Spa town: capturing the faded glory of a once grand Soviet-era sanatorium

The coastal strip on the Black Sea around Sochi has for decades been famous for its sanatoriums. During the Soviet era, millions of workers were sent to stay there annually to revive their spirits and strengthen their bodies. Today, the sanatoriums are still fully booked year round mostly with elderly or disabled Russians. In the run-up to the Winter Olympics, almost all the sanatoriums were converted into luxury hotels. For the book Sanatorium, photographer Rob Hornstra, and writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen spent two weeks in the grand but fading Stalin-era spa, Sanatorium Metallurg. Sanatorium was the first chapter of the Sochi Project, in which Hornstra and Van Bruggen set out to document the region around Olympic Sochi. In total they produced nine publications covering several regions and themes, from a book on wrestling in the North Caucasus to an elaborate study on Abkhazia. Sanatorium covers old, Soviet Sochi, the Sochi which seemed about to disappear thanks to the Games. Determined to describe the processes of an old institution from inside out, the pair checked into Metallurg to discover the resort frantically trying to update its interiors in time for the Games, the sales manager driving to the nearest IKEA in Krasnodar to get new beds and cupboards every month. To immerse themselves in the full restorative experience, Hornstra faked a backache and a sore knee and Van Bruggen pretended to suffer from heart problems. From morning massages to evening discos, nightly vodkas and three sour cream-loaded dinners a day, they emerged a fortnight later a little heavier and a little less fit and healthy. This is their view from the treatment rooms.

27 January 2014

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