Topic: George Alexandrovich, GD
Scars from the 2008 fire are still visible on the facade of the former residence of the Grand Duke George
Alexandrovich (1871-1899) at Abastumani (formerly Abbas Tuman) in Georgia
Abastumani (Georgia) is a highland village 28 km from the district center in Akhaltsikh and a homonymous train station and 287 km from Tbilisi. It has a population of a little over 1,000 people. During the tsarist period, the highland village was a center for social life in the Russian Empire.
The history of the resort is closely connected to the family of Russia's Imperial family. This is where Grand Duke George Alexandrovich Romanov, the junior brother of the last Russian emperor, spent the last years of his life. In 1894, after the sudden death of Alexander III, Nicholas II ascended the throne. He was not married at that time and had no heirs, so his junior brother became the tsarevich. George's ill-health forced him to be sent to Abastumani (called Abbas-Tuman then) for treatment. The climate there was considered favorable for treatment of lung diseases. A residence was built for the Grand Duke on the river bank. The winter palace was designed by Swiss architect Otto Simanson and built out of wood. Such material was considered good for people suffering from consumption. The summer palace was built of stone. George’s presence in Abastumani made the resort more popular and many nobles were visiting the Georgian village just to be noticed by the young heir grand duke. In Abastumani the Grand Duke was visited by all members of the emperor’s family, including his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and Emperor Nicholas II himself.
The resort had a unique climate similar to a sub-alpine climate. Visitors could stay in the resort all year round. Abastumani is surrounded by coniferous trees. “Windlessness can be seen throughout the year. This highlights the resort as a winter highland climate station where the sick have the best opportunity to spend time in the open air and use the sun's heat and light,” Grigory Moskvich wrote in his “Illustrated Practical Guide to the Caucasus.”
The Abastumani Ridge has some of the best landscapes and nature. The beauty of nature “is supplemented by the remains of the towers, fortresses and castles of Tamara spread throughout the landscape,” the Caucasus guide of the early 20th century says.
Grand Duke George met Duchess Lisa Nijaradze in these beautiful places. According to Vestnik Kavkaza, George wanted to relinquish his claims to the throne in order to marry her. Their relations had a tragic ending: the over-concerned tsar’s family arranged her forced marriage with a different man, and Grand Duke George died in 1899 at the age of 28 after riding a motorcycle, causing intense blood coughing.
The resort started dying towards the end of the 19th century. In the late 19th century, Grigory Moskvich wrote: the social life in Abastumani is going very quietly, modestly and with rural simplicity. Fashionmongers have nothing to do here. Ladies walk the boulevards and meadows where music is played at night, in the mineral park without hats and in modest clothes.”
Losing its urbanity, Abastumani became a purely medical destination. In 1913, the Anti-Tuberculosis Society built a highland sanatorium there. The resort had the Bogatyrsky, Zmeiny and the Protivozolotushny treatment centers, public bathhouses with reading rooms, libraries and marble baths. The Chinese Pavilion was built over the river basin. The pavilion had three hydrotherapy sections with cold and hot showers, a machine for breathing in pulverized water and a section for electric therapy.
In Soviet and post-Soviet times there were sanatoriums, some of which continue operating today. But the rise of one of the most beautiful resorts of the Caucasus ended long ago. The shattered old residence needs restoration, the chapel on the site of the Grand Duke’s death and the St. Alexander Nevsky Church built in the old Georgian style and decorated by Mikhail Nesterov are the few things left of the old glory.
For more information on the Grand Duke George Alexandrovich and his residence at Abbas Tuman, including a video of the 2008 fire, please refer to the following link:
© Vestnik Kavkaza and Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 12 June, 2014