2014 Olympic Host City Sochi is a Strange Place

Before its selection to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which start in February, Sochi was unknown to most people outside of Russia.

That anonymity led photographer Rob Hornstra and writer Arnold van Bruggen to embark on a five-year project to investigate the city on the Black Sea. Their work is collected in a photo book, “An Atlas Of War and Tourism in the Caucasus,” released recently by Aperture.

Here are a few of the people and places that Hornstra and van Bruggen uncovered:

Sochi lies in the Caucasus bordered by Chechnya, Georgia, Abkhazia, and other regions that have had sectarian violence in recent years. Gimry (pictured below) was a center of resistance to Russian hegemony in the North Caucasus in the 19th century and now.


A 200-Year Conflict. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

Sochi is famous for its sanatoria, a type of health resort. Stalin famously ruled Russia from Sochi because he loved its sanatorium so much. Below, tourists on a beach relax outside the less-famous sanatorium in Adler, in between Sochi and the Olympic stadium cluster.


The Beach. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

A short distance away from Sochi is Abkhazia, an area that has been the center of a bloody, ongoing land dispute since the collapse of the USSR more than 20 years ago. Here, a cultural center displays a tribute to casualties of the conflict.


War Is Everywhere. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

Since the beginning of the conflict in the ’90s, Abkhazia has had a “tourist economy without any tourists,” writes van Bruggen. Abkhazians expect the Sochi Olympics to put them on the map. The dilapidated seaside resort of Pitsunda is slowly recovering in time for the Games, but no one seems to be in a rush. This photo of the resort’s ballroom was taken earlier this year.


The Ballroom. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

While visiting the region, Hornstra and van Bruggen ate and drank with many families. When war broke out between Abkhazia and Georgia 20 years ago, 200,000 Abkhazian-Georgians fled to Georgia as refugees. Now that Russia recognizes Abkhazia as a state (and patrols its borders), it is unlikely they will ever return home.


The Countryside. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

During their many visits, Hornstra and van Bruggen often stayed at the popular and enormous Zhemchuzhina Hotel. The hotel has eight restaurants, 14 bars, two nightclubs, a pool, theater, and a strip club. Olga, 29 (shown below), is the manager of the strip club.


Olga. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

Aliona is a dancer at one of the restaurants at the Zhemchuzhina Hotel. The many hotels in the area consider the Games to be their saving grace, funding overdue renovations so that they can be up to international standards.


Aliona. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

Hamzad Ivloev was a guard in a village in the surrounding region when a vicious terrorist attack took his hand and eye last year. Local authorities tried to hush journalists from reporting on the attack.


Hamzad Saved Cowards. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

War has been a constant throughout the Caucasus region. Roman Eloev lives in a converted barn and has experienced three wars in his lifetime.


A Dying Breed. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

These two brothers live in a dangerous, mountainous area in the Caucasus. Tolstoy, Pushkin, and other great Russian writers romanticized the Caucasus as a hard place where “real men” could be found.


Zashrikwa, Edrese, and Their Guns. (© Rob Hornstra / Courtesy Flatland Gallery)

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