If you are interested in Soviet mainstream and historical events of the XX century, then a secret printing-house of Georgian Bolsheviks located at # 7 Kaspi Street in Tbilisi (near to the metro-station “300 Aragveli”) should be your destination of choice. This place, with its huge well and secret underground passage, leads to a furtive territory.
Bolsheviks printed thousands of trilingual (Georgian, Russian, Armenian) proclamations and brochures from 1903 to 1906 within this unusual labyrinth, going on to spread them throughout the Caucasus, Russia and Europe. Tbilisi’s gendarmerie found the tracks of the printing-house by chance and destroyed them immediately yet the place was restored in 1937 on the initiative of Stalin and Beria.
An adjacent territory of this once illegal Avlabari printing-house is still used today and Communist party members gather there from time to time with hopes for a better and brighter future. What’s more, there is a building rich in Soviet symbols, photos and exclusive ornaments in the neighborhood; a two-story gloomy house which gives you a chance to travel straight back in time to the epoch of the Soviet Union.
The museum at # 7 Kaspi Street, with a modest signboard to indicate its function, is at first glance merely a quiet and typical Georgian house with two rooms and a beautiful balcony. But one century ago, this very ordinary building hid that secret printing-house of enthusiastic communists.
The printing-house was built in 1903, before the times of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, but it soon turned into a tool for popularizing Communistic ideas. The printing-house was set up by Datiko Rostomashvili, Niko Bochoridze, and revolutionaries – joiners Chodrishvili brothers and brick-layers Sologhashvili brothers. Mikhail Bochoridze, a super conspirator, was the author of the idea. Before the introduction of a large printing-press, proclamations were printed on a tiny machine.
Visitors of the museum can view this printing-press on the first floor and also take a memorable photo of the wooden bed on which, as rumors claim, young Stalin spent several nights. A series of photographs and Stalin and Lenin’s old illustrations cover almost every corner of the building, serving as a kind of Mecca of Soviet memories.
A cranky spiral staircase lead to the secret printing-house below. As bizarre as it may sound, people used to get down there through the well, taking seat in a big bucket and using it as a kind of elevator in order to reach the arched room underneath through a narrow underground tunnel. A rusty printing machine made in 1893 still stands in the center of this room, brought from Germany by Bolsheviks part by part and then reassembled in the underground chamber. The temperature down there is 13 degrees. The place does not have the look of a well-organized exposition area and its main charm lies in its historical “mangy” appearance.
1904-1905 were the most productive years for the printing-house, and its location was unknown even to Social-Democratic party leaders. In order to disguise this secret activity, a “housewife” lived on the second floor and to make her presence more convincing, she even kept some hens. People of the underground printing-house worked in shifts and, in case of a danger, the “housewife” warned them with a bell hidden in the wall.
In 1906 the printing-house hosted a group, the members of which were preparing themselves for street fights and making handmade bombs. In the same year a search was conducted in the building and one of gendarmes threw a burning piece of paper down the well. It disappeared into nothingness and as a result the officer guessed that it lead to something worth investigating. The printing-house was destroyed and Datiko Rostomashvili was sent to Siberia.
At present, the historical building of the illegal printing-house belongs to the Georgian Parliamentary National Library and it is planned to restore this building in the near future. But if you still decide to visit this extraordinary place, Soso Gagoshvili, an enthusiast and guard of the printing –house who lives in the neighborhood, will happily be your welcoming host there.