See the abandoned Soviet bunkers hidden beneath Georgia's capital city

A photographer ventured underground to explore the Communist-era ruins.

A massive door separates two wings of a Soviet-era underground bunker in Tbilisi, Georgia. If one area of the shelter was damaged in an attack, the door would protect the other half.

There is an underground city beneath Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union allocated a large budget to prepare for nuclear and other attacks. Under Tbilisi alone there are about 450 bunkers, one of which includes a huge control panel to provide communication with bunkers below other Georgian cities.  

I always wanted to witness and photograph this hidden part of Tbilisi. I knew the location of several of the bunkers, and my friends and I found others through our research. With a trained eye, it is not difficult to locate them. (See how Communist-era bunkers were transformed into museums in Albania.)

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the bunkers were abandoned, although some still require special permission to access. I am not making public their exact locations to prevent vandalism. Entering the bunkers is dangerous: Many are damaged and partially collapsed. Bats and stagnant water present other perils. I never knew what to expect. Preparation and special equipment were required to remain safe.

Since these places are cloaked in darkness, I brought my own light and tried to capture the mysterious mood of these places during my voyage below Tbilisi.

David Tabagari is a Georgian photographer. Follow him on instagram. The text was edited and translated by Natia Khuluzauri, the editor in chief of the National Geographic magazine - Georgia.
This story was originally published in the February 2022 issue of National Geographic magazine's Georgia edition.

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