The Caucasus mountains have been always a land of warriors and survivors. Highlanders not only have to endure severe winters in remote villages, remaining cut off from the rest of the world. In addition, for centuries many armies and empires made their way through these valleys, nested in the border between Asia and Europe.
But the inhabitants of these journeyed areas, instead of building castles and citadels, they organized themselves in a different way. Every household erected its own fortified tower. This may be because the villagers also had to cope with a closer lethal enemy: their own neighbors. Blood feuds between families used to be the order of the day. More or less as it happened in the Italian town of San Gimignano, that still preserves a dozen of its tower houses.
So in case of conflict, clan members ran to lock themselves in the family's bastion. All these circumstances produced a fantastic defensive architecture specialized in building towers, that we can find in Georgia and in the Russian Republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia. Also in Chechnya and Dagestan are hundreds of these tall strongholds, often surrounded by spectacular scenery. You can find a map with some of the locations at the end of this post.
All along the Georgian watchtowers
Tusheti is a remote and mysterious small region near the border with Chechnya. Because of the snow it remains isolated from the rest of Georgia for most of the year. Pictured, the medieval fortress of Keselo above the village of Omalo. Image by David Fielke
Dartlo, also in Tusheti, is the tiny village that you can see in the background. Only one man stays the winter, taking care of the cattle. The towers were usually built in strategic locations to control the access to roads and mountain passes. Also they used to keep visual contact with the nearest beacon. Image by Joe Coyle
The old hamlet of Mutso in Khevsureti region, was abandoned for a century and now is being slowly restored. The price for a family to build a tower was between 50 to 60 cows. I'm wondering if they could get a mortgage. Interest would be paid in chicken units. Image by Andrzej Wójtowicz
Shatili is already a popular destination for mountain trekkers and tourists in general.
The access to the towers used to be in the second floor. The ground floor was filled in with earth and stone to protect the tower bottom against ramming.
Now we jump more than one hundred miles to the west. Svaneti is a region with a strong distinctive character inside Georgia. Ushguli is a community of four villages and is considered one of the highest permanent settlements in Europe (6,900-7,910 ft). Image by Marco Fieber
Lenjeri is a village with many Svan towers, just before to arrive to the capital and touristic hub of Mestia.
Postcard from Mestia. The Upper Svaneti region is an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.
In times of war, many valuables from the rest of Georgia were taken here to safeguard the national heritage.
The wondrous abandoned valley of towers in Ingushetia
The long period of political instability in Ingushetia (war next door in Chechnya, poverty, corruption, etc.) helped to preserve the beauty of places like Targim (pictured), practically in its original state.
Image by Кирилла и Ани Яночкиных
The most amazing thing here is that there is absolutely no people in places like the tower complex of Pyaling. Also there are no modern buildings nearby. The reason: Stalinist deportations in 1944 emptied the area and killed a third of the Ingush people. Image by Кирилла и Ани Яночкиных
The remains of Egikal. Foreign citizens must obtain special permits to travel to this lands, a situation that discourages the arrival of tourists into the country. Image by Кирилла и Ани Яночкиных
Two stunning structures on either side are locking the entrance to the gorge in Vovnushki. The towers used to be connected by a pendant bridge. Image by Барбадос
There is a big difference between battle towers (taller, mushroom shaped, topped by a pyramid) and residential towers (wider, more like a home). Pictured, the impressive medieval site of Nij. Image by Кирилла и Ани Яночкиных
At dawn, two battle towers in Erzi hold the sun like a cosmic gong.
Image by Natalya zvereva
Dargavs, the City of the Dead in North Ossetia–Alania
Finally we would like to include a peculiar village of 99 houses shaped like small towers, built to entomb the dead.
Image by Sergey Norin
Some of the crypts are up to four levels high. A great plague killed most of the inhabitants of the region some centuries ago. These structures could have been used as the last home for the sick, staying away in a sort of quarantine area, never to come back again. Image by Alex Svirkin