Honestly, I might not have heard of Chiatura if we weren’t already planning on visiting the nearby Katskhi Pillar, a huge rock pillar with an ancient monastery built on top. The small city is far from a tourist destination but when we found out that it has this very old cable car that takes people up and down a mountain that has stunning views of the city we were determined to visit and get a look for ourselves. We went on a Day trip to Chiatura and Katshki Pillar from Kutais
And upon doing a little bit of research, I read that the city itself hasn’t changed since Georgia was still part of the Soviet Union. Chiatura was apparently like being in a time capsule of the Soviet Era Georgia so I quickly jumped on the opportunity to visit and see for ourselves.
Other than Gori and the unique city of Tskaltubo, visiting Chiatura is one of the rare opportunities to see this side of Georgia. Plus, since no one is allowed to climb up the Katskhi Pillar other than monks, taking the cable cars up the mountain would be a great substitute to get a beautiful viewpoint of the surrounding valley.
But first, we’re heading to Katskhi Pillar.
How to get to Chiatura and Katskhi Pillar
The best way to reach Chiatura and Katskhi Pillar is from the city of Kutaisi. But if you’re in Tbilisi, you can catch a marshrutka at the Dedube bus station heading to Chiatura for 6-7 GEL.
The trip would take over 4 hours. After you’ve spent some time in Chiatura, you can bargain for a taxi ride heading to Katskhi Pillar that will take 20 minutes. The price depends on your bargaining skills though.
From Kutaisi, you could either take a marshrutka to Zestofani and ask the driver to drop you off at the car park heading to the Katskhi Pillar for 6 GEL. This takes about 1.5 hours long. Then after you’ve spent time at the pillar, you can hail a Chiatura bound marshrutka. It’ll only take 30 minutes to arrive at the small city and costs 5 GEL per person.
In our case, we were lucky enough to get a bargain at the Kutaisi bus station from a taxi driver. We got to rent him as a driver for the day to take us to Katskih Pillar then Chiatura then back to Kutasai for 80 GEL. We did some math and found that we would’ve spent 25-30 GEL each taking the marshrutka to our destinations so the additional 10 GEL is no problem if it allows us the extra comfort of our own private car.
The ride to Katskhi Pillar or Katskhi Column took us over an hour. After which we have to hike for 10 minutes to reach the base of the pillar. It was an exciting journey to get to see such a unique sight in person.
The Katskhi Pillar or Column is a huge limestone monolith that towers over the surrounding. It’s over 40 meters tall and on top is one of Georgia’s most sacred monasteries and probably its most isolated.
Katskhi Pillar is dubbed as the Pillar of Life and has been a sacred site to the local people since the pagan times. Then Christians came in during the 4th century and also used the pillar as a sacred place where they can become closer to heaven. No exactly knows when the monastery on top was built and how it got there.
This is what shocks me the most because how could the people back in those times climb up that 40-meter high rock and build those churches on top. They even have a crypt and a wine cellar up there!
The monastery Katskhi Pillar was abandoned when the Ottoman Empire came to Georgia in the 15th century and only in 1945 was the pillar again climbed for the first time by researchers. The monastery was now in ruins at this point.
During the 1990s, an Orthodox monk named Father Maxim Qavtaradze built a little church and a cottage on top of the pillar with the help of the local villagers and donors. He also built a 40-meter tall iron ladder that allows him to climb up and down the monolith. It takes about 20 minutes to climb it and it’s now dubbed as the Stairway to Heaven.
Unfortunately, only fellow monks are allowed to climb up the pillar to give him foods and necessities twice a week as well as troubled young boys seeking guidance and comfort at the small church on top of the pillar.
We were only allowed to view the pillar at its base where there was a small yard area where there’s a small section we can buy handmade religious souvenirs and even honey. There were also cottages where monks live. They were quick to smile back at us when we notice they were giving us curious stares but otherwise didn’t approach us and went on with their business. We were allowed to get closer to the iron ladder though and some tourists were even brave enough to climb up a few steps.
There was a little church at the base of the pillar too and the energy there was so peaceful and sacred. It’s like we’re really at the foot of the stairway to heaven.
Best View Points to See Katskhi Pillar
We could spot Katskhi Pillar while we were still on the road. It’s 40 meters high after all and its surrounded by valleys. For the more adventurous travelers out there, there are certain viewpoints up the nearby mountains where you can catch a great view of the pillar. But you might need professional climbing equipment and a clear day to get the best views.
Tips on Visiting Katskhit Pillar
- Wear proper shoes because the 20-minute walk to the base of the Katskhi Pillar is basically through an unpaved dirt road.
- Once you’re at the base of the pillar, be very respectful in the area and don’t disturb the monks unless they approach you. This is a sacred place for them after all.
A Quick Overview of the City of Chiatura: A Day trip to Chiatura from Kutaisi
Chiatura is located in a mountainous area within the region of Imereti, Georgia just 73 km away from the city of Kutaisi. It’s probably one of the youngest cities in Georgia, only being established in the 19th century because of the discovery of manganese and iron ore deposits on top of the mountains. A settlement quickly developed in the valley and eventually grew into a prosperous city due to its booming mining industry.
In 1954, the Stalinist Government installed the first Soviet cable roads all over the city. Several cable roads connect towns in the valley to the top of the cliffs where the mines are located. This makes it easier for miners to go back and forth to the mine site for their work instead of trekking up the treacherous mountain road.
However, the deposits started to dry up sometime after the Cold War which forced many citizens of the city to look for work elsewhere. Without the booming mining industry that it once had, Chiatura declined from a prosperous Soviet city to a shadow of its former self.
Nowadays, many of Chiatura’s cable stations are not in operation mostly because of disuse and lack of maintenance except for two. As for the rest of the city, many of the buildings seemed abandoned or are in a state of disrepair. There is an estimated population of fewer than 20,000 still living in the city plus the travelers that come to visit for its cable cars and to see the Soviet buildings that remain unchanged since they were built decades ago.
Things to See in Chiatura
At first glance, the city doesn’t seem to hold anything special when we arrived apart from the cable cars. We passed by several Soviet apartment buildings that are seemingly abandoned on the outskirts of the city. The main goal for us is to ride on the 70-year-old cable cars and enjoy the beautiful view of the valley at the top of the mountain which made me both excited and nervous.
But Chiatura surprised me. We had trouble finding the cable car stations that are in operations (we were told there were two) and we got to stroll around in the city. Some locals gave us weird stares which I accounted for them not used to seeing strange foreigners, but a quick hello in Georgian and their face transformed to have the friendly welcoming smiles that many Georgian are famous for. Several of them even invited us for a drink despite not understanding English which we politely declined.
We went through the odd yet charming streets of the city with a lot of half boarded-up apartments and many friendly locals. But we were determined to find the cable stations.
Chiatura Cable Cars
Much to our extreme disappointment, when we arrived at one of the cable stations, we found out that the cable cars are no longer working. Since the summer, all of the cable cars were temporarily closed while a new station is being built. We were in Station No. 1 and we can even see the two cable cars on top of the cliff, one was rusty while the other is a bright blue.
But we were hellbent on seeing the views from the top of that cliff so convinced our taxi driver to drive us to the top via the mountain road. The road to the top of the mountain was not easy. It was very bumpy and really bad that at some point, we were forced to walk the rest of the way up the mountain.
The views were worth it, though. They were amazing! We could see the entire city from up there and we even got close to the parked cable cars ( This view reminds me of the cable cars in Borjomi). We had to pay an extra 20 GEL for our taxi driver to take us up there. The road was seriously bad but the beautiful view of the city in the valley was worth it for me.
After admiring the view and exploring the mountaintop for at least half an hour, we walked back down the road to our taxi to drive us back to the city.
Going back down to the city, we spent a few hours strolling through its streets taking in the buildings. I could see why it’s often described as a time capsule of Georgia’s Soviet era. Soviet architecture is everywhere.
Everywhere I look there are apartment blocks designed with the classic soviet architecture. Some of them were in disrepair and in desperate need of maintenance but some are coated with fresh paint. It’s easy to imagine what the city looks like back in the Soviet era, especially when I walked down a street with little people around.
Soviet War Memorial
As we explore Chiatura taking in the architecture, we came upon this dark and intimidating statue that’s a Soviet war memorial. It was quite creepy, honestly. I tried to find out more about it to satiate my curiosity but I can’t find any information about it online.
I guess for people who like creepy and dark attractions, this statue will be a great find.
Both the Katskhi Pillar and Chiatura sure did leave a great impression on me. Katskhi was a great opportunity to see how the monks in Georgia live and to be in such close proximity to a sacred place. I was initially disappointed with the cable cars not working but with a little hard work, we made it up the mountain and saw the beauty that Chiatura has to offer.