On the manganese trail

No image can do Chiatura justice. As if taken from well-crafted fiction, the dystopian post-apocalyptic atmosphere is nothing short of ghostly. The monotonous humming of engines, the casual flight of dilapidated cable cars across the gorge, the whistling sound of mechanical movement and seemingly random explosions that echo throughout the valley, bear witness of the city’s resilience to time. Chiatura is still alive!

Wedged into a deep gorge in the Imeretian mountains of Georgia, Chiatura is a monument of its past glory. While the mines date back to the 1870s, the factories tell of the city’s darker recent history. During the Russian revolution, Joseph Stalin sought refuge in the city where he armed the miners and set up a racket protection ring.

Chiatura once produced almost half of the world’s manganese output. By 1920, foreign investment declined due to nationalisation. Vulnerable to global prices, investment has not been able to revive the city.

About 20 000 people live in Chiatura. 1/5 of the population is working in the mining industry which is owned by the Georgian Manganese Holding. The company not only owns the extraction but also the production in the neighbouring city of Zestaphoni.

It is easy to be intrigued by Chiatura. However, infatuation quickly fades as one realises the reality and the conditions of the miners. I tried to enter the mines as well as the factories in Zestaphoni but was not allowed. Only days after my last visit to the city in 2018, yet another mine collapsed taking the lives of several workers.

The photos are a selection from a longer essay called “Chiatura - Mining in the heart of Georgia”, soon to be available on my website.

Photo Essay by: Fallckolm Cuenca


The photos were taken while working as a Human Security Monitor for the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia between 2017-2018.

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