The Olympic torch of the XXII Winter Olympic Games, carried by the Greek skier Yiannis Antoniou, left the Greek city of Olympia on September 29, 2013, beginning a journey of more than 40,000 miles that led, among other cities, to Thessaloniki, Athens, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and which will end on February 5 in Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Sochi, considered “the third capital of Russia”, after Moscow and St. Petersburg, was front-page news in newspapers worldwide over six years ago. Despite being a major city, Sochi remains quite unknown internationally, something that changed after July 4, 2007, when it was announced as the venue for the Winter Olympics of 2014. Sochi, located between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, near the border with Georgia, is the favorite vacation destination for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who put his personal commitment to make this city the host of the Olympic Games.
In recent years, Sochi has evolved into a modern city endowed with new infrastructures whose total cost exceeded the initial budget and reached 36 billion Euros (around 46 billion US dollars), making these the most expensive Olympics in history. But its charm has not changed since the time of the tsars, when it was one of the preferred resorts of the Russian aristocracy. The mild climate, lush subtropical vegetation and beautiful sandy beaches, on the Black Sea, attract travelers today as they did in the past.
Bolshoi Ice Dome.
Its natural heritage includes the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve, a group of majestic mountains whose hills, covered by dark and mysterious forests, make up the same virgin landscape immortalized by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) in his novel Hadji Murat, and the springs with high contents of hydrogen sulfide in the basin of the Matsesta river—which in the Abkhaz language means fire water—mentioned for the first time by the Greek philosopher and historian Flavio Arriano, in the year 137.
By the early 19th century, it had become fashionable, among the Russian aristocracy, to “take the waters”, that is, to spend time in sanatoriums and spas, where visitors were treated with curative mineral waters. It was, at this time that Sochi became known for its spas, but not until the Soviet era would the city become a popular resort for the masses. A contributing fact was the predilection expressed by the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin who built there his summer dacha, now converted into a museum. During Stalin`s regime, several neoclassical buildings, large parks and monuments were built in Sochi.
1. Cathedral of the Archangel Michael.
2. Khostinsky District.
3. Sochi Art Museum.
4. Winter Theatre.
5. Stalin’s Summer Dacha.
One of the most notable construction projects of the time was the Winter Theatre, a neoclassical building, finished in 1930. The majestic structure, is supported by 88 Corinthian columns, and built in the center of a 32 square-mile historic district, which also includes the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael, a small church built between 1873 and 1891; the Sochi Art Museum designed by Ivan Zholtovsky, and the Ethnographic Museum which was built seven years later a short distance from the Summer Theatre.
Northeast of the Lazarevsky district, we find the palaces and mansions of ancient princes and aristocrats, 19th century personalities who frequented the Matsesta spa, built in 1902, one of the places that brought notoriety to the city. The Dendrarium is another of Sochi’s historical enclaves. Opened in 1889, this huge botanical garden contains hundreds of tropical species from all continents. In addition to its valuable collections of plants and trees, the botanical garden is located on a hill from which you can enjoy magnificent views of the lower garden with the Black Sea in the background.
Swissôtel Sochi Kamelia.
The city is ready for the big event. Its cultural institutions, hotels and restaurants, extend a warm welcome to thousands of visitors who will come to the Olympic site. Among the luxurious accommodations, the Swissôtel Sochi Kamelia Hotel, set in a natural park overlooking the Black Sea, near the central business district and surrounded by extensive gardens, is an excellent choice for the sophistication and comfort of its facilities. Another excellent option is Rodina Grand Hotel, famous for its magnificent spa, private beach and sumptuous interiors.
Rodina Grand Hotel.
On February 23, 2014, the Sochi Winter Olympics will come to an end, but the city will remain in the forefront as it bids, along with other Russian cities, to host the 2018 Soccer World Cup. During the following weeks, Sochi’s legendary status will be magnified. We can hardly wait… ■