იოსებ სტალინის საიდუმლო სტამბა

Josef Stalin's Underground Printing House Museum


Useful Information

Location: 7 Kaspi St, Tbilisi.
(41.690532, 44.830110)
Open: All year daily 11-18.
[2021]
Fee: Adults GEL 10.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaUnderground Museums
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:  
Guided tours: D=45 min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Josef Stalin's Underground Printing House Museum, 7-9 ავლიპი ზურაბაშვილის ქუჩა, Tbilisi, Tel: +995-579-40-87-36.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1903 printing press installed in the underground room.
1904 a young communist named Iosif Djugashvili prints magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers calling for the removal of the Tsar.
15-APR-1906 underground room discovered and press destroyed.
1937 press restored and museum opened.
1991 after the collapse of the USSR the museum was abandoned.
2001 registered as the Illegal Printing House Museum of Josef Stalin.
2011 handed over to the National Library.
2019 declared a national cultural heritage monument.

Description

The იოსებ სტალინის საიდუმლო სტამბა (Josef Stalin's Underground Printing House Museum) is a small underground museum. It all started in 1904 when a young communist used an abandoned cellar below the city Tbilisi. His name was Iosif Djugashvili and he printed magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers calling for the removal of the Tsar. It was an oldtimer press from 1893, which had been replaced by a new press by its former owner, but for the needs of the bolsheviks it was sufficient. It produced a constant flow of 275,000 pamphlets and newspapers in Georgian, Russian, and Armenian for more than three years.

This was a dangerous task, which was called treachery, and so it was important to have the printing machine at a place which was hidden and where its loud noise was not overheard by neighbours. The printing press was "organized" and it was smuggled into the city in pieces, by a network of Bolshevik supporters. It was guarded by lookouts, mostly women sitting on the porches of the surrounding houses. When the police was passing the house they rang a bell, which was loud enough to be heard even through the sound of the press. They stopped the press immediately to make sure it could not be heard outside. Access to the printing room was through a 17 m deep well in a shed beneath the house. At 15 m depth a tunnel led to an underground shaft with a ladder and another tunnel to the printing room. While the printing room was actually the cellar of the house, there was no connection from the house, it was closed by massive walls. Finally, when the place was raided by the police in 1906, they searched the house thoroughly but could find no trace of the illegal printing house. They discovered the cellar when they dropped a burning piece of paper into the well. It was intended to light the wall and bottom of the well, but when it reached the tunnel it was sucked into the secret room. The press and all the pamphlets were destroyed when the underground room was discovered. Also, the house above was destroyed completely.

But big parts of this story is actually propaganda. Iosif Djugashvili was part of the printing team in 1904 and spent some time underground writing texts for the pamphlets. The press was running for a year at that time, so if you got the misconception that he did all the heroic things himself, you are wrong. Actually he was robbing banks and running protection rackets to raise money for the Bolsheviks. In other words he was a real criminal, and in 1903 when the printing house was established he was in jail. 30 years later he was known under the name Josef Stalin and was the head of the Soviet Union or USSR. During his government, the press was restored and a new building erected above and used as a museum. Also, a staircase to the remaining part of the cellar, which was partly collapsed, was constructed. This staircase is used until today to reach the underground room. At this time many places, which were related to Stalins life, were transformed into museums or sites of worship for his brand of authoritarianism, and this was only one of them. And the Georgians were very proud that one of them was successful in the world, so they exaggerated a little.

Stalin led the Soviet Union, one of the victorious Allies of the Second World War, but he did not become famous as an altruist himself. Actually it is disputable if his cleanings killed more people than the Nazis or not. With about 20 million victims, with perhaps one in eight Soviet citizens arrested and finally killed or deported to Siberia, he is one of the greatest mass murderer of all time. But that is long ago, and today some people remember the Soviet era with a certain romantic glamour. The golden times of the Soviet Union and its maker are the actual topic of the museum. In any case, a visit is a journey back to the era of really existing socialism and at the same time to its early beginnings.

The იოსებ სტალინის საიდუმლო სტამბა (Josef Stalin's Underground Printing House Museum) was a place to glorify the socialist government. As a result it was named after Josef Stalin and had a movie theatre that screened Soviet films. It was actually a place of "political education" or some would say indoctrination. For almost six decades the press museum was one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, a key spot for groups of Soviet tourists. Once at its peak in the 1970s, about 800 visitors a day came through and there was normally a three-hour wait. As a result it was abandoned immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The museum was owned and operated after 1991 by the Communist Party of Georgia, who actually had their headquarters in the building above. They were not the government anymore, but they still existed, and they owned the museum which was not officially recognized as a museum and did not receive any funds from the state. As a result the printing press is today caked in rust, but it's only the 1930s replica, the 1903 original was destroyed in the 1906 raid, if you remember. The museum itself is also largely in disrepair, unheated, and the documents moulding. The volunteer guides are from the Communist Party, and they will tell you a lot of facts and a lot of stories how great the Soviet Union was. At least if you understand Georgian or Russian. Often Zhiuli Sikmashvili, deputy chairman of the Communist Party of Georgia and director of the museum, does the tours himself. He is what you could call the last true Stalinist.

However your political opinion, the museum is quite impressive and a good introduction into the real Soviet Union. And we are not talking about rusted printing presses or moulding pamphlets, we are talking about the Cold War shrine for Josef Stalin it represents. This was finally recognized by the current government of Georgia, and in 2011 it was handed over to the National Library. In 2019, it was declared a national cultural heritage monument. As far as we know it is now in better conditions and has an entrance fee, but it still has no website and is not listed as an official museum. The museum has become quite popular among Chinese tourists for some reason.