Stalin in Georgia

The republic of Georgia, located on the Caucasian isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, was founded in the turmoil following the collapse of the Czarist Empire during WWI. Located on the border with Turkey, at that time this region tried to untie from neighbor Russia, and proclaimed a libertarian socialist state.

Following the seizure of power by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, producing a devastating civil war which would go on raging all over the former Russian-controlled territory well into the 1920s, Georgia lost its independence, being sucked into the Soviet Union, similar to many other nations sharing a border with Russia – like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Latvia, etc.

A country with a remarkable wealth of history, inhabited since when traces of mankind started to appear on earth, with a deeply rooted Christian culture since centuries, a strong independence movement started to show in Georgia already in the 1980s, when the Soviet system was still destined to last for long in the eyes of many western observers. This independence feeling would culminate in the republic of Georgia leaving the USSR months before its actual end, already in early 1991. Since then, the country is openly hostile to Russia, and the formation in the early 2000s of two de facto Russian-backed independent states – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – over the sovereign territory of Georgia witnesses a mutual state of tension between Tbilisi and Moscow, still lasting today.

Despite this, and almost paradoxically, the Georgian individual possibly best known to the general public and to the world is an eminent communist character, a one-of-a-kind contributor to the history of the USSR and of the world – and someone would say, the most authentic incarnation of a communist leader – Stalin.

While Georgia, most comprehensibly, is striving to delete every tangible trace of the Soviet era – from statues to symbols and pieces of architecture – a few notable exceptions include some of Stalin-related relics in the country. In Gori, Stalin’s hometown, the house where Stalin was born is preserved under a bombastic Soviet-era canopy. Nearby, a unique museum dedicated to the Soviet leader, opened back in the late 1950s with a display of incredible memorabilia, is reportedly the most successful attraction in town, with crowds of visitors still today.

In an old district in Tbilisi you can find another unique point of interest – the so-called Stalin Printing House Museum. It was in this unapparent house that young Stalin operated as a pro-communist clandestine agitator in the early 20th century, well before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

This post covers these Stalin-related remains in the man’s home country, with photographs taken in summer 2019.

Sights

Joseph Stalin Museum – Gori

Stalin’s hometown, where he was born in 1878, is dominated by a scenic ancient fortress, sitting on top of an isolated mound. At the time of Stalin’s birth, that was also the geographic center of the town. When Stalin became… Stalin, his birthplace was turned into a place of pilgrimage, and a new purely-Soviet master plan was implemented in the city, creating a new gravitational center around the modest house of his parents.

The long axis which drives you from the major access road and the railway station south of the city to the house follows an almost north-south direction. A typically Soviet alley – straight, too wide and with mostly sad-looking buildings to the sides – links a bridge over the local river to to the house, going through a square with the town hall, built in a Soviet classicist style. A tall statue of Stalin used to stand on the side of the square, and it was torn down only in the 2000s.

Closer to the house, the alley bifurcates into a ‘Y’. Between the arms of the ‘Y’ you can find a garden with fountains and flowers.

To the far end of the garden, the small half-timbered house where Stalin’s parents used to live is preserved under a Soviet-style canopy.

Stalin’s parents were not well-to-do, and they actually rent the house, where they occupied only one room. Back in the 19th century, it was just one in a row of similar buildings. Following the radical reshaping of the area for celebrating the Soviet leader, the whole neighborhood was completely demolished, and only this block was left.

On the side and front facade of the house are marble signs in Russian and Georgian. The ceiling of the canopy features a stained glass light, with hammer and sickle signs by the corners.

To the back of the birthplace you can find a smaller statue of Stalin. Considering his generally acknowledged status as a bloody communist dictator, similar open air statues have been removed almost everywhere in the world – this is one of the few remaining exceptions (another being in Belarus, but most likely apocryphal – look for Stalin’s line museum here).

The most conspicuous building in this celebratory installation is the actual Joseph Stalin Museum, which occupies a pretty large palace in Stalinist style. The master plan dates back to the final years of Stalin, and its realization was carried out during the 1950s.

The building is interesting from an architectural viewpoint, and features a colonnaded porch giving access to a main entrance hall.

The latter is rather formal, with another colonnade and a perspective leading through a staircase to a mezzanine. In the focus of the perspective you can see another statue of Stalin. Every particular in the architecture here is extremely Soviet – grim, menacing, heavy.

The ticket and toilets can be accessed to the sides of the hall on the ground floor, which acts also as a meeting point for groups – but guided visits are not compulsory, you can tour the museum on your own.

Upon reaching the first floor, you meet two busts of Stalin, and a couple of interesting paintings, portraying the young Josip Vissarionovich Dzugansvili – Stalin’s its real name – as a student talking to his class mates at the seminary of Tbilisi, and later as grown-up, well-established Stalin talking to his collaborators.

The museum is composed of a few big halls. The first rooms retrace Stalin’s personal story, and are based on a mix of documents, original or reproduced, newspapers, paintings and photographs. The latter are often reproductions, often magnified – since when he was not yet famous he mostly appeared in group photographs.

Here you learn about his humble origins, and you can see the photographs of his parents, his early school reports and the first known photographs of Josip as a young boy.

A rather brilliant pupil, he was granted access to the Orthodox seminary in Tbilisi – which back then was called Tiflis – where he moved to attend lectures and to grow to become a priest. Some works of poetry from the time, published on local newspapers in Georgian, are part of the exhibition.

Something went wrong at that time, as he got excessively fascinated with the leftmost socialist theories, spread by several authors including Lenin. A rare naive portrait of his meeting with the principal of the seminary, when he was expelled for his unacceptable and dangerous views, is part of the collection.

This was the beginning of a militancy period, when he became known to the department of internal affairs of the Czar due to open subversive propaganda activities. He worked irregularly, publishing clandestine works in Tbilisi (see about his printing house below), holding open-air meetings in port town Batumi, and so on.

Finally, he was arrested and deported by the Czar to inland Russia. As his fame grew, he was tasked with some role in the apparatus of the clandestine political formations headed by Lenin – the factions against the Czar and even in the socialist area were many, and the intricate civil war that followed the 1917 revolution was also the result of the struggle for power of these opposing forces.

Between internment periods, he started traveling to the capital – St. Petersburg. He also met Lenin in Tampere, Finland, a country politically bound to the Russian empire until 1917. Photographs and documents from the time, a suitcase and models of the houses where Stalin resided can be found in this part. Busts including one of Stalin as a young agitator, pretty rare and likely taken from the few portraits from the time, are also parts of the collection.

Again following a historical timeline, you can find more documents and portraits of a grown-up yet young man of the apparatus. It is well known that Lenin, after the 1917 revolution, saw Stalin as a potential problem for the future of the Party. A copy of Lenin’s ‘testament’, telling his comrades to get rid of Stalin, is on display in the exhibition. As a matter of fact, Lenin’s illness and demise in 1924 started a period of transition.

Stalin, by 1922 general secretary of the communist party of the USSR, fought and won against all other members of the communist party, making his appointment in the government the most powerful. He managed to maintain his role until his death in 1953, reigning as an unopposed tyrant at least since the end of the 1920s, when he prevailed over his most strenuous opponent, Trotzkij.

As he started to gain power, official portraits started to appear, both paintings and photographs. These pieces of the collection are also interesting, for not many portraits of Stalin have survived in official displays, after he was condemned by his political heirs.

Also books from his speeches and prints from his personal history, to be distributed to the general public, are displayed here.

Prominence in the communist party of the USSR gained a special status also to Stalin’s family. His mother had a decent place to live, and his son payed a visit more than once – this is the subject of some portraits. A porcelain set from Stalin’s mother household is on display.

Curious artifacts in this part of the museum include a desk from some communist office of the time of Stalin’s purges.

As a marshal in WWII – the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 as it was known in the USSR – Stalin reached international recognition and world fame. His ability as a general is open to critics, for he managed to kill most of the most experienced staff in the purges of the 1930s, and appointed generals – mostly like Hitler – based on their political attitude. It is questionable whether without substantial help from the then-allies of the Soviet Union (Britain and the US) a victory against Germany could have been reached, despite a disproportionate number of casualties in the rows of the Red Army. However, the final march to Berlin, which gained him control over half of Europe, raised him to the level of a world leader. The exhibition reflects this recognition, with books by Stalin translated in several languages, gifts from generals of the Red Army – including an authentic monstrosity donated to the museum by WWII hero General Zhukov in the 1960s – and many pictures from the war years.

A showcase is dedicated to Stalin’s sons and heirs. He had five sons, from two wives and other women, and his descent is still existent today.

A corner hall hosts a kind of monumental installation, a small Soviet monument not among the best of the kind. Made of lighted reproductions of photographs, it is a kind of recap of Stalin’s triumphs and special moments.

The next hall concludes the climax, and is really unique. It is a circular room padded with black leather panels. At the center of a circular colonnade you can see at the level of the ground one of the few – apparently 12 – original reproductions of Stalin’s head from his death mask.

Thanks to the special installation featuring a strong symmetry and a special lighting, the head is really magnetic.

Stalin died at 75 in March 1953 in undisclosed circumstances, possibly to the hand of somebody in his entourage. Some paintings from his funeral can be seen around the room, together with a model of the mausoleum of Lenin on the Red Square in Moscow, where Stalin was interred for a few years, until removed when finally condemned by his party – note the writing in Cyrillic ‘Lenin – Stalin’ on the mausoleum, later reverted to ‘Lenin’ only.

The next hall is dedicated to international relationships, displayed through photographs, memorabilia and the plenty of gifts Stalin received in his years as a communist dictator.

There are presents from Georgia and other Soviet republics, and from international delegations. The latter were from both the eastern bloc – Eastern Germany, Poland, China – and most strikingly from the West, and even from NATO countries like France and Italy!

Back to the top of the staircase, you get access to one of the highlights of the exhibition. In a final room you find on display the original furniture of Stalin’s office at the Kremlin. There is a desk with an armchair, a sofa, and a set of smaller chairs. Stylistically not very appealing, this furniture is of course of great historical relevance.

Close by, more unique items are on display in two showcases – Stalin’s personal belongings. There are a few cigars – now decomposing to age – some cigarettes, a cigarette box, a ruler, two pipes, a pen, a chessboard, a hand-written message to a friend, and some other trinkets. Finally, there is a military uniform, with boots and coat.

When you have got intoxicated by the Soviet aura of this place, you can finally get out and visit the last item in the park, Stalin’s personal railway car. This was actually used by Stalin, who did not like flying, to travel around the Union and abroad. He went to Teheran and Jalta conferences during WWII in this car.

The car is special in having a bullet-proof armor all around – which produces a weight comparable to that of a Diesel railway engine… – and some special services, like a bathtub, a personal studio and a meeting room.

Stalin’s ‘memorial park’ in Gori is really a one-of-a-kind museum, of exceptional interest for people interested to his period and his historical figure. You may be surprised by the very existence of this place, primarily because of the well-known and heavy responsibility of this man in mass-murders and misconduct as a head of state, and also because it is located in Georgia, a country openly hostile to Russia and its hard political domination, implemented through the institution of the Soviet Union. It is one of the expressions of the contradictory attitude of most peoples touched by the USSR – including Russians – towards that era. It remains a thought-provoking collection of historical value though – gifts from international delegation from the West are a vivid memory of the recognition obtained by this mass-murderer during his lifetime. They are particularly instructive about how propaganda can draw international consensus to the most unthinkable subjects.

Getting there and moving around

Getting to Georgia from the West will be hardly for Gori alone. Despite the nice, well-kept town center, with the castle and several refurbished churches and alleys, and of course the Stalin-related part, there are far more significant places to visit in Georgia, at least if you are coming from far away to this relatively hard-to-reach angle of the world. Yet Gori is located in a convenient position along the major road and railway connecting Tbilisi to Kutaisi and the coast of the Black Sea, which makes for an ideal one-day or even half-day stop.

The town is a good place to sleep, for there are a number of guesthouses and restaurants, and it does not look derelict or unsafe, differently for instance from more prominent Kutaisi. The whole Stalin-themed park, with the birthplace, museum and railway car, is rather compact, and not big, so visiting may take from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on your level of interest. This is the main attraction in town. Strangely, I could not find an official website – this is strange for most labels are translated also in English, and there is even some merchandise, so the place is run as a modern museum. However, Google or TripAdvisor timetables were correct at least when I visited.

Plenty of public parking space around the museum.

In town there is also a war museum dedicated to the Great Patriotic War (covered here), as well as other non-communist themed attractions.

Joseph Stalin’s Underground Printing House Museum – Tbilisi

This museum was opened in Soviet times in the place of a house where young Stalin spent some time as a political agitator. His main activity related to this place was printing clandestine material.

Access it through modern Soviet buildings, with a hall which unfortunately cannot be visited.

The house is presented inside a small garden. There are two light buildings, a half-timbered house and a smaller hut.

The two are connected by a deep underground passage. This double access to the underground was of great help to evade controls by Czarist authorities. The main underground hall is original.

Possibly intended as a food cellar, it was used to store a 19th century printing machine – made in Augsburg, Germany, as witnessed by the rusty but still readable factory label!

The half-timbered house is apparently a Soviet-era reproduction of the building originally in place. It is a two-rooms house, very similar to Stalin’s birth house in Gori (see above). The two rooms have been furnished with a few berths and tables, to provide an idea of the original look, and with tons of artifacts from Stalin’s and Soviet times.

These include portraits, photographs, books and emblems. There is also a model of a similar clandestine print house in Baku, Azerbaijan.

All in all, this place has a historical significance as Stalin’s early headquarter, and as a Soviet place of pilgrimage. Differently from Stalin-themed park in Gori, it has been basically forgotten – it is kept open by aged volunteers.

Getting there and moving around

The museum is located at the following GPS coordinates – 41.690454, 44.829999. It is located west of Tbilisi city center, at a walking distance from it, but the walk is not recommended for the neighborhood is nothing special. Going by car or taxi is more time-efficient. Public parking on the street available around the block.

There is no official website to my knowledge. Entrance is by cash only, free offer. See Google for opening times, which are mainly in the central hours of the day. You can visit on your own, but one of the local enthusiasts running the museum will likely provide some information, and there is also a basic leaflet in English. Visiting may take about .5 hours.

The Salpa Line – Finland’s Anti-Soviet Barrier

Possibly one of the world’s best preserved military installations from WWII, Finland’s Salpa Line – the name ‘salpa’ meaning ‘latch’ – is a defense line composed of about 700 reinforced concrete bunkers with anti-tank cannons and machine-guns, more than 200 miles of anti-tank obstacles, roughly another 200 miles of trenches pointed with over 1200 machine gun nests, 500 artillery positions and more than 700 quartering dugouts. All this, and everything necessary to operate this enormous war machine, including hundreds of miles of new roads, electric cables, dams, telephone lines, etc., was built to defend the border between Finland and the Soviet Union.

History – in brief

The Winter War

Finland enjoyed the rigors of WWII since 1939, when following the Ribbentrov-Molotov pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR, it was agreed off the records that this Country should enter the sphere of influence of Stalin’s communist dictatorship. Finding no other way to submit the Finns, Soviet troops attacked Finland from the East all along their common border, from the Gulf of Finland up north to the Barents Sea, at the end of November, 1939.

This rarely told chapter of WWII is known in Finland as the Winter War. Finland, which on a September 1939 map looked somewhat larger to the east than it looks today, fought fiercely against a numerically much superior enemy, which at the time was not engaged on any other major front. Despite the very difficult situation, with no help – except limited arm supply – from the outside, the motivated Finnish Army led by General Mannerheim recorded some marked victories especially in the central sector of the border, and managed to avoid a complete defeat. This unexpected military resistance, and the promise of Britain and France to support Finland had the war continued further, led the USSR to agree upon a peace treaty as soon as mid March 1940, basically crystallizing the military situation reached at the time. As a result, the border moved west by about 60 miles in southern Finland, with the loss of the Karelian Isthmus and the city of Vyborg, the access to lake Ladoga, Finland’s Eastern Karelia – simply known as Karelia in Russia – and a large territory in Lapland, mostly uninhabited. Finally, the peninsula and port town of Hanko, 70 miles west of Helsinki, was ceded to the USSR for 30 years.

Building the Salpa Line

It was at the end of the Winter War that Finland’s government, following the suggestion of General Mannerheim, took the decision to built the Salpa Line, to defend the new border against any possible attack of the Soviets.

Construction work on this impressive system, made not only of a chain of forts, dugouts and barracks, but also of an extensive network of communication and transport infrastructures, was carried out mainly between spring 1940 and summer 1941, Finland’s so-called Inter-War Period. Up to 35’000 workers – mainly civilians from private companies – were involved, roughly bringing the defense line to completion by mid 1941. The line was designed primarily to protect the most populated and easily accessible part of the Country in the south, and a major concentration of strong points was erected along todays border line with Russia, between the Gulf of Finland and the town of Joensuu.

At the same time, a smaller branch of the Salpa Line was erected on a much smaller scale on the new border with the USSR, along a 3 miles line cutting through the Hanko peninsula.

The Continuation War

In the period between the end of the Winter War and the surprise offensive of Germany against the USSR in June 1941, the Nazi Wehrmacht had successfully annexed Denmark and Norway to the Third Reich, thus becoming a neighbor state for Finland, just like the Soviet Union. In the process, Finland allowed Germany to transport troops and material to northern Norway moving on national land, and receiving arms in return. In the same period Hitler refused to endorse further Soviet attacks against Finland, thus further narrowing the diplomatic distance between Germany and Finland, which nonetheless managed to remain independent throughout WWII.

When the war broke out between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Finland took the initiative and attacked the USSR, soon regaining control of basically all territories lost in the Winter War, including the port of Hanko, by the end of 1941. The German Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet port town of Murmansk and the nearby area, rich of natural resources, from the northernmost Finnish region of Lapland.

Due to the quick movement of the front line back east, the Salpa Line saw basically no fight, and was maintained until the end of the war with the Soviets in 1944 as a rear defense line.

This phase is known as Continuation War, and quickly turned into a war of attrition along a stable border line. This equilibrium was cracked when the military situation started to get worse for Germany after the defeat of Stalingrad in early 1943. After months of negotiations with the USSR to put an end to the conflict, following a massive Soviet attack on the Karelian Isthmus in August 1944 and the second loss of Vyborg, an armistice was signed in September between Finland and the Soviet Union, in favor of the latter. It restored the border line as it was at the end of the Winter War and imposed a long-term lease of Porkkala – a peninsula on the Gulf of Finland 30 miles west of Helsinki – instead of Hanko. Also included were heavy war reparations and the neutrality of Finland with respect to further Soviet campaigns. Plus the immediate expulsion of all German forces from Finnish territory.

Nonetheless, differently from almost any other Country touched by the Red Army in the events of WWII, Finland managed to retain its complete independence from Stalin’s communist empire, and part of the credit goes to the existence of the Salpa Line, a major deterrent against any further Soviet military aggression.

The request to severe any contact with Germany led to the final chapter of WWII for Finland, the Lapland War, when the Armies of Finland and the USSR attacked the Wehrmacht in the north of the Country, starting a campaign lasting months until the final defeat of Germany, causing the total destruction of many villages and of the town of Rovaniemi.

Sights

As a result of the course of events, Finland’s fortified line of defense did not see any direct military action. This spared it for posterity as a notable example of military technology of the Forties. Of course, as war technology evolved rapidly soon after WWII, the Salpa Line rapidly became obsolete and was largely abandoned. Most dugouts, soft construction works as well as most wooden, unreinforced positions have been reclaimed by nature. Only traces of the trench lines exist today, except in those spots where they have been explicitly preserved for the public.

Heavy positions are a totally different matter. Except for a few mainly in the northern part of the Country, blown up by the Soviets in the months of the Lapland War to help expelling Nazi troops from the Finnish territory, most bunkers and strong points are still there, basically intact. The majority has been abandoned, but due to a demolition work being an economy nonsense, they can still be seen today.

At least two small groups of bunkers in the very south of the Country have been turned into top-level museums on local military history, with a modern visitor center, guided tours and so on. Some bunkers, like in Joensuu, can be visited as little local museums. A good number of the reinforced concrete installations have been left open for interested visitors, stripped of any dangerous military hardware, sometimes even partly refurbished, and in most cases they can be freely accessed – provided you find them. Some are included as checkpoints along official multi-miles hiking trails, which are among Finland’s top tourist attractions. More often, either you know where they are in advance or you will hardly find them in the wilderness.

For reaching most of the non-advertised bunkers of the Salpa Line, you need to drive to very secluded locations along unprepared roads. If you like this kind of archeology, this adds much to the fun!

The good news is that Finland considers the Salpa Line a historical landmark as a whole, thus any damage or alteration is strictly prohibited and severely prosecuted. So you are not to see your search frustrated by finding a bunker covered in graffiti or used as a shelter by ravers or drug addicts – as it is often the case with the much similar Atlantic Wall in France. This is also because except for a few cases the superstite installations are located far from any urban center. By the way, Finland boasts one of the Europe’s lowest crime rates, so exploration is made potentially dangerous only because of intrinsic – rusty barbed wire, mimetic manholes, narrow passages, total darkness … – or natural causes – badgers, boars and bears!

In the following a description of a few notable points of interest along the Salpa Line is presented. The list is extremely far from complete, as it would take at least several months of dedicated work to explore the Line in its entirety! Yet this selection provides a good specimen of all basic types of sight you can find along the line. Photographs were taken during a visit in summer 2017.

Map

The following Google map was created based on the very useful information provided on this website, which is an excellent starting point for any exploration of the line. Basic info on the corresponding Salpa Line sites are provided on it almost one by one, and pinpointed on a map, but apparently there is no comprehensive map on that website. The website is also Flash-based and totally ‘iPhone unfriendly’ – it simply doesn’t load on my iPhone 6S. So I can’t take any credit except for having put together all points and having made them smartphone accessible. The red signals refer to points pictorially described in this article. The area of Hanko and the museums of Mikkeli are not covered in the map, whereas some sites will be described in another chapter.


The list below is ordered roughly from the south to the north.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Virolahti Bunker Museum, Virolahti

This site – Virolahden Bunkkerimuseum in Finnish – is among the southernmost of the Salpa Line, conveniently located on the busy E18 connecting Helsinki to St.Petersburg. The museum is a good starting point for getting an idea of the features of the line. There is a visitor center with a modern setup, where you can see a collection of light weapons from both the Finnish and Soviet sides – actually many Soviet weapons left behind by the retreating Red Army at the beginning of the Continuation War were later reused by Finland’s Army. Much information is provided in a synthetic and readable way – both in Finnish and English – on the construction of the line and about the war history of Finland, with a focus of what happened along the sector of the front closer to the Gulf of Finland.

The outside part is organized along a short trail in the trees. The first main stop is a reconstructed trench, with an example of a spherical soft concrete bunker type, conceived to cover dugouts. Nearby you can see two small heavy metal turrets. These were designed to be partly interred, to form an armored machine gun nest. The thickness of the metal construction is stunning! There is also a line of stones put in the terrain, a typical anti-tank obstacle to be found in many sites of the Salpa Line.

A German-made Pak-40, 7.5 cm anti-tank cannon in perfect condition is presented in a reconstructed open-top field fortification.

Nearby, you can access a perfect example of an anti-tank bunker. Three main areas are featured in this type of bunker. First, a relatively large living and sleeping area, with bunk beds for troops, a big stove, a water sink, and an air pump. Second, a firing room with a 45 mm anti-tank gun permanently installed, with the barrel leaning out of a suitably designed blind window. Third, a firing room with a machine gun, with the barrel leaning out of an open slot cut through the thick concrete wall of the bunker. Both the cannon and machine gun fire basically in the same direction, from the front facade of the bunker, whereas the only way in is through a sealed door to the back.

The bunker is provided with a metal observation turret on top, accessible through a ladder mounted in a very narrow vertical tunnel with a sealed door.

Another original bunker you can visit in Virolahti is a quartering bunker, capable of sleeping 40 people. The construction is similar to the large living area of the previous bunker, but this is larger.

Examples of original trenches which have not been refurbished can be spotted as smooth grooves in the ground between the reinforced bunkers. Finally, there is also a collection of cannons – some of them very old – and machine guns, from the USSR, Finland, Sweden, France and Italy. Heavy cannons from various ages were provided by France at the time of the Winter War, and put in place along the Salpa Line in more points, so they can be spotted pretty often in Finnish museums.

Not a part of the museum, it may be interesting to check out what the frontier with Russia looks like today. You can come pretty close to the border zone driving south of E18, along the unpaved Kurkelantie road going to the small villages of Reinikkala and Kurkela. There is a well signed respect zone instituted along the border line, which cannot be accessed without all necessary papers and permits.

Nonetheless, the striped posts marking the border can be spotted with a zoom lens from the distance. I can’t guess whether in Soviet times the border did look like this, or instead it used to appear less penetrable. Of course it may be just a matter of appearance – when I was there, I personally didn’t even think to try coming close to Russia without an explicit permission, so I don’t know what may happen should you try to get near the border by entering the respect zone by foot!

The Virolahti site can be visited in something less or something more than 1h, depending on your level of interest. It is flat and easy to tour, with a large free parking nearby. Website here.

Salpa Line Museum, Miehikkälä

This is probably the biggest exhibition on the Salpa Line, and the most visited also. The visitor center proposes a series of itineraries for touring the site on a self-guided base. The highlights are anti-tank and machine gun bunkers, a plane spotting wooden turret, trenches of various types, cannons and more. Together with Virolahti (above), it is surely a place to be if you want to capture at a glance what the Salpe Line is all about.

The Miehikkälä site is unique in its own respect due to the morphology of the territory, with a rocky cliff prospecting on an area of wavy land. The two main armored positions with an anti-tank gun and a machine gun are atypical, dug deeply in the rock, accessible from the top of the cliff, with the barrels leaning out at the level of the surrounding terrain. The bunker with the anti-tank gun features an observation/firing turret directly accessible from the firing room through a very long vertical passage. In the living quarters there is a collection of rifles.

The bunker with the machine firing chamber presents preserved sleeping and living quarters, and an observation turret.

Ahead of the rocky cliff you can find two armored turrets like in Virolahti, and an example of the most typical anti-tank barrier of the Salpa Line, made of aligned big rocks put in the ground. This is a distinctive feature of the Salpa Line, and following the rocks may help to find the location of more secluded bunkers in other sites.