The town of Sochi stretches for 145 km along the picturesque Black Sea Coast of the Western Caucasus. It is in the Krasnodar region of Russia. Because of the sub-tropical climate, and being in an area of outstanding natural beauty, it has developed into a popular health resort and favourite holiday destination for people from all parts of Russia, and more recently, other parts of the world.
Sochi is not only a town of health and recreation, but also a town dedicated to peace and friendship.
Sochi is linked with several communities in other parts of the world. Being a spa town it was natural, if slightly amazing, for Sochi and Cheltenham to become twin towns, which they did many years ago. This link thrives still and there are regular exchanges made by people of all ages, for many reasons and from all walks of life.
In 1973 an avenue of palm trees dedicated to the friendship of “twin towns” was set out in Sochi’s superb Arboretum. And, there is a Glade of Friendship in the town’s Riviera Park formed by evergreen magnolia trees planted by statesmen, public leaders, and cosmonauts. On 1 October 1975, the Soyuz and Apollo space crews set out the beautiful magnolias here in the name of peaceful space exploration.
But, most impressive in my opinion, is the Tree of Friendship in Sochi’s Peace Garden. People from all walks of life and many different countries have travelled to Sochi and visited this famous tree. Astronauts, Politicians, Hiroshima bomb survivors, Arctic Explorers, and tens of thousands of ordinary people, who, for one reason or another have been drawn to Sochi and to the Peace Garden.
The original citrus fruit tree was planted in 1937 and it has now grown into a whole orchard propagated from cuttings. It is traditional for everyone who visits to leave a small gift from their community. This custom has resulted in a unique collection of amazing items, which are now on display in a small museum in the peace garden. There is a small charge to visit the Peace Garden and the Museum, which raises funds for its maintenance. There is also a visitor’s book with some moving entries: Long ago, M A Uljanov wrote,
“Everything begins with little things – fruit develops from the bud and a swift current is formed by tiny drops. If each person did some good, if only a little, our earth would become a Garden of Friendship.”
I have travelled to Russia several times since 1995. I would like to write a book about my impressions and experiences; the spectacular scenery; the people I have met; the churches I have visited, and the exquisite Icons I have seen. But, the most memorable thing I have seen without doubt is the Tree of Friendship in the Peace garden.