27 haunting photos show the crumbling ruins of an abandoned Soviet-era spa resort once used by Joseph Stalin

The springs of Tskaltubo are believed to have healing powers and could even promote immortality.

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The springs of Tskaltubo are believed to have healing powers and could even promote immortality.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Exploring dilapidated and abandoned buildings is not for the faint of heart – you never know when one wrong step can send an entire ancient structure tumbling down.

For the last eight years, Roman Robroek, a photographer born and raised in the Netherlands, has taken hauntingly beautiful photos of abandoned buildings, deserted castles, eerie churches, important landmarks, and more all over the world.

“When I started my urban photography journey, I mostly saw empty, abandoned and decayed buildings. It didn’t take long before curiosity struck me,” Robroek told Business Insider. “What was the story behind those buildings? Who used to live there? What purpose did these objects serve and why were they abandoned? This curiosity created a close bond between me and urban photography and I have since visited so many beautiful locations all over the world.”

Read more: This casino once hosted glamorous royal parties – but now it sits completely abandoned

Robroek spoke to Business Insider about what it’s like to visit these ghostly abandoned sites, and shared photos from a recent excursion to a crumbling spa resort in Tskaltubo, Georgia.

Here are 27 haunting photos that show the crumbling ruins of an abandoned Soviet-era spa resort frequently used by Joseph Stalin, where the thermal springs were once called the “waters of immortality.”


The spa resort of Tskaltubo, a city located in western Georgia, is known for its thermal springs as well as its connection to Soviet-era elite and Joseph Stalin.

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The exterior of the ruins of the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: National Geographic


The ruins of this once-grand resort spa are now mostly abandoned, though visitors do frequent the location to snap photos of its crumbling structures. The buildings are also now home to a community of refugees.

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Pillars inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: National Geographic


The city has been a popular destination since as early as the 7th century, mostly due to the area’s famous thermal springs.

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The exterior of the ruins of the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: CNN


People have thought for thousands of years that the springs and water found there, called the “waters of immortality,” had healing properties. It was believed that the springs could treat ailments like rheumatism, circulatory and cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, asthma, and various skin diseases.

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Inside one of the Soviet-era sanatoriums.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: CNN, Curiosity Magazine


Building began on the resort in the early 20th century, before becoming a popular destination for members of the Soviet-era elite from the 1920s onwards.

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Inside one of the Soviet-era sanatoriums.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Atlas Obscura


As part of the Soviet Union’s mandatory “right to rest” program, residents of the Soviet Union received passes to visit the resort and bathe in its famous waters.

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Furniture and items left behind inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Atlas Obscura


The program required citizens of the Soviet Union to take no less than two weeks off per year for a spa vacation.

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Tiles chipping on the walls of the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: National Geographic


However, visitors to the spa were not allowed to bring their families and drinking, dancing, and excessive noise was kept to a minimum.

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An overgrown garden in the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: National Geographic


The hauntingly beautiful resort consisted of 19 luxurious sanatoriums and 9 bathhouses.

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Opulent carvings and details are seen throughout the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Atlas Obscura


The resort’s largest bathing house, No. 6, was built exclusively for Joseph Stalin. It is the only one still in use today.

The springs of Tskaltubo are believed to have healing powers and could even promote immortality.

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A communal bathhouse at the Tskaltubo spa resort.
source
Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Curiosity Magazine


A hotspot for visitors looking to relax and treat various ailments in the resort’s therapeutic baths throughout the 1950s, the once-gorgeous spa fell into disrepair after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990.

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A grand staircase inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Atlas Obscura


“Many of the sanatoriums that were thriving 50 years ago, are now abandoned, in heavy decay and crumbling,” says urban photographer Roman Robroek.

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A grand staircase inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Roman Robroek


Nature has since claimed the resort as vines, weeds, and moss climb the once ornate and luxurious interiors of this forgotten ghost spa.

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Opulent carvings and details are seen throughout the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Tskaltubo itself is still an operating spa resort town. In 2015, a new medical thermal center was built, complete with a newly-renovated hotel, restaurant, winery, and sanatorium, contrasting with the decaying ruins of the old resort.

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The exterior of the ruins of the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: National Geographic


The new resort offers visitors traditional sanatorium services such as radioactive semi-radon baths and therapeutic mineral baths.

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A winding staircase at the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: National Geographic


However, the old ruins of the Soviet-era spa remain, attracting tourists and photographers from across the world to step inside its (mostly) abandoned walls.

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A corridor inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

“The opportunity to take a peek behind closed doors is a truly unique experience, both relaxing and enticing at the same time,” says Roman Robroek of visiting various abandoned locations.

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A darkly-lit room inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

However, Robroek also tells of the “abandoned” spa’s current residents. In 2018, the decaying sanatoriums were reportedly home to some 6,000 IDPs, or Internationally Displaced Persons.

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Pillars inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Eurasianet


Displaced from their homes in Abkhazia due to the war with Georgia at the end of the 20th century, these refugees now live amongst the crumbling ruins of the Soviet-era spa.

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A bathhouse at the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Eurasianet


“While photographing the buildings that had people living in them, it felt like I was invading their privacy. And I believe that I actually was,” he says.

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Grand windows and carvings inside one of the resort’s sanatoriums.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Roman Robroek


Many of the IDPs currently squatting in the relics of old Tskaltubo are awaiting new housing.

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The crumbling ruins of a stone staircase.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Eurasianet


The government promised that the people squatting in the ruins of Tskaltubo would receive housing by 2020, but so far, nothing has come to fruition.

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Inside one of the Soviet-era sanatoriums.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Eurasianet


“We keep being promised new apartments but nothing happens,” Giga Akobidze, a 64-year-old resident of the ruined resort town, told Eurasianet. “The only time the government shows any interest in us is when they want our votes.”

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Inside one of the Soviet-era sanatoriums.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Eurasianet


The refugees living in the ruins of the ancient spa have sold many of the exquisite furnishings and chandeliers left behind in order to survive. A makeshift sewer system has also been created out of plastic pipes in order to make conditions more liveable for the thousands living there.

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One of the rooms inside one of the sanatoriums.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Eurasianet


“They’ve shown me where to enter the building, smiling and waving, shown me which parts are inhabited, which parts are abandoned, and where to be careful,” says Robroek. “I have nothing but respect for the attitude these people have, and I sincerely hope that good will come to them soon.”

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A bathhouse at the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Source: Roman Robroek


As for helping to preserve abandoned buildings and historical sites, Robroek encourages people to consider joining or supporting Europa Nostra, a non-profit organization he regularly works with.

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The crumbling facade of the Tskaltubo spa resort and the surrounding area.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek

Europa Nostra makes a big effort to protect cultural and natural heritage. They have a famous program called the “7 Most Endangered Programme” where they empower projects for endangered monuments and buildings to be restored or saved,” he says.


Perhaps if the refugees of the Tskaltubo spa resort are able to find permanent homes, the deteriorating ruins will once again be completely abandoned.

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A mural on one of the walls inside the Tskaltubo spa resort.
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Courtesy of Roman Robroek