The land of towers in the Caucasus: 14 spectacular villages where every house was a fortress

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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.

Caucasian towers

But the inhabitants of these journeyed areas, instead of building castles and citadels, 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, which 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

Land of towers
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.

The top picture is from the medieval fortress of Keselo above the village of Omalo. Dartlo, also in Tusheti (pictured), 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 and David Fielke (top).

Towers in Georgia
The old hamlet of Mutso in the 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 Georgia
Shatili is already a popular destination for mountain trekkers and tourists in general.

The access to the towers used to be on the second floor. The ground floor was filled in with earth and stone to protect the tower bottom against ramming.

Svaneti Georgia
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

Svaneti Towers
Lenjeri is a village with many Svan towers, just before arriving at the capital and touristic hub of Mestia.

Postcard from Mestia. The Upper Svaneti region has been a 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

Ingushetia Towers
The most amazing thing here is that there are 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

Ingushetia Russia
The remains of Egikal. Foreign citizens must obtain special permits to travel to these lands, a situation that discourages the arrival of tourists into the country.
Image by Кирилла и Ани Яночкиных

Ingushetia Tourism
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

Battle towers
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

Erzi Towers
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

City of the Dead
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

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