A special fascination emanates from this city in the heart of Georgia, located deep in the valley of the river Qvirila. Characterized by the collapse of the mining industry in the former Soviet republics and severe depopulation, Chiatura hides an almost modern secret: public transport and freight traffic is largely handled by small silent cable cars. The valley basin is criss-crossed by steel cables on which small gondolas silently do their work. 

Their condition reflects that of the once proud mining town: rusty cabins, crooked wooden sheds and masonry eroded by wind and weather lend them a morbid charm. The fascination of decay can be physically experienced here. Eleven of these dilapidated cable cars are still in more or less reliable operation, free of charge for brave commuters, of course. Together with Daniel Maurer I visited Chiatura and its cable cars in 2018 and are delighted to take you on a journey through the mining town with this book.

By the river Qvirila

The town of Chiatura is located in the center of Georgia in the Imeretia region, on the banks of the Qvirila, where it was founded in 1879. At the the winding streets, the Georgian author and founder of the town the city's founder Akaki Tsereteli is said to have uttered the phrase "Chiatura!" which loosely translated means "a worm or none". According to legend he gave the young settlement its name.

It has been known for centuries that there are manganese deposits here at the foot of the great Caucasus, the precious metal has always been used in Georgia to dye fabrics for example. Since the end of the 19th century the extensive deposits of the mineral have been mined industrially. As an alloying component, the chemical element improves the forgeability of steel and increases its toughness, but is also used in the chemical industry for the production of high-performance EV-batteries.

Due to the high quality of the mined ore, the city of Chiatura grew to become the largest manganese ore mining center in the world before the First World War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Georgia's economic crisis, mining almost collapsed, urgently necessary investments failed to materialize and the facilities in Chiatura fell into disrepair. 

This is one of the reasons why the population of the "shrinking city" has almost halved since 1990. Nevertheless, the most important means of public transportation in the city remained the cable cars built by the Soviets for the mining companies in the 1950s and 1960s, which are now popularly known as "Stalin's floating metal coffins" due to their dilapidated condition. 

We photographed some of them together in the fall of 2018, which later resulted in an illustrated book that contains over 60 images from in and around Chiatura.