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City of the Dead, Ossetia, Russia

 

Dargavs in the city of the dead near Vladikavnas. The 44 beehive shaped tombs, some resembling boats, have been mostly restored and some still hold human remains in various stages of decay.

By Charlene Lowe Kemp

The village of Dargavs, often referred to as the city of the dead,  is considered to be one of the most mysterious sites in Russia. Hidden away in one of the five mountains in the Caucasus mountains, the “city” is actually an ancient necropolis full of tombs or crypts.  The people who lived here, buried their loved ones with their belongings on this site for reasons that have been lost in the passage of time.

There are many myths and legends that surround the site and in the past the local people have refused to go here out of fear that they would not come out alive. The first mention of the City of the Dead dates back to the beginning of the 14th Century (but some sources say the oldest of the crypts dates back to the 12th century).

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In each crypt human skulls and bones have been found. Interestingly, it was discovered that the bodies inside the crypts were buried in wooden structures resembling boats.
Though there are no rivers nearby the village, it is thought they did this as it was thought that the soul of the dead one had to cross a wide river after death.

Another interesting fact is that there are wells positioned in front of each crypt, into which family members would throw a coin in the hopes that if the coin hit a stone, it was said to be a good sign and the dead family member would make it to heaven.

It is believed that plague victims may have been brought here at one point. In the 18th century, according to one legend, a plague swept through Ossetia, wiping out 90 percent of the surrounding population. The clans built quarantine houses to isolate themselves from the village, patiently awaiting their death. When they died, their corpses were left to rot inside these huts.

 

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