Clean break: a new book explores the forgotten architecture of Soviet sanatoriums

tiled swimming pool
Klyazma sanatorium, built in 1963 around the Klyazminsky Resevoir on the outskirts of Moscow.
(Image credit: Natalia Kupriyanova)

‘Visiting a sanatorium is like stepping back in time,’ writes Maryam Omidi in Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums, in which she takes the reader on a health-conscious journey into a world of peeling wallpaper, statues of Lenin and alternative, new world medicine.

Part health-spa, part hospital, sanatoriums once offered a ubiquitous, ‘decidedly purposeful’ pastime, explains Omidi. Their function was ‘to provide rest and recuperation, so citizens could return to work with renewed diligence and productivity’. This rapidly developing need and popularity saw 1,829 new sanatoriums built across the USSR by 1939. Here, for the first time, is an architecturally-led account of what happened.

brutalist building nestled high in the Gissar mountain

Jhoja Obi Garm, a hulking brutalist building nestled high in the Gissar mountain range, opened in 1934.

(Image credit: Michal Solarski)

From Stalinist, neo-classical grandeur in Abkhazia to Khrushchyovka concrete blocks in Armenia, a bewildering array of styles is on display. There are examples of rare Soviet-era architectural flourishes – take the green-marbled walls of Tskaltubo in Georgia – which were only allowed, writes critic Diane Koenker, because sanatoriums ‘were intended to astonish, encouraging a “less traditional approach”’ to municipal building.

Despite these moments of ornamentation, cold-floored functionality prevails. This is reflected in the stoic attitude of a young Soviet Union, when every aspect of sanatorium life (from ‘sleep to sunbathing’) was strictly monitored. Since then, there’s been a gradual, century-long shift towards more relaxed sanatorium culture. Though many sanatoriums now sit in disrepair, the few that remain popular have modernised and developed to varying degrees. The pages of Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums are populated by a cast of modern day visitors: elderly women undergoing magnetic therapy in Belarus; teenagers playing ping-pong in a working salt mine near Minsk; babies in bubbling bathtubs in Alyans.

The future of these time-warped hubs remains uncertain, and this book intends to be more than just a platform for Western-purview ogling. Rather, Omidi hopes it will act as a catalyst for the renovation and preservation of the sanatorium's singular architectural history: ‘in the hope that they will be protected and restored for future generations’.

Book of holidays in soviet sanatoriums

Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums explores sanatoriums of the USSR, some of which are still used today. 

(Image credit: FUEL Publishing)

family standing in a front of a table tennis table in a tunnel

At the National Speleotherapy Clinic in Belarus, patients must be over ten years old to enter the salt mine, 420 metres underground. The air they breathe in the mine is specially moderated, containing sodium, potassium and magnesium ions. Children are kept occupied with activities, from table tennis to billiards.

(Image credit: Egor Rogalevh)

Two photos of Crimea

Zori Rossii Sanatorium, Crimea

(Image credit: Vladimir Shipotilnikov)

The White Nights sanatorium, Sochi, built in 1978.

The White Nights sanatorium, Sochi, built in 1978.

(Image credit: Egor Rogalev)

Four different photos next to each other

From left, at the Bucuria Sind in Moldova, this irradiator uses ultraviolet light to disinfect noses and throats. Hirudotherapy treatment uses leeches to relieve vascular congestion by draining blood. This model of an ear shows points of needle insertion during acupuncture treatment. The sanatorium’s sweet-tasting foaming oxygen cocktail is very popular with guests.

(Image credit: Olya Ivanova)

Woman holding a broom standing on a staircase

The severity of the concrete buildings at Mishkor sanatorium, built in 1974 in southern Crimea, is relieved by decorative mosaics outside and artworks within. 

(Image credit: Michal Solarski)

Building in Crimea on the river bank

Foros sanitorium, built in the early 1920s in southern Crimea, stands close to the sea and is surrounded by a nature reserve of over 70 hectares containing more than 300 plant species. 

(Image credit: Michal Solarski)


Holidays in Soviet Sanatoriums, published by Fuel Design

Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.