“The idea was to take the sites used for wealthy aristocrats and make them available to workers,” Nickell said.
Sochi became a favorite of Stalin, and more recently of Vladimir Putin. Construction boomed in the 1930s. As befitted a workers’ paradise, the common person’s sanatorium was built to look like a Greek temple, with grand columns, imposing statuary and lavish gardens. The rooms were modest — workers were supposed to spend their time elsewhere, in self-improvement. Eventually sanatoriums were sponsored by trade unions, which would send deserving workers there for up to 24 days of treatment. Husbands and wives, working at different enterprises, ordinarily did not travel together when they went for the cure.
Change for the future
One grand still-standing sanatorium goes by the name Metallurg. Another, belonging to the Ministry of Interior, is called Salute. A sanatorium for coal miners focused on respiratory diseases, offering hearty gulps of oxygen. The Rossiya, built for the party elite, has already been turned into the luxury Grand Hotel and Spa Rodina, where rooms start around $650 and soar to $5,500 a night. It is so opulent that its beach looks full of polished stones instead of the usual rough-hewn Sochi rocks.
Southern Beach was built in 1964 for the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, later revealed as, and renamed, the Ministry for Atomic Energy. Naturally, it specialized in warding off the effects of radiation exposure and treated thyroid problems. Today, its clientele is mostly an older generation, accompanied by journalists covering Olympic preparations.
Local residents are skeptical about the way the government is using the Olympics to give Sochi airs. Who can afford to live in the fancy high rises, asks Olga Noskovets, an environmental activist. The city’s face is being disfigured, she says, and its healthy air and water fouled by power plants and too much construction.
Much of the old Sochi — the Sochi of the free trade union trip, the right to a wholesome getaway, the comradely evenings spent dancing around the fountains — has already disappeared, Nickell said. Now, people are spending time alone on their modern balconies instead of with the masses.
“I doubt it will disappear completely, because I think there will always be some people who subscribe to the view that was so dominant for so long — going to the Black Sea and taking the treatments,” he said.
Russia may have stopped building communism, but even a capitalist needs the occasional shot in the arm.