The museum makes no serious attempt to present a balanced account of Stalin's career or deeds. It remains, much as when it opened in 1957, a reverent homage to the Gori boy who became a key figure of 20th-century world history – although guides do now at least refer to the purges, the Gulag and his 1939 pact with Hitler. As well as the halls of memorabilia, the visit includes the tiny wood-and-mudbrick house where Stalin lived for the first four years of his life.
The house, where Stalin's parents rented a single room, stands in front of the main museum building, under its own temple-like superstructure.
The museum charts Stalin’s journey from the Gori church school to leadership of the USSR, the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII and his death in 1953. The first hall upstairs covers his childhood and adolescence, including his rather cringeworthy pastoral poetry, and then his early revolutionary activities in Georgia, his seven jail terms under the tsarist authorities (six of them in Siberia), the revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s death in 1924. The text of Lenin’s 1922 political testament that described Stalin as too coarse and power-hungry, advising Communist Party members to remove him from post of General Secretary, is on display.
One room is devoted to a bronze copy of Stalin’s eerie death mask, lying in state. The next has a large collection of gifts from world leaders and other Bolsheviks. Off the staircase is a reconstruction of his first office in the Kremlin, plus personal memorabilia such as his pipes, glasses, cigars and slide rule. One small two-room section beside the foot of the stairs deals with political repression under Stalin.
To one side of the museum is Stalin’s train carriage, in which he travelled to Yalta in 1945 (he didn’t like flying). Apparently bulletproof, its elegant interior includes a bathtub and a primitive air-conditioning system.