In the 10th century, Byzantine missionaries reached the Caucasus and built several Byzantine-style churches around Teberda river. Sentinsky temple, built in the year 967, represents the oldest christian church in Russia.
The details are scarce about the influence of Christianity in the region but Circassians are known to have converted to Christianity (after previously holding “Habze” beliefs). They remained Christian until the XVII century conversion to Islam under the Ottoman influence. Alans (proto-Ossetians) are also mentioned, but Ossetians shared pagan beliefs until teh XIX century conversion Orthodox Christianity under Russian occupation.
The date of Sentinsky’s construction is written on it in ancient Greek, as the Christian mission is believed to have been lead by Nicholas Mystikos, the greek Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Ikorta church of the Archangel (Ikort’a) is a Georgian Orthodox church built in 1172 by the dukes of Ksani noble family in Shida Kartli, Georgia.
The church houses the tombs of Ksani family members, including Shalva and Elizbar of Ksani, who died under torture in 1661 for opposing the Iranian/ Tatar oppression. Their remains were brought from Persia and they were canonized as saints.
Ikort’a is currently undergoing restoration works. * It’s note worth mentioning that the Church of Georgia is one of the oldest Christian churches.
South Ossetia is a disputed region, officially part of Georgia but under Russian defacto control. More on South Ossetia conflict here
Shida Kartli has been part of self-proclaimed South Ossetia republic since 1992.
Tsoy-Pede “Abode of the deity” is a XIV century necropolis located in the historic area Melhista (which means “land of the sun”) in southern Chechnya. It’s built on a mountain which is surrounded by two rivers; the necropolis has 50 crypts and several towers (some of which were destroyed).
Tsoy-Pede was built before Chechen people’s conversion to Islam, therefore the settlement is adorned with pagan and solar symbols.
The landmark is situated at the border with Georgia and the area is under strict military control. A special permit is needed to visit Tsoy-Pede (as is the case with many of Russia’s landmarks).
Tsoy-Pede is part of the Argun State History, Architecture and Nature Museum Reserve. Argun area was part of intense fighting during the wars, therefore most of its landmarks (which are most numerous in North Caucasus) suffered serious damage.
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”).
Digoria is a historical region in the northern part of the Great Caucasus Mountains, compromised of today’s Irafsky and Digorsky districts in North Ossetia-Alania. The name originates from Digor people (an Ossetian subgroup). The Digor were deported by Stalin to Siberia. Many died during deportation; the survivors returned after Stalin’s death in 1957.
Alania national park occupies half of the territory of Digoria. Digoria has the second largest glacier in the North Caucasus – Karaugomsky. Having been place of an ancient trade route, one can still find remains of multi-towered cave based fortress, the temple of Saint George built in 17th century and sanctuaries. * George – the heavenly warrior, patron and protector of warriors was highly revered in the ancient Ossetian land; his local name is “Wasgergi”.
Archeological excavations at 2000 meters altitude have also revealed 7000 years-old pottery.