Party, and in 2001 it was registered as the Illegal Printing House Museum of Josef Stalin. A decade later, the museum was handed over to the National Library, and in 2019 Stalin’s Underground Printing House acquired the status of a national cultural heritage monument.
Underground Printing House Museum
Stalin’s Underground Printing House is located on Kaspi Street N7 in Tbilisi’s historic Avlabari District. Its exhibition hall includes an array of Soviet-era memorabilia, including original materials printed on the press, a map indicating the cities to which the brochures and pamphlets were to be sent and photos of revolutionary activists. The museum also includes the restored 1893 printing press which was once used to produce revolutionary pamphlets.
Tourists in Tbilisi who want to catch a more unusual glimpse of historic Georgia and the monumental events which transpired here in the early 20th century should be sure to pay a visit to Stalin’s illegal printing house!