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Treasury of the Caucasus: Dargavs "City of the Dead"
Treasury of the Caucasus: Dargavs "City of the Dead"

In the mountains of North Ossetia there is a mysterious place with charming houses on the slopes of the mountain, which attract with their color. But not everyone will risk not only entering them, but also approaching them. As it turned out, this settlement is nothing more than a necropolis with crypt houses that have been guarding the sleep of the dead for over 600 years.

The curious are not so much afraid of ringing silence and eerie surroundings, they are stopped by chilling legends. So what frightening Ossetians tell and whether there is a grain of truth in these legends, we will try to figure it out too.

1. Treasury of the Caucasus

The most significant necropolis Dargavs (North Ossetia) is located on the picturesque slope of Mount Rabin-rakh

40 km from Vladikavkaz, you can see an unusual settlement, in which 99 picturesque houses are scattered on the picturesque mountain slopes. But no one lives in it, and not because people for some reason left it forever. It turns out that Dargavs or "City of the Dead" is the largest ancient necropolis. Its mysterious huts with pyramidal roofs are family crypts, where dozens of generations are buried, because it began to be created more than 6 centuries ago.

Due to its location, the "city of the dead" can be seen from afar

Not far from this sacred place is the eponymous "living" village, the inhabitants of which are vying with each other to tell chilling legends, trying to stop the flow of curious tourists. The most fantastic legend is shared in the first place, and this is understandable, because it really scares and can stop many from rash travel: "Anyone who dares to enter the crypt out of idle curiosity will pay with his life."

In one necropolis, researchers managed to trace the entire evolution of crypt building

Disappointing fact:Unfortunately, these caveats do not apply to everyone. There are reckless vandals who, as "souvenirs", grab from open tombs … human skulls and bones. Local authorities are trying with all their might to stop the destruction of graves, but they are unable to control the process. Although in one of the crypts you can see a wise inscription, however, in the Ossetian language: “Look at us with love. We were like you, you will be like us."

2. Historical heritage

The construction of ancestral stone towers could only be afforded by very wealthy families

For historians, archaeologists and researchers, the Ossetian "City of the Dead" is a unique treasury in which you can find several cultural words at once and track the evolution of crypt building. Scientists have established that the local people - the Alans - began to build crypt houses immediately after the bloody battle with the army of Tamerlane in 1395. This battle fell on the period of the cholera epidemic (although the legend says about the plague), which also entailed large-scale population losses. Until that time, their burial was on the opposite slope. When the graves descended to the bank of the Kizil-don River, which means "Red River", the ancestors of the Ossetians had to create a necropolis on another slope of Mount Rabin-rakh.

Thanks to the special construction technology in closed crypts with thoughtful ventilation and a certain microclimate up to the 60s. of the last century, mummified bodies, ceramic and glass dishes, tools, weapons, wooden objects and even clothes with shoes have been perfectly preserved. According to preliminary estimates, about 10 thousand people are buried in the necropolis, taking into account that there are about 100 members of one clan in each tomb.

Some crypts have a stepped pyramid roof made of slate tiles

Over the years of research, more than 1, 6 thousand artifacts, characteristic of several eras at once, have been extracted. These items have become the property of museums of different levels. In addition, the sacred place is recognized as an architectural monument and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

3. Why stone houses?

Three types of crypts have been created in the necropolis, which differ in height, the number of levels and the shape of the roofs

Since there are no such tombs anywhere else, a logical question arises as to what made the Alans build in this way. Moreover, it was a very expensive pleasure. As determined by scientists and confirmed by local residents, the stone walls were erected using a special bonding solution, which included bird eggs, sour cream, milk and lime. Not to mention the formation of the roof, where a sheep had to be paid for every hewn corner stone.

There is also a local legend for this case, which speaks of the tragic events that took place in the settlement before the start of the battle with Tamerlane. According to legend, the militant Alans from the next raid brought a captive of unearthly beauty, from which all the men in the area lost their heads. Everyone wanted to get a girl as a wife, but they understood that it would not be possible to do this without bloodshed. Then they ask an elder for advice. But even the wisest elders bleed from such a beauty, and they decided to fight for her.

The tombs with a gable roof were built by families with an average income The most unassuming crypts are semi-underground structures that ordinary people could build

Realizing that the situation was heating up and soon all the men would cut each other, it was decided to kill the girl so that no one would get her. But only the beauty's heart stopped, a pestilence fell on the town. And the worst thing is that the bodies of the dead could not be buried, every time an unknown force pushed them out of its depths. That is why the Alans began to build stone tombs, from which there was no way out.

5. Burial in wooden boats

Deceased relatives were sent on their last journey in wooden boats

The construction of stone tombs is not one of the oddities that can be observed in this necropolis. One has only to look into the crypt, you can immediately see another unusual attribute - along the walls there are several rows of shelves on which shallow wooden boats are installed, in which the remains of the deceased are located. An explanation for this burial ritual can also be found in local legends. On this occasion, legends say that the Alans believed in an afterlife, and the dead needed boats to cross the “river of oblivion” and get into another world.

In addition, the most necessary and favorite things were put into the boat, and the dead were dressed in the best clothes. The women were in beautiful dresses and jewelry, and the men were in full outfit with weapons and a horse. The animal was not killed, but only tied near the crypt to the shelf where the owner's boat was located. The next day, the stallion was released to his heart's content, since it was impossible to sell it. In the event that a man was killed not on the battlefield, his weapon was given to the one who would avenge him.

6. Why did the inhabitants of Dargavs wait for death in the family crypt

Despite the frightening legends, streams of tourists rush to the necropolis

It turns out that during the next cholera epidemic (XVIII century), the sick inhabitants of Dargavs voluntarily left their homes and went to the ancestral tombs. There, next to the dead, they lived out their last days in order to protect the still healthy family members from adversity. Relatives visited the patients and passed food to them through a small hole. If the sick person did not respond, no one entered the crypt anyway, so some bodies remained in a sitting position and without a ritual boat.

The mysterious city guards the sleep of 10 thousand

Remarkable: In most cases, stone tombs had several levels with chambers for placing the bodies of the deceased, under which there was a pit. It was there that the remains of ancestors moved, freeing shelves for the further burial of family members. According to Batraz Tsogoyev, director of the National Museum of North Ossetia, in the entire history of the City of the Dead, only one person returned from voluntary imprisonment, and then after a full recovery.

It is logical to assume that this tradition was the reason for the appearance of the saying: "Anyone who, out of idle curiosity, dares to enter the crypt, will pay with his life."

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