Hubert Burda Media

Explore the forgotten Soviet Sanatorium

An architectural account of sanatoriums, peculiar vacation spots scattered across the former Eastern Bloc.

Maryam Omidi was exploring the capital of Tajikistan when she found herself enamoured of Khoja Obi Garm, a sanatorium nestled on the slopes of Gissar Range, 2,000 metres above sea level. She was smitten by the architecture, treatments and hospitality, and the deeper she dug into the history of sanatoriums, the more fascinated she became.

Sanatoriums date back to the 1920s, and they were a place where the locals sojourned during their holidays. They were both a medical institution and a spa, and Soviet citizens would stay in for at least two weeks a year. In the early years, time would revolve around a strict schedule of various treatments and exercises – sunbathing included – as prescribed by a doctor.

Klyazma sanatorium, built in 1963

UV light-emitting lamps are used to kill bacteria in the throat, ear and nose

It was all part of the ‘work hard, rest hard’ credo at that time, to drive a healthier and more productive workforce. In fact, they proved to be a popular alternative to new world medicine. By 1939, there were 1,829 sanatoriums built across the USSR.

Omidi’s strange fascination with this Soviet practice brought her to 39 institutions situated across 11 former Eastern Bloc countries, all the way from Armenia to Uzbekistan. Join in on her journey in her new book, Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums, which features a pictorial account on the once-popular, state-controlled holiday destinations. Most of the sanatoriums featured are still in practice, and some more peculiar than others. Naftalan, for example, is based in Azerbaijan and offers a crude oil treatment that is supposedly “beneficial”. Strange, but we’ll take their word for it.

The book is published by Fuel Design. Get your copy here

Left to right: an irradiator that uses UV light to disinfect noses and throats; hirudotherapy uses leeches to relieve vascular congestion; a model of an ear that shows where the acupuncture occurs; a sweet and foamy oxygen cocktail

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