Gagra is a resort town in the unrecognized country of Abkhazia. It sprawls for 5 km on the northeast coast of the Black Sea, at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains.
Its subtropical climate made Gagra a popular health resort in Imperial Russian and Soviet times. Throughout its history, the city and the region as a whole have relied heavily on income from foreign tourists.
Today, it is a destination for many Russian tourists, who are drawn to its sub-tropical climate and beautiful beachside accommodations.
Gagra is the centre of the district of the same name. It is located in the western part of Region of Abkhazia, with the Psou River serving as a border between the neighbouring Russian region of Krasnodar Krai.
The town was originally established as a Greek colony in the Kingdom of Colchis, called Triglite. The town was later absorbed by the Roman Empire, which renamed the town Nitica.
It became a major trading settlement in which Genoan and Venetian merchants were prominent, trading in the town's main exports - wood, honey, wax and slaves.
The name "Gagra" appeared for the first time on a map in 1308, on a map of the Caucasus Region, which is now located in the Library of Saint Mark in Venice.
In the 16th century, Gagra and the rest of Abkhazia including western Georgia, was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The local merchants were expelled and the town entered a prolonged period of decline, with much of the local population fleeing into the mountains.
Gagra During the Russian Empire
By the 18th century, Gagra was already in a long period of decline and reduced to a small village.
Its fortunes were restored in the 19th century when the Russian Empire expanded into the region, annexing all of the territory Georgia - including Abkhazia.
Its population, however, was still small: in 1866, a census recorded that 336 men and 280 women, mostly local families or army officers and their dependents, lived in Gagra. The town was primarily centred around military personnel, as there was a military hospital built there.
The town suffered badly in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878, when Turkish troops invaded, destroyed the town and expelled the local population. After Russia won the war, however, Gagra was rebuilt again.
After the war, the town was discovered by Duke Alexander Petrovich of Oldenburg, a member of the Russian royalty. He saw the potential of the region's subtropical climate and decided to build a high-class resort there.
He built himself a palace there and constructed a number of other buildings in an eclectic variety of styles from around Europe.
A park was laid out with tropical trees and even parrots and monkeys imported to give it an exotic feel. Despite the expensive work, the resort was not initially a success, although it did later attract a growing number of foreign tourists visiting on cruises of the Black Sea.
In 1905, a local uprising produced a revolutionary government in the town, which founded the short-lived Republic of Gagra. This was soon defeated and the revolutionaries arrested en masse.
The First World War a few years later, was a disaster for Gagra and destroyed the tourist trade on which it depended.
Gagra During the Soviet Union
The Russian Revolution shortly afterwards saw the Bolsheviks take over the town and the region; the town was firmly incorporated into the new Soviet Union within the Georgian SSR.
Vladimir Lenin, issued a decree in 1919 establishing a "worker's resort" in Gagra, nationalising the resort that had been built by Oldenburg. It became a popular holiday resort for Soviet citizens and during World War II gained a new role as a site for the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers.
After the war, various state-run sanatoriums were built there. The resort grew and was developed intensively as part of the "Soviet Riviera". The Soviet Riviera would become a highly sought after vacation destination for the Soviet Elite, including Stalin himself.
In the late 1980s, tensions grew between the Georgian and Abkhazian communities in the region.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an all-out war erupted in 1992-1993, which ended in a defeat of Georgian forces.
Gagra and the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi were at the centre of the fighting and suffered heavy damage and Gagra was almost entirely rebuilt since the end of the war.
Today, the city is part of the Republic of Abkhazia - a country unrecognized by the international community.
Visiting Gagra is possible on any Political Holidays tour to Abkhazia. The resort city is a main site on any itinerary to the unrecognized country and can even be visited on a short tour.
In addition, our Abkhazia Ultimate Travel Guide is a good first step in understanding this unrecognized country and how tours operate.
Topchishvili, Roland (2005), History of Georgian Mountain Regions: Svaneti and Its Inhabitants (Ethno-historical Studies) Archived 2012-03-10 at the Wayback Machine. National Parliamentary Library of Georgia.
Watch / Helsinki. March 1995 Vol. 7, No. 7. Georgia/Abkhazia: Violations of the Laws of War and Russia’s Role in the Conflict.