Where is Sochi? And 7 Other Things to Know About the Olympics Host City

Much of the press surrounding the upcoming Sochi Olympics is colored with a decidedly negative light. Russia’s staunch anti-gay legislation has been well publicized, and the threat of terrorist activity is also on the rise. Hovering just below the surface of this outer turmoil is the pervasive financial corruption and ecological waste associated with the construction of Olympic venues in and around Sochi. With its $50 billion price tag, the (mis)management of the 2014 Sochi Olympics has been more costly than the last 21 Olympics combined.

Confronted with this grim reality, it’s easy to overlook the purpose of the Olympic games as a near-universal goodwill gesture, in which a diverse array of nations come together for the purpose of good ol' competition. Naturally, the handful of cities that compete for the opportunity to host the Olympics have their eyes on the long-term economic benefits that come along with hosting such a mega-event. But on another level, hosting the Olympics also affords these cities a chance to show off on the biggest and brightest international stage. And for the rest of us, being exposed to different cultures provides us with a much needed exercise in global education. As Russia’s winter Olympics starts creeping up on the horizon, it’s time to brush up on our Sochi facts.

Geography 101

Pop quiz: Can you locate Sochi on a world map? I mean really locate it, not just gesture in its general direction? The city is located in the Krasnodar Krai region of Southern Russia, and it borders Abkhazia, a disputed territory generally accepted as being under the dominion of Georgia. Sochi is a port city, looking out across the Black Sea over to Turkey. And if you’ve never realized quite how large Russia is, consider this: Sochi is a three hour, 15 minute plane ride from St. Petersburg (1,201 miles, or about the distance from Boston to Miami), and it would take nearly 13 hours (over a whopping 4,370 miles) to fly there from Russia’s eastern city of Vladivostok, which borders China.

Image: WorldAtlas.com

The Russian Riviera

If you’re heading to this year’s winter Olympics, make sure to bring your…bathing suit?

Ironically, though Russia is infamous for its brutally cold climate — more than half of the country is north of the 60 degree latitude line, and the average yearly temperature of nearly all of European Russia is well below freezing — the games will be held in one of the few regions of the country in which they will actually have to manufacture snow. Sochi, with its subtropical climate, is more widely recognized as a beach resort town than as a prototypical winter wonderland.

Image: Radisson Blu Paradise Resort, Sochi

Russian R&R

Before it was transformed into a luxurious vacation destination for Russia’s elite, Sochi was famous for its sanatoria. These therapeutic spas treated millions of soldiers, officers, and foreigners throughout the 19th- and 20th-centuries. After the privatization of the Russian economy that accompanied the fall of communism, the city adopted a more touristy vibe, but it still boasts dozens of mineral springs and therapeutic mud reserves.

Image: humweb.ucsc.edu

Famous Faces

Scott Barbour/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Russian literary giant Leo Tolstoy lived in the nearby Krasnaya Polyana region, where the Olympic bobsledding and skiing events will be held, and it was there that he wrote both Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Tennis star Maria Sharapova lived in Sochi until age six, when she relocated to Florida to pursue her tennis career. Sharapova is thrilled to return to her hometown for the Olympic games as a correspondent for NBC Sports.

Sochi's Big, Fat Greek Legend

No big deal or anything, but according to Greek mythology, human history as we know it was born on a particular mountain overlooking Sochi. Prometheus, as punishment for having given fire to humans — thereby enabling the progress of civilization — was chained to a rock and cursed to have eagles peck away at his liver for all eternity. The site was fittingly named “Eagle Rock,” and it is marked by a massive statue of Prometheus. It seems only fitting that the Olympics should be held at the very site where power was wrestled from the gods of Mount Olympus and gifted to the measly, Earth-inhabiting humans at the outset.

Image: Russian-Survey.com

Sochi's Big, Fat Greek Legend (Part II)

The influences of Greek mythology run much deeper than the mere birth of humanity. Sochi’s Akhshtyrskaya Cave is believed to be the site where Odysseus encountered the venomous one-eyed Cyclops, and the sparkling Agoura River that runs through Sochi is named for the young girl who rescued Prometheus from the flock of eagles — and then plummeted to her death in the rushing water below.

Image: apneicmonkey/DeviantArt

The Friendship Tree

In 1934, F. M. Zorin grafted 45 different citrus plants in a garden in central Sochi with the intention of growing a new frost-resistant species of citrus. Polar explorer O. Yu. Schmidt added his own graft during his visit in 1940. Since then, notable representatives from over 160 countries have added their personal touches to the tree, which has been dubbed “The Friendship Tree.” The garden in which the Tree can be found is operated by the Russian Scientific Botanical Institute.

Image: Wikipedia