The main transportation system in this city in Georgia is not buses or trams, but a network of dystopian, some might say steampunk, cable cars which make Chiatura one of the most fascinating places in a country which is already one of the most fascinating destinations in Europe.
Chiatura appeared in the late 19th Century, when some of the biggest world deposits of manganese oxide, peroxide and carbonate were discovered (by a poet, of all people) in the area. The terrain was more hostile for human habitation than usual – the central part of Chiatura spreads along the banks of a river, squeezed between the high walls of a canyon, and the mines were up on top of the cliffs. By 1913, Chiatura was producing about 60 percent of the world's manganese, and the Krupp corporation was one of the biggest investors there. After the Great War production slowed down, as the global price of manganese fell, but Chiatura continued to grow and spread over every habitable surface. Small houses with gardens were built on the slopes, and menacing Socialist-era blocks of apartments rose on top of the cliffs.
Moving around this topographic nightmare of a city was difficult and time-consuming, especially for miners returning from their shifts. In the 1950s, Stalin gave his blessing for the building of a network of cable cars connecting the centre, the neighbourhoods and the mines of Chiatura. It has been operational ever since. Some lines have been shut down due to the usual post-Communist "economic difficulties," and now only 17 are operational.
In the 60 years that have passed since their construction, not a single cable car has been replaced and, amazingly, none has ever broken down. Text by Dimana Trankova