North Ossetia: land of abundance
The republic of North Ossetia is located in the very heart of the Caucasus, where Europe meets Asia. With breathtaking views across five mountain ridges and over 50 lakes this land leads to friendly people, amazing national food and rich traditions.
One of the smallest regions in Russia, it is situated on the northern slopes of the Central Caucasus between two of the highest mountain peaks in Europe, Kazbek and Elbrus. Almost half of the territory is located in the mountain area.
The name of the republic’s capital, Vladikavkaz, in Russian means the place that owns the Caucasus and indeed it was a former fortress closing the way to the Greater Caucasian Mountains. It also stands on the biggest river in the Caucasian region – the river Terek.
Although formally Ossetians were part of the Caucasian countries, their origins are mysterious and are far from that region.
Half of the population speaks Ossetian, which is the only Indo-European language in the Northern Caucasus.
“That makes us unique in a way. We are the representatives of a different language family, and there are only Armenians in the Southern Caucasus that belong to this,” explains the head of the State University Language Center Elmira Gutieva.
Many Ossetians follow the traditions of their ancestors, and try to do so in every aspect of their daily lives, from what they cook to what they wear.
In this part of the world, cooking is not considered a real man’s job. However, nowadays, more and more men get involved in it.
“I dreamt of being involved in the confectionery business for as long as I can remember,” says Valery Abiev, a local chef.
“I always wanted to learn the secrets of Ossetian national cuisine, I wanted to help people through making good food.”
None of his family supported him in the village home he shared with his mother and five brothers. He left his home and moved to the city and watched his passion grow into a number of food factories.
“I call my crew ‘Barkat’. In Ossetian it means ‘abundance in everything’. Life develops now, but we shouldn’t forget our ancestors and we should follow our traditions. That’s the most important in what I believe,” adds Abiev.
Ossetian food is based upon three pies. Some of the cooking secrets have been handed down through the generations.
For Ossetians these pies mean much more than just simple, festive food. The round shape of this pie signifies the universe; and the hole in the middle is the creator. Ossetians put three pies on the table, one for each of the three elements: air, water and earth.
Living in the mountainous area locals try to use everything the earth gives them. For the filling they use potatoes, homemade cheese and even leaves of beetroots. In wealthy families pies are also made with mutton.
It is not just these tasty treats which have stood the test of time. Family ceremonies, especially weddings, are among the most deeply-held and aesthetic traditions.
Some bridal salons are like cultural time machines where the spirit of Ossetians through the ages are woven into delicate gowns.
Most brides choose their wedding own dress. But in Ossetia they take customization to the highest level. All girls here learn the intricate skills needed to make almost every inch of detail in the handmade gowns unique and precise.
Following in the traditions of their parents, most women in North Ossetia get married wearing a national wedding costume.
Some costumes are perfect copies of what brides wore 200 years ago. All the detail on them is handmade and it takes more than a month to get such a dress ready for the big day.
Skilled craftwork runs in the blood of the people in North Ossetia, from bridal gowns and suits for office workers to lavish costumes for the top stages in Russia.
One of the workshops for St. Petersburg’s prestigious Mariinsky opera and ballet theater is based in one of the narrow streets of Vladikavkaz.
“This idea belongs to the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev,” explains one of the costume designers. “We studied in St. Petersburg for two years at the beginning of our work and now we do everything independently and bring the finished costume to the theater.”
For a region enclosed by towering mountains, North Ossetia’s presence is felt way beyond its rural borders. These are traditions that translate abroad and delight the travelers who come here.