When you go through the official website of Tbilisi’s Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel, the information and services pertain to what you would expect from a high-end accommodation establishment. However, this Tbilisi-based hotel can boast of a far more colorful and conscientious history than many of its opulent peers speckled around the world. How so? Well, the 5 star hotel has the rare distinction of also serving as a refugee camp during the atrocious ‘War in Abkhazia’ from 1992 to 1993.
The luxury hotel was constructed in 1967 as a commercial effort from a Soviet-funded endeavor, when Georgia was one of the socialist republics within the communist realm of USSR. Back then, it was christened as the Hotel Iveria after the ancient Caucasus-based kingdom of Iveria (or Iberia). However, in the post-period of the momentous disintegration of the Soviet Republic, Georgia was also involved in a civil war of its own, which was chiefly waged between the pro-Georgian forces and the Abkhaz separatists.
The one year conflict took its toll on the Georgians, with enormous economic, demographic and psychological setbacks due to the strategic victory of the Abkhazians (who were also supported by the Russians and Armenians). More than 250,000 refugees flooded into Georgia proper – thus the government was faced with the perplexing task of providing basic accommodation to their ethnic compatriots from across the border. A desperate decision was made, and as a result many important buildings in the capital (including Hotel Iveria) were transformed into public habitations centers.
The luxury establishment (which albeit showed conspicuous signs of dilapidation) maintained its refugee camp status for around 11 years, by giving crucial shelter to more than 800 people. Finally in 2004, many of the decade-old inhabitants were evacuated by paying them a lump-sum amount of $7,000 for each room vacated.
This is how Paul Bradbury, author and journalist, vividly described the ramshackle conditions of the Hotel Iveria in his diaries –
What appears as rust from a distance are actually crude plywood constructions on the balconies as these refugees, who have lived five or six to a room since 1993, have built kitchens. Washing hangs everywhere. Inside is like visiting my idea of a ravaged community after a nuclear attack. The carpets are long gone (now bare concrete), the walls boast bare plaster, the health centre on the ground floor I couldn’t visit as the stench of urine on the marble stairs forced me back upstairs. There was grass growing on the sixteenth floor.
On each floor there are small stalls selling vegetables, chocolate and, of course, alcohol. There is no work and the government pays seven dollars a month in benefits. Incredibly, on the third floor, there is a fully functioning hotel with Internet and fax services; on the ground floor there is a casino and also a restaurant that was hosting a wedding party as we passed.
The latest commercial project relating to the hotel was undertaken by the Radisson Hotels group in 2009, with the entire establishment being renovated and refurbished to its core. The new name ‘Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel’ was also given to the modernized accommodation place; and currently the 5-star quarters flaunt their newer restaurants, spas, the old casino, a shopping center, business zones and even a dedicated art academy.
Take a gander at the photographs below to comprehend the scope of transformation of the hotel in the recent years.
Photo Credits: Flickr