Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Saturday 7 December 2019

Photo Essay

Communist calm

The Soviet Union has transformed – but its magnificent sanatoriums remain stuck in time

By Michal Solarski

In the former Soviet Union, tourism was a social movement. Holidays and spa trips were characterised by a sense of purpose and belonging – aimed at allowing workers to recover their health and energy, to return to their labour stronger than before.

Magnificent sanatoriums were designed for ambitious treatments. Their construction began in the 1920s and continued right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At these sprawling complexes, workers rejuvenated while partaking in pseudo-futuristic health regimes.

A lot has changed since the Iron Curtain was lifted. Holidays have now become more associated with consumerism and hedonism, than recreation and recuperation. But long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of these amazing buildings are still functioning. Michal Solarski

The lounge of Foros sanatorium in Crimea.

A Kyrgyz wrestler about to take a swim in the pool of the Aurora sanatorium. The ship-shaped, brutalist sanatorium was once used exclusively for the Communist Party elite. It is located in Kyrgyzstan, at the shore of Issyk-Kul, the second biggest alpine lake in the world. 

A monkey sitting in the auditorium before a circus performance at Foros sanatorium.

Boton and Dolly in the run-down open air theatre of Club Aliga in Balatonaliga, Hungary. Concrete villas here were owned by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, East German leader Erich Honecker, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Armenia’s Lake Sevan, one of the largest lakes in the Caucasus region.

A waitress in the restaurant of Foros sanatorium.

Russian tourists at the pebble beach in front of Druzhba sanatorium in Crimea.

Evpatoria is a major Black Sea resort town in Crimea, where the conditions are thought to be good for those suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases.

Austrian twin sisters in Siófok, Hungary, famous for its beaches and nightlife. The town was always very popular with Germans and Austrians who, before the collapse of the Iron Curtain, used to come here to meet relatives and friends from the East. 

Jeti-Oguz sanatorium in Kyrgyzstan. Built in 1932, it is named after a nearby gorge, a wall of seven red cliffs that are said to resemble seven bulls. It offers radon and hydrogen sulphide treatments.

Plastic flamingos on Primorskoye beach in Odessa, Ukraine. 

Tunda in Siófok on the southern banks of Lake Balaton, Hungary.

Masha, a cleaner, at Mishor Sanatorium in Crimea.

A Ukrainian girl, called Zlata, wearing a dress created for a beauty contest in Odessa. These floral headdresses are traditionally worn by young, unmarried women as a sign of their “purity” and marital eligibility. Since the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the headdresses have been worn in daily life to symbolise national pride. 

A beach restaurant at Lake Sevan in Armenia.

Victor, a Jehovah’s Witness, preaching at the waterfront of Primorskoye beach in Odessa, Ukraine.

Security guards meet outside the main building of Foros sanatorium in Crimea. 

Two Kyrgyz women get a sterilisation lamp treatment at Aurora Sanatorium. This procedure is used to treat bronchitis and tuberculosis.

A decaying bath house in Tskaltubo, Georgia.

Dima, a doctor, waiting for a patient in Foros sanatorium. Every stay at the sanatorium starts with a doctor’s examination to determine what treatment is needed.

A woman at Aurora sanatorium takes a mineral water bath, said to help a variety of conditions, including rheumatological and musculoskeletal diseases.

Electrotherapy is used to treat sinusitis and other nasal inflammations.

A Kyrgyz boy’s blood is taken for testing at the Aurora sanatorium.

A patient rests after a session in the steam room at Khoja Obi Garm sanatorium in Tajikistan. The steam used contains radioactive radon.

Bruises left after extensive cupping treatment at the Aurora sanatorium, Kyrgyzstan.

An electric comb used to stimulate hair growth at Aurora sanatorium.

Women watching the sunset at Mishor in Crimea.

A patient in his nineties prepares to lie down after a session in the steam room of Khoja Obi Gharm Sanatorium in Tajikistan.

Borya at Primorskoye beach in Odessa, Ukraine.

The TV room at Jetti-Oguz sanatorium in Kyrgyzstan.

The corridor of a former sanatorium in Tskaltubo, Georgia, which used to be one of the most desirable towns in the so-called “Russian riviera”. The sanatorium is now occupied by Georgian refugees from the war in Abkhazia.

An old Russian Lada car in the lobby of a former sanatorium in Tskaltubo. The car is loaded with logs used for heating in winter. 

Women drink herbal tea after a visit to the sauna in Khoja Obi Garm sanatorium, Kyrgyzstan.

A man waiting for a meal on the hill overlooking the beautiful valley where Khoja Obi Garm sanatorium was built, nestled high in the Gissar mountains.

A performance at Foros sanatorium in Crimea.

Michal Solarski is a Polish documentary photographer based in London. After graduating in Poland with a masters in politics, he moved to London and studied at the London College of Communication, where he earned an additional masters in documentary photography. Solarski divides his professional career between advertising and personal projects, travelling extensively between the UK and eastern Europe, where he produces the majority of his work. Most of his photography is strongly based on his own background and experiences, with an emphasis on leisure and memories.

Solarski is a winner and finalist of many internationally recognised awards and grants including the Lensculture Visual Storytelling Awards, Leica Oscar Barnack Award, PDN Photo Annual, and Photolucida Critical Mass.

All Photographs by Michal Solarski/Institute