In its raggedy streets a bit outside the city center, Tbilisi hides significant gems that visitors or sometimes even locals rarely see. This is where this blog comes in, to show you those hidden marvels Georgia’s capital has to offer.
Secret publishing houses are not a new concept, and every big city has some, including Tbilisi. But what makes this one so unique is that it is underground, in a well. Yes, exactly in a well! Wonder how it was possible? I am glad you asked, keep on reading.
The house is in Avlabari district, at Kaspi str. #7. You can take a subway to 300 Aragveli station and walk a couple of meters. The massive black door has a red circle on the center with the iconic Soviet symbol – hammer and sickle. The images of Lenin, a 3D image of Stalin and a huge guestbook adorn the hallway. The staff is very excited to see visitors and happily tour you around. There is no entrance free, but it survives on donations.
The concept of the publishing house was simple. The area looked like a typical, one-floor brick house with a small yard with two housewives. The house had a basement-like ground floor used as the kitchen, while the first floor had two small rooms. The secret room was right under the kitchen.
The room was accessible via 17 meter well and a tunnel inside it. While Social-Democratic Party members were printing propaganda, women sat on the balcony doing everyday chores. And ring a bell if they noticed something suspicious.
After Soso Jughashvili, a.k.a Joseph Stalin escaped exile, he was a frequent guest of the publishing house and wrote many leaflets. The publishing house operated in 1903-1906 and printed 273,715 leaflets, newspapers and brochures in total on three languages – Georgian, Russian and Armenian. From here, the propaganda disseminated across Russia and Europe.
On April 15, 1906, police, gendarmerie, and soldiers raided the printing house. They could not find anything after a detailed search of the house and decided to inspect a well. They threw fire-lit paper to light up the walls. The air pressure took it into the secret room. The gendarmerie destroyed the house, but in 1937 it opened as a museum.
Unfortunately, today, the museum is in severe condition. It needs renovation and proper infrastructure to exhibit the rare publications of the 20th century.