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What secrets are kept and how are the ancient watchtowers of the family towers of the North Caucasus
What secrets are kept and how are the ancient watchtowers of the family towers of the North Caucasus

Most of the ancient architectural monuments that have survived to our time are buildings of a cult or religious nature. However, there are also such monumental buildings that had a completely practical purpose, necessary for the struggle and survival of a people or tribe. And these may not necessarily be some kind of castles surrounded by thick walls and deep ditches. On the slopes of the North Caucasus, stone watchtowers are scattered, which, like lighthouses against the background of the sea, lonely straightened among the silhouettes of the Caucasian peaks.

Caucasian towers as architectural works

Watchtowers in the Caucasus are considered one of the examples and symbols of the unique identity of the culture of the mountain peoples. Currently, such buildings can be found on the territory of 6 Russian republics: Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Ossetia and Chechnya. Watchtowers, being very successful in terms of fortification, as well as resistance to the forces of nature, at different times appeared in the cultures of many nations and peoples.

Watchtower in Ingushetia

From an economic point of view, such structures were very expensive to build. Consequently, the significance of these towers for a clan, tribe or a whole nation was difficult to overestimate. In view of this, such structures very often had a fairly wide functionality: they were both an observation post or a fortification for defense against invaders, and were used as ordinary housing.

It is because of their military purpose that most of the towers were destroyed and have not survived to this day. Historians have found that quite a few of these buildings were ancestral or family. An interesting fact is that the construction of the tower, from laying the foundation to the start of operation, should have lasted no more than one year. If the builders did not meet this deadline, the clan, whose tower was planned to be, began to be considered unfavorable.

Remains of a 14th century watchtower

As for the location of watchtowers, they were most often built in close proximity to villages. But the ancestral towers were erected in the settlement itself, closer to its center. If we talk about when the Caucasian peoples began to build such stone buildings, then the first towers that have survived to our time belong to the period of the X-XII centuries. Some watchtowers of the North Caucasus have been well preserved to this day and are very significant and visited tourist attractions.

Amirkhan tower in Kabardino-Balkaria

One of the outposts of the Cherek-Balkar gorge defense system is the Amirkhan tower, or Amirkhan-Kala. The uniqueness of this structure lies in the fact that it was built on a natural rock boulder more than 5 meters high. The tower was built approximately in the 17th-18th centuries by order of one of the heads of the Amirkhanov family.

Amirkhan tower

In the north-eastern wall of the tower there is an entrance door at a height of just under half a meter from the base. There is a window opening on the opposite wall (southwest). There is a small loophole on the northwest wall of the tower.The tower itself was built of roughly hewn stones, smeared with lime mortar and was two-story. This is evidenced by the characteristic wall openings into which the wooden floor beams were inserted.

Hulam aul tower

On the left side of the Khulamo-Bezengi gorge in Balkaria, a family watchtower rises above the village of Khulam. The location of this building from the point of view of its purpose is very favorable: the Khulam tower was erected on a horizontal platform, which is very difficult to reach.

One of the watchtowers of the Khulamo-Bezengi gorge

The only way to the building is a dangerous winding mountain path, which at the end abuts against the barrier wall of the Hulam tower, erected between the sheer cliffs.

Bolat-Kala tower complex

There is a whole complex of watchtowers - Bolat-Kala - in the Cherek-Balkarsky gorge. This complex is the largest fortification in the region. The construction of Bolat-Kala began in the 12th century with a single-chamber tower building, around which a stone wall was built. Later, next to the main tower, a 2-chamber structure with windows and a loophole was added, which provided an excellent view of the surrounding area.

One of the towers of the Bolat-Kala complex

The complex had one entrance in the wall, which is adjacent to the sheer cliff. The enemy couldn’t even penetrate, he couldn’t even approach the tower unnoticed. The complex could withstand not only massive enemy attacks, but also a very long siege. For this, several wells were built in one of the corners of the main tower. They were used by the defenders of the complex for storing food and other household needs.

Tower Mamiya-Kala in Karachay-Cherkessia

The Mamiya-Kala Tower was built on the top of Mount Kala-Basha around the 13th-14th centuries. This building is the only one in the Elbrus region, as well as the oldest building of this type in Karachay-Cherkessia. Mamiya-Kala was a fortification object that protected the village of Khuzruk. The base of the tower is a square.

Mamiya-Kala Tower

The watchtower was built of hewn stones, “fastened” in the masonry with lime mortar. Mamiya-Kala was a multi-storey building - in the walls at each of the levels, you can see indentations for the beams of the interfloor floors. Near the entrance to the tower, there is a well carved into the rock and lined with stone. In it, the defenders of Mamiya-Kala stored food, water and fuel supplies.

Watchtower of Musrukh village

The watchtower in the village of Musrukh in the Shamil region of Dagestan is one of the tallest surviving Caucasian towers. This seven-story building was built in the XV-XVI centuries. the Keleb community to protect against attacks from the tribal communities living in the Gidatl Valley.

Seven-story watchtower in Musrukh village

Strategically, the location of the Musrukh tower is very favorable - it was built in the center of the village and due to its height, as well as the height on which it was erected, the tower provided an excellent all-round view.

Itzari Ancestral Watchtower

A family watchtower rises on the edge of a mountain plateau near the settlement of Itzari, Dakhadayevsky district of Dagestan. Unlike most of the Caucasian towers, the Itzari tower has a round, rather than square, base. And the way of building this structure is slightly different from other towers. In Itzari, it was built from rough stones chipped from the rocks. As a bonding mixture, not lime, but clay mortar was used. To level the masonry of the wall, the architects of that time (XIV century) used medium-sized stones.

Round watchtower of Itzari

This architectural style is typical for most watchtowers in Dagestan. At all levels of the tower in its stone walls 2 m thick, loopholes are located in a circle. Currently, the tower near the village of Itzari is considered the largest of the fully preserved ones. After restoration, this landmark was included in the list of protected architectural monuments of federal significance.

Erzi tower complex

The complex of 31 towers in the Erzi Dzheyrakhsky region of the Republic of Ingushetia is currently considered the largest and most well-preserved tower complex in the North Caucasus. All of its buildings - and these are 20 residential, 9 combat and 2 semi-combat towers, were erected in the period from the XIV to the XVII centuries.

Erzi tower complex in Ingushetia

Erzi's towers have no foundations. They are built from large hewn stone boulders right on the rocky terrace. From the rear, the entire complex is reliably protected by mountains. All Erzi's battle towers have 5 levels with loopholes and observation windows.

Looking at these ancestral towers, you involuntarily begin to realize how difficult life was for the mountain peoples with the eternal struggle for the best pastures and lands. Now all this has become history and crumbled to dust between the centuries. And only the silent guards of the foothills - stone towers, still carry out their service against the backdrop of the majestic peaks of the North Caucasus.

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