понедельник, 21 сентября 2009 г.


By Andrei Ptashnikov

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Today we'll take you to Ingushetiya, one of the most ancient and beautiful republics of the Russian Federation. It is often referred to as “the gem of Northern Caucasus”, and “the land of stone towers”.

Situated at the foothills of the Big Caucasian Range, Ingushetiya is considered the youngest republic of Russia, as a constituent member of the federation as well as in terms of the average age of its population which is less than 30 years. That despite the fact that there are numerous cases of remarkable longevity there, mortality rate is lower and birth rate as well as life expectancy are quite a bit higher than the statistical average for Russia.

It is hardly surprising, as Nature has lavished these parts with generous gifts: snow-capped mountains and wooded slopes, stunningly beautiful and strikingly shaped rocks, cliffs and gorges. Rivers and brooks with crystal-clear, pure water. Valleys carpeted with motley flowers, lush green pastures, and mineral springs. And, of course, the clean and life-giving mountainous air! Could there be a better place to live long and procreate?

The history of the Ingush people is twenty centuries old. They, or rather their distant ancestors Vainakhs, are first mentioned in ancient chronicles as early as the first century B.C. The Caucasian mountains have drawn people to them from time immemorial. They used to be a crossroads of sorts where east to west and north to south migratory routes converged. The Great Silk Way too ran across them. This land has often witnessed bloodshed, inter-ethnic conflicts, and foreign invasions. The land was invaded by the Hun tribes in the 5th century and by the Tatars and Mongols in the 14th century.

But all invaders failed to stay too long in the Caucasus and enslave its indigenous inhabitants. Mountain-dwellers always preferred a tribal way of life and did all they could to preserve it, secure its prosperity, and protect it from the enemies. The Ingush people were no exception. In the early centuries they devised a unique warning and defense system to prevent an enemy invasion.

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One of the basic elements of that system were stone towers. In a local dialect the word “Ingush” means “tower dweller”. The towers were built on high rocks and cliffs, at entrances to and exits from mountainous gorges. They varied according to their purpose and intended functionality. There were three main types: residential towers, signal towers, and battle towers. The names are quite descriptive, so we’ll talk about the towers’ general characteristics.

The most crucial stage of the construction project was finding a suitable site that had to meet most stringent requirements. To begin with, it had to be located high enough. The chosen site would then be checked and re-checked for suitability. The first test would be to pour milk on the site. If the milk quickly became absorbed, it meant that the soil was too soft and not adequate for supporting a heavy stone tower. If the milk stayed on the surface, it was an indication that the soil was rocky and it could serve as a reliable foundation. There was yet another reason why construction on soft soils was not practiced. The mountainous areas were short of fertile soils, and every arable plot of land, however small, was used for agricultural purposes.

Башня, горная Ингушетия
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The testing of the tower construction site didn’t end there. Even if the soil was hard, the chosen site was further tested — a bull or a sheep was brought onto it at nightfall. If the animal felt comfortable enough there and fell asleep, the site was deemed suitable for a residential area where the entire clan would feel at home. If that was not the case, a new site was searched for. One more factor was taken into account — the access to the tower was to be tricky and complicated to minimize a possibility of an unexpected attack.

The entire clan took part in the construction project. The work was usually supervised by the more experienced builder-superintendent. Occasionally he was hired from outside the family. A tower was to be built within one year. Otherwise, the neighbours could conclude that the clan in question was too weak and the tower defective.

Construction was hard work. Not only the huge and heavy stones had to be found, they had to be hoisted to a considerable height and then fitted to one another lest the tower would collapse. The builders invented special devices that helped them manage the task. The towers were usually 3 to 4 stories, up to 30 meters tall. Different floors housed cattle, residential quarters, stocks of foodstuffs and drinking water, and even guest rooms.

External ladders were used to climb up and down the floors.

There was always a secret underground tunnel that allowed the residents to escape the tower unnoticed. The tallest floor equipped with small gun-slots in the walls was intended for storage of ammunition and for defense. It was also used to send signals to other towers to warn about the imminent danger. A bonfire usually served as such a warning signal. Sometimes signal and battle towers were built alongside a residential tower. That reduced the risk of an unexpected attack and made the life of the clan much safer. Wealthy families erected virtual castles up in the mountains with massive fortifications around them turning them into impregnable fortresses.

Not far from the towers underground family crypts were built, where the dead of that particular clan alone were buried. Even when a highly respected guest died, he was never buried in the family crypt. The body in a casket would be transported to his own village, regardless of the distance. The Ingush people, just like many others, believe in life after death and consider it to be the next stage of their earthly life. The only difference being that the sun shines by day for the living and by night for the dead.

Ancient places of worship of mountain-dwellers are considered the most enigmatic. Not too many of them have survived to this day. They used to be magnificent pagan temples and sanctuaries built into the rocks. Not only were they the venues of religious rites and ceremonies, disputes between neighbours were settled there as well. Passing judgment were the elders — the most respected and experienced senior members of various clans.

About a hundred stone structures still stand in Ingushetia, mostly towers. No one lives there anymore, but, much like sentries, they continue to guard the mountain gorges. The entire territory of the republic has been declared a national historical and architectural reserve. It is stunningly beautiful in all seasons. Thousands of tourists come there not only to marvel at the fairytale nature of this land, but also to see with their own eyes the unique guards of the Big Caucasian Range, as if grown into the soaring rocks.

Source:The Voice of Russia,wikipedia

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