Sochi’s Olympic transformation

  • Sochi was established as a fashionable resort area under Joseph Stalin, who had his favorite dacha, or country house, built in the city. 2009. Rob Hornstra has been working since 2009 to tell the story of Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. A selection of Hornstra’s photographs are featured in the project’s latest book, “The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus.”
  • View of the Russian Black Sea resort town, Sochi, which will host the XXII Olympic Winter Games and XI Paralympic Winter Games starting on Friday. 2011.
  • Hotel Zhemchuzhina (Pearl) is a sprawling Soviet hotel right on Sochi’s beachfront. In addition to 956 rooms, the hotel has eight restaurants, 14 bars, two nightclubs, shops, a swimming pool, a theater and a billiards room. 2011.
  • Construction of the Adler Arena Skating Center. 2013.
  • Construction in 2010 of the Olympic village near the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi, host city of the XXII Olympic Winter Games and XI Paralympic Winter Games in 2014.
  • Museum of Aircraft and Cosmonautics at Orlyonok children’s summer camp. Orlyonok lies on the Black Sea, about 120km up the coast from Sochi. It was one of the main Soviet Young Pioneer camps and is currently the main Children’s Center in Russia. 2011.
  • Every year, Mikhail Pavelivich Karabelnikov (L), 77, of Novokuznetsk, travels around 3,000 kilometers in order to be able to take his holiday in Sochi. Tatyana Mikhailovna Trubina (R), 49, has traveled more than 1,000 kilometers to enjoy a holiday on the beach in Sochi. “Where I live, summer lasts three weeks,” she says, “and we’re eaten alive by the mosquitoes.” 2009.
  • Tatiana Maroseva, 55, stands among her radishes in the Imeretinskaya Valley near Adler, Sochi. Just behind her garden and the house that she has extended over the years is a high blue fence. Not long after this photograph was taken in 2009, the neighborhood was largely swallowed by construction projects, new hotels, and an oceanfront promenade.
  • Sochi, Russia. 2009.
  • A shooting game stand in Loo, Russia, about 45 kilometers from Sochi. 2011.
  • Ivan Kharchenko was a construction worker for a company who is working on Olympics projects. After three months, he didn’t receive any salary. When he asked for his money, he got fired. 2010.
  • Remains of a former village in Sochi on the site where Olympic stadiums are being built. Construction of the Olympic stadiums is seen in the background. 2011.
  • Museum of Aircraft and Cosmonautics at Orlyonok children’s summer camp. Orlyonok lies on the Black Sea, about 120 km along the coast from Sochi. It is estimated that since it opened in 1960, Orlyonok has hosted more than 800,000 children. 2011.
  • Building of the new cargo port in Adler. 2009.
  • The Bolshoy Ice Dome under construction in Sochi, October, 2011.
  • The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort and Extreme Park will host all of the alpine and freestyle skiing, and snowboarding events. 2011.
  • The shell of the Fischt Olympic Stadium under construction in August 2012. The 40,000-seat stadium will hold the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Games.
  • A team of welders works on the steel frame for the central stadium in Sochi in February 2012.
  • Sunbathers in Sochi. 2013.
  • A team of welders work on the steel frame for the central stadium in Sochi. 2012.
  • Construction in Krasnaya Polyana, just outside of Sochi. 2011.
  • People gather at a park in Sochi to celebrate the beginning of the countdown to the 2014 Winter Olympics. 2013.
  • Newlyweds at the abandoned Ordzhonikidze Sanatorium in Sochi. The famous rest house along the coast of the Black Sea was closed in 2010, and will be turned into a hotel complex slated to open in 2017. 2013.
  • Joseph Stalin’s former vacation home in Sochi. Sochi was established as a fashionable resort town under Stalin, whose house is now open to the public. 2013.
  • The seaside town of Sochi on the shores of the Black Sea, in the Caucasus. 2008.
  • Downtown Sochi. 2008.
  • The seaside town of Sochi on the shores of the Black Sea. 2008.
  • The resort town of Sochi is often called the Russian Riviera. Here is a view from the waterfront. 2008.
  • Skiing and snowboarding events will take place in Krasnaya Polyana, located in the mountains of the Caucasus in Russia, 50 km from the seaside resort of Sochi. 2008.
  • Krasnaya Polyana, located 50km outside Sochi. 2008.



Starting Friday, the world will turn its attention to Sochi, Russia, for the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics. But before it was the center of sporting spectacle, Sochi was just a quaint resort town along the Black Sea coast and, ironically, one of the warmest places in the entire country.

Don’t be fooled by the palm trees–the Black Sea itself is pretty cold. And the Caucasus Mountains on the north side of the city make it a not entirely bizarre place to host this year’s Winter Games.

Still, it took a lot of work–and money–to transform this 30-mile stretch of Russian Riviera into what you’ll be seeing over the course of the Olympics. According to Bloomberg estimates, Russia spent more than $50 billion on the Winter Games, making it the most expensive Olympics in history.

Additionally, Human Rights Watch has documented hundreds of cases of alleged abuse against the laborers who built Olympic sites, including lack of pay and hasty deportations. The construction has also taken an ecological toll on the city and surrounding region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has directed 60,000 police officers, troops, and special forces to Sochi. Suffice it to say, that quaint resort town along the Black Sea coast is nothing more than a distant memory.