While you’ve probably never heard of Abkhazia, it has an intriguing trove of visual secrets to discover. A small plot of land between Georgia and Russia along the Black Sea, this disputed region is full of surprisingly beautiful sights, and warm, friendly people. This defacto state has struggled to achieve international recognition for years, and the unresolved conflict colors the landscape when you look closely enough.
The undulating lines of this shelter accent evoke the waves of the Black Sea.
Traveling in this region was an incredible experience for the journey itself, but it was Abkhazia’s unique Soviet bus stops that really captured my attention. Whenever my travels would take me by one, I was compelled to take a photograph in order to better remember its architecture and aesthetics.
In many countries these stops are purpose-built: a place where you wait for transportation, a shelter from the weather. Abkhazia’s stops, however, showcase an unexpected element: unique and extraordinary designs that go far beyond function. These surreal places stand in stark contrast to the utilitarian feel of Soviet-era construction, which eschewed fanciful designs and architecture for the sake of beauty in favor of spartan palettes and blocky silhouettes. Soviet regulations were very strict, but here on the Black Sea in Abkhazia, the architecture seems to stand in defiance of those stark regulations.
Perched on the highway between Garga, Pitsunda and New Athos these eye-catching shelters wait to delight passers-by. Curiously, one man was primarily responsible for this amazing design: architect and painter-sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli. His inspiration came from elements of the nearby Black Sea; several stops are shaped like giant seashells, waves or even fish. When the shelters were first constructed, they experienced mixed reviews: the locals were surprised and even intimidated by the style, which was perceived as “too western.” Today, however, the same sites are celebrated as landmarks and tourism sites.
Built with a mix of mosaics, stone, concrete, and plastic, 60 years of service have taken their toll on the stops, many of which are showing their age. While some local efforts were made to preserve them – at one point even petitioning to have the stops placed on a list of historical monuments – the Abkhazian government has not moved to restore or preserve them. Time marches on in unsympathetic decay, providing a thought-provoking contrast of beautiful art and the relentless touch of time.
This remarkable bus stop brings a flood of memories back for me. While we were photographing, an old Mercedes pulled up and the driver emerged, walking over to us. He struck up a friendly conversation, pleased and honored that were were commemorating the site through pictures. As we spoke, he picked up litter off the ground, a poignant effort rooted in pride for his country and a desire to see it looking its best.
This unique shelter design takes on the shape of a larger-than-life fish
If you are curious, here lies the unknown Abchazië. The pin is the location of the photo above.