Goor, Dagestan – “Land of the towers”

Goor ancient towers Shamilsky Dagestan North Caucasus

Goor is an ancient settlement in the Shamilsky district of Dagestan consisting of 7 towers and 2-stories residential houses. Only 4 towers survive to this day, one of whom collapsed recently due to severe degradation. The location has not received a historic monument status.

Goor exhibits its old history through its pagan, Christian and Islamic sanctuaries and burial grounds. The residents, originally pagan, underwent a short Christian conversion which ended with the Mongol invasion; the Islamic conversion happened gradually and it reached its peak during the Russia-Caucasus wars. Here you can also find a monument to the Caucasian war martyrs who fought against the Russian invasion in the XIX century.

Rope walkers

Tsovkra rope walkers Dagestan women Caucasus people 4

While most villages develop skills like craft work or ceramic art, the small mountain village of Tsovkra (in Dagestan) developed an unusual art: rope walking. While skills vary according to age, all the villagers have one thing in common: everyone can walk on rope. They became known as “the Dagestani walkers”.

There are many myths about how tightrope walking appeared – one of them says that young lovers used a rope in order to cross to the neighboring mountain villages, sick of having to walk every day the long distances.

However, historians believe it developed in the XVI century when the ancient Silk Road was crossing the Caucasus, bringing with it different artists including professional rope walkers from around the world.

Once initiated, Tsovkra villagers joined the rope troupers and traveled all the way to China.

During the Soviet period, the Dagestani Walkers traveled all over the world and, as sign of recognition, they received the Soviet Union’s highest award for artists.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, all means of funding were cut off, the shows ended and the people are now struggling to keep the tradition alive in a dire economy.

“The golden age was from the 1950’s through the 1970’s,” says local man Nukh Isayev. “The whole world knew about us then and we could sell out a circus in any European capital with our tightrope walking skills.”


Kala-Koreysh (first muslim settlement) Dagestan

Kala Koreysh Dagestan North Caucasus islam

In the mountains of Dakhadaevskiy district in Dagestan, 1000 meters above sea level and 3 kilometers from the village of goldsmiths Kubachi lies Kala-Koreysh, an VIII century medieval fortress, which was the former capital of a feudal community (Kaytag utsmiystva) and the first muslim settlement in the Caucasus.

 

In the middle-ages, Kala-Koreysh was a well-defended fortress that served as political and cultural center, and most importantly it became the focal point for the spread of the Islamic faith in the Northern Caucasus. Built on top of inaccessible mountains by the Kuraysh in VII-VIII century, it stands at the confluence of five important rivers and it’s accessible through one single road. Built on a strategic point, they could control trade in the region and at the same time spread the faith.

Kuraysh was the name of the merchant tribe into which Prophet Muhammad was born – Kala Koreysh means “the fortress of koreyshids”. Several Kuraysh tribesmen came to the mountains of Dagestan as conquerors after Arabs conquered Derbent in 654  – the biggest city of Dagestan at the time. The spread of Islam began in the Cacausus which ended in the XIXth century with the conversion of the Ingush people.

As people started moving to the lowlands in the XVIII century, its role as an important cultural and commercial center gradually decreased. The last inhabitants were forcibly evicted to Chechnya by the Soviets in 1944 and most of the structures were destroyed.

Today, the only constructions still standing in Kala-Koreysh are a IX century mosque and a mausoleum; only one person lives here as guardian of the sacred place. The alabaster tiles of the partially destroyed mosque are displayed in the Regional Museum.

Kala Koreysh also has a graveyard where both noblemen and common residents were buried; tombstones date back to the IX-X century and contain sacred Islamic texts. The unique carving on the tombstones is very similar to the Kubachi pattern design (for more on Kubachi click here). The graveyard also has pagan sarcophaguses which are not typical of Muslim culture (where the dead are buried only in the ground).

Today, Kala Koreysh serves as tourist spot and place of pilgrimage for devout Muslims (the pilgrimage is called “ziyaret”).

Kubachi craft art, Dagestan

 

Kubachi village (situated in Dagestan) has long been considered the main center for manufacture of high-quality armament and jewelry in the Caucasus and Russia, and is still famed to this day for its craftsmen. Every house in Kubachi has a room for jewelry shop and private museum collection. Also every family in Kubachy is using its own design.

In Persian chronicles, the village is mentioned as early as the 4th century under the name of Zerihgeran (Armory).

Kubachi daggers are considered some of the best Caucasian daggers (also known as Kama). The Russian Tsar had personally designed Kubachi daggers in his arsenal.

 

Kahib, Dagestan (Eastern Caucasus mountains)

Caucasus mountains Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 10

Kahib was built between the 8th and 10th centuries by the Avars. It is located in Shamilsky district of central Dagestan.

The word ” Kahib ” is derived from the Georgian word ” Kahi “, which means scarce highland.

The old and current village are divided by a river valley, which also made the old village hard to access.

Its walls, like many structures of the Caucasus mountains, are adorned with pagan symbolism and solar signs, part of their religion before the conversion to Islam.

 

Caucasus mountains Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 3

Caucasus mountains Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 1

Caucasus mountains Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus

Caucasus mountains Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 5

tower in Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus

arched entrance Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 14

ancient symbols Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 12

medieval art symbols Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 21

medieval art symbols Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 22

Symbols of the pre-muslim Pagan religion

Kahib village Dagestan North Caucasus 7

Kahib in 1923

Kahib in 1923

 

 

Dagestan traditional costumes ~ Dagestani people

Dagestan is the most diverse region in the Caucasus. with 8 different Caucasian natives and other ethnic groups living on its territory. Native Caucasians living in Dagestan belong to the Northeast Caucasian family. The Avars represent the largest ethnic group.

Dagestani youth dance group rehearsing for the Venice 2013 carnival