Mysterious and magnificent ancient cemetery of North Ossetia
Christian churches, agricultural prosperity and a magnificent ancient necropolis, known as the City of the Dead attract tourists from all over Russia.
The village of Dargavs, or as the locals call it the City of the Dead, has a cemetery with almost 100 ancient stone crypts where people that lived in the valley buried their loved ones along with clothes and belongings.
Three hours drive through a dangerous snaking road hidden up in the mountains is a tough trip but it is worth it. The valley that stretches for over 17 kilometers is a real open air museum for Ossetians. They say these monuments help them understand how people lived in the region 400 years ago.
The first mention about the City of the Dead dates back to the beginning of the 14th Century. The ancestors of Ossetians settled down on the five mountain ridges, but the land was so expensive they were forced to choose the windiest and most unserviceable place for their cemetery.
There are a lot of myths and legends surrounding the place. In the past, locals tried to avoid going to the City of the Dead. They believed anyone who dared to walk in would never walk out alive. Even now there are hardly any tourists around the place which might be attributed to the difficulty of travelling there rather than to a deadly curse.
The area provides a huge opportunity for archeologists. Items found at the cemetery have intrigued both professionals and local amateurs.
One of the discoveries has shown that bodies were often buried in boats, which might strike as odd considering none of the rivers are navigable. However, archeologists say that Ossetians believed in order to get to heaven, the soul of the departed has to cross a river, hence the sailboat.
In the times of the plague many people, with no one left to bury them, would come to the crypt and wait for their death.
These days, a once prosperous area is being deserted by people in search of a different lifestyle. For a local Ossetian,Ahshar Varziev, this is a devastating fact. He has built his own hydropower plant that provides him and his family with electricity, but he does not know who will inherit his legacy.
“The idea was born over ten years ago, but it took me several years to build it from scratch, I used everything I could possibly find. I call my invention a free-flow wheel. But what I see now is that people are leaving, half of our village left in less than ten years,” he said.
Ahshar believes the only thing that can stop people from leaving is the creation of the necessary infrastructure as well as new jobs and opportunities.
Young people may be drawn to the bright city lights, but locals say they are leaving behind a truly unique part of Russia.
The land of North Ossetia is surrounded by mountains and hills and while driving along these hills it is possible to suddenly run into a church or a small mosque blending into the scenery.
Father Georgiy left his secular life to live and work at The Alansky Monastery of the Assumption, which is the highest situated monastery in Russia. The church was only built some six years ago but it stands close to the tower that dates back to the 16th Century.
Father Georgiy says that for local Christians it is a truly unique place:“During the celebration of Epiphany over 10,000 people come here.”
After spending several hours in the mountainous area of North Ossetia you can almost feel the vibe of ancient history coursing through the veins of endless valleys and rivers, and if you will listen hard enough you can almost hear the forefathers of Ossetia singing their songs by the fire.