I don’t know about you, but until they announced the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, I’d never heard of Sochi. I mean, it might have been on the moon, for all I knew. Which I guess only displays my ignorance of Eastern Europe. Since I figure I’m probably not alone, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give all of us a crash course on things that might be worth knowing about Sochi, so we’re ready when the Olympics begin.

  • Sochi is pronounced SOH-chee, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Not SOW-chee. Not SOO-chee. Which is good to know, since you’ll probably be talking about it a lot in the months ahead.
  • Sochi is located in Krasnodar Region in Russia’s south, just north of Russia’s border with Georgia. It’s about 1,000 miles south of Moscow, which is like driving from New York City to Orlando, Florida.
  • Sochi has a semitropical climate: winters average 52°F during the day and 39°F at night. Luckily, the games will be held in the mountains. So even though there are palm trees in the city, there could be plenty of snow on the slopes. That said, pray for a big dump.
  • Sochi is regularly subjected to strong earthquakes. That’s because it’s located at the juncture of two major tectonic plates: the Arabian and the Eurasian. Let’s hope only the records will be earth shattering.
  • Sochi claims to be the longest city in Europe (90 miles!), so getting cross town could be a challenge.
  • Sochi’s population of 343,334 is about the same as Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • Sochi is sometimes referred to as the Russian Riviera or the Black Sea Pearl. It became famous as a fashionable resort area under Joseph Stalin, who built his favorite dacha there. Stalin’s study, complete with a wax statue of the leader, is open to the public. It’s also said that Stalin’s ghost walks around the place  at night. Oooooooooooooo (well, Stalin was pretty scary.)
  • The most famous Russian saying about the city is “If I could read the cards, I would live in Sochi.” Initially coming from the Preference card game, this saying shows the association of Sochi and its inhabitants with luck, moreover, with an accidental and unpredictable fortune.
  • The territory of today’s Sochi has been inhabited for thousands of years, first populated by Caucasian mountainous tribes. It’s been under the influence and dominion of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Abkhazian and Ottoman civilizations. A few landmarks of antecedent civilizations remain, including bronze age table-stones and medieval Byzantine temples.
  • The first Russian outpost was set up in central Sochi in 1838 as a part of the Russian expansion along the Black Sea coast. The local resistance to this process resulted in the Caucasian War of 1817–1864, which ended in a Russian victory and the expulsion of the local population, mostly to Turkey.
  • An oak grove on the slope of Mount Batareika, the highest mountain in the center of Sochi,  is regarded by  locals as a sacred place. Earlier pagans offered prayers and brought gifts there to propitiate the trees’ spirits, and  the local rulers who later converted to Christianity built a wooden church on the mountain peak.
  • Sochi is one of the most multinational cities in Russia with people of more than 100 ethnic groups living there. Most of them are ethnic Russians (68%), the important minorities are Armenians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Greeks, Ciscassians, Belorussians, Tatars, and Jews.

So there you have it. Now you can impress your friends and family when you’re all gathered around the tube watching  the Olympics. And if you know anything else Sochi-related, post it here. That way we can all benefit.