Photographer Uncovers the Soviet Underworld Below Tbilisi, Georgia

Beneath the streets of Tbilisi lies a network of tunnels, bomb shelters, and Soviet-era chambers that many locals know nothing about. Over the past several months, photographer David Tabagari has been exploring this silent underworld with extraordinary results. Beginning in the spring of 2021, the professional photographer began venturing into the entranceways most pedestrians pass […]

Photographer Uncovers the Soviet Underworld Below Tbilisi, Georgia

Beneath the streets of Tbilisi lies a network of tunnels, bomb shelters, and Soviet-era chambers that many locals know nothing about. Over the past several months, photographer David Tabagari has been exploring this silent underworld with extraordinary results.

Beginning in the spring of 2021, the professional photographer began venturing into the entranceways most pedestrians pass by without noticing. Many of those unremarkable entrances lead to an underworld with a mysterious and sinister past.

Decaying wagon tracks in a tunnel beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

Tabagari says his day job, working for Tbilisi’s City Hall, has been some help in sourcing information about where the various Soviet-era facilities exist under Tbilisi.

Massive blast doors leading to a bomb shelter beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

But Tabagari says most of his explorations come after spotting telltale ventilation grills at street level and getting information from various networks of “diggers.”

A bottle of vodka named after the infamous Georgian ruler of the Soviet Union in an underground bomb shelter. Photo by David Tabagari.

Tbilisi’s diggers are adventurous Georgians who frequent these secret underground spaces and sometimes share their discoveries in social-media groups.

A ladder leading to a tunnel deep beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

Little information exists about the construction of Tbilisi’s underworld. According to local journalist and academic Emil Avdaliani, much of the underground network was built by Lavrenty Beria, the notorious chief of the Soviet secret police.

Lavrenty Beria (right) with Josef Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, as the Soviet leader works in the background. Photo by David Tabagari.

Along with fellow ethnic Georgian Josef Stalin, Beria oversaw the most savage repressions and massacres of the Soviet era.

A tunnel beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

Passageways under Tbilisi that reportedly lead from a former secret police headquarters to the city’s train station have led to speculation some tunnels were used to transport prisoners or bodies during the murderous “purges” carried out under Stalin and Beria.

Doors of an apparent underground prison discovered by Tabagari. Photo by David Tabagari.

In the summer of 2021, Tabagari read a rumor on online forums about a subterranean prison under central Tbilisi. After searching online and on foot, he eventually found the remains of prisoner cells beneath a former secret police station.

The inside of a cell believed to have held prisoners during the Soviet era. Photo by David Tabagari.

The site is so little-known that when he asked young teenagers playing in a courtyard, none of them had heard of the disquieting space that lay just beneath their feet.

A barred window in the underground prison. Photo by David Tabagari.

Tabagari recalls that “there was no light in this place. It was very hard for me to stand there, where people were hurt or killed.”

Graffiti apparently dating to the Stalin era inside one of the cells in the underground prison. Photo by David Tabagari.

“Some people used metal to scrape their names in the cells” the photographer explained. “Who knows, but I was told by some local historians that it’s possible some of the names were of people who were shot. In these cells you can see the true face of the Soviet Union.”

Posters slowly peeling away from the walls of a bomb shelter beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

Other spaces below ground were built in preparation for nuclear war.

A sign in Georgian for the “Civil Defense Preparation Organization” in a bunker deep below Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

“Every big city in Georgia had underground shelters” Tabagari claims. “Even under the big factories and hospitals and government buildings, they had their own bomb shelters.”

An underground room beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

The photographer says being inside the underground bomb shelters created a powerful reminder of the tension of the Cold War, when the world came close to erupting in nuclear conflict. “You can feel how dangerous it was,” he says.

A GP-5 gas mask. The masks were distributed in most nuclear fallout shelters in the Soviet Union. Photo by David Tabagari.

Tabagari spoke to some diggers who entered Tbilisi’s underworld soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. They told him: “Everything inside was perfect. There was water, there was food, there were generators and air pumps. You could have stayed underground for a month.”

A shaft of sunlight cuts through the space of an empty Soviet-era water reservoir on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

One of the bomb shelters Tabagari encountered beneath Tbilisi was made up of around 150 rooms. The photographer says the shelter was “like a mini city beneath a city” that could be sealed up with massive steel blast doors. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.

An apparent communications switchboard, with the names of several Georgian cities, in an underground shelter. Photo by David Tabagari.

Tabaguri says the Fight Club-like rule for Tbilisi’s underworld explorers is that they must not touch anything.

Bats in a chamber beneath Tbilisi. Photo by David Tabagari.

Despite drawing attention to the mysterious Tbilisi underworld, Tabagari says he hopes the exact locations will remain the preserve of only the tight-knit group of local explorers.

A digger steps into the street after a session in Tbilisi’s underground network. Photo by David Tabagari.

“If these places become well-known, they will be destroyed,” Tabagari . “I hope we can keep them our secret.”


You can find more of Tabagari’s work on his Instagram.


About the author: Amos Chapple is a Kiwi who photographs and writes for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He has been published in most major news titles around the world. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published on RFE/RL.

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Canon’s Experimental PowerShot PX Gets International Release

Canon’s experimental PowerShot PICK that was originally launched as a crowdfunding campaign in Japan appears to be getting an international rollout. Renamed the PowerShot PX, the camera is at the very least coming to Europe. The pitch for the PowerShot PX is relatively straightforward: Canon believes that a great many people want to capture everyday […]

Canon’s Experimental PowerShot PX Gets International Release

Canon’s experimental PowerShot PICK that was originally launched as a crowdfunding campaign in Japan appears to be getting an international rollout. Renamed the PowerShot PX, the camera is at the very least coming to Europe.

The pitch for the PowerShot PX is relatively straightforward: Canon believes that a great many people want to capture everyday moments but don’t want to take themselves out of those moments in order to photograph them. To that end, the PowerShot PX slots in nicely.

It’s an artificial intelligence-driven tiny point and shoot that is capable of recognizing a scene, following the action, and automatically capturing photos. Canon believes that the camera has enough smarts to be fully trusted to handle snapshot duties which lets families focus on the tasks at hand without fearing that anything worth remembering will be missed thanks to built-in subject recognition that can be told to prioritize certain faces.

The best photos aren’t always the posed smiles, although they’re always popular. The PowerShot PX captures a huge range of looks and precious reactions that you might not capture.

The camera has an internal battery that charges via USB-C and connects to Wi-Fi networks so that the photos it takes can be automatically delivered to a smartphone app. It can also connect directly to smartphones via Bluetooth. In addition to just trusting the PX to know when to take a photo, it can also be specifically commanded using voice commands, of which it supports four.

Hardware-wise, the PowerShot PX captures 11.7-megapixel photos and Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second. The head of the camera can pan 340-degrees and tilt 110-degrees with a 19-57mm equivalent zoom lens that the AI can use to automatically frame photos on its own.

Below are a few sample images captured with the PX, and while they aren’t what many would consider to be “Earth-shattering” in quality, they are about on par with what can be expected from many smartphones with the added benefit that the camera presumably shot the images without any human intervention.

The PowerShot PX will come to Europe and the United Kingdom in November and will retail for £500 or €500, which is about $585. No information about release in North America was available at the time of publication.

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