Chiatura is a city in the western part of Georgia, in a deep gorge on the Qvirila river, some 220 km from Tblisi. From the 1870s it became one of Europe’s principal sources of manganese ore, exploitation of which was pioneered by Akaki Tsereteli (1840-1915) the poet and Georgian nationalist. Mining was supported by the imperial Russian government and by the Krupp corporation of Essen, and from 1895 railways were opened to ironworks at Zestaphoni and the Black Sea port of Poti. The town of Chiatura was built up around the mines from 1905, and by 1913 half the world’s supply of manganese came from this part of Georgia. Production was halted during the First World War, but resumed under the Soviet regime, from which the American politician Averell Harriman (1891-1986) gained a concession in 1925 that soon proved unsuccessful. At their peak the mines employed 4000 people, but the number is now reduced to 3000.
A cable car system of local transport was built to serve the city from 1954, having a total length of 6 km and incorporating 17 lifts. It is known as the Kanatnaya Doroga or the rope road. It provides for the everyday transport needs of those who live in a city set in a deep gorge. The system is currently being rebuilt around a central hub with ten lines for passengers and two carrying manganese ore to be loaded into railway wagons. Visitors to Chiatura are able to view the operation of the mines and quarries from the ropeways. The cable car system has not been well-maintained and is sometimes seen as a relic of the unlamented Soviet regime, but it can also be interpreted as an imaginative attempt by engineers to apply technology to solve the problem of providing transport in a city with difficult topography.
There are hotels in Chiatura, but no tourist office. The cable cars run throughout the day providing for the needs of local people. It is possible to reach Chiatura from Tbilisi and other cities in Georgia by buses which also take visitors to one of the country’s outstanding historical monuments, the Katskhi Pillar, a natural monolith with a monastery on its summit.