Aul on the stone:
Author: Polina Lyubimova
Located on top of Mount Gamsutlmeer in Dagestan is a picturesque village considered one of the oldest settlements in the territory of the republic.
High in the mountains, the Dagestani ghost village of Gamsult today may appear to be the perfect backdrop for shooting a mystical film, but years ago, this village had developed infrastructure and was a bustling one. Later serving as a prison, it fell into desolation at the end of the last century — and for many years, it boasted a single inhabitant.
On a bare sharp rock, shaped like a rooster’s head, is the village of Gamsutl. “It’s difficult to visualise, because it seems incredible that people can live on such a steep cliff, but we can hear the barking of dogs and the roosters’ crow from there, ” Dagestan’s first secular artist, Khalil-Bek Musayasul writes about the inaccessible village. As we look to the expanse, we see the same view that met the artist growing up in neighbouring Chokh from the terrace of his home, peering into the outlines lost in the grey haze of the clouds.
Gamsutl takes its name with aul, meaning belonging, and gam, believed to have been formed from the Avar word ‘Gamach’, meaning stone, directly translated into ‘on a stone’.
Today, Gamsutl is deserted. While it was bustling in the middle of the twentieth century, with electricity, shops, a school and post office — even a maternity ward, in the 1960s as residents started to leave their native village to the more inhabited Chokh, it slowly emptied.
While the poetised version of the name of the aul is possible to find in many articles, there is not much in terms of actual background. ‘Gamsutl’ is said to be the translation of ‘citadel at the base of the cliff’, arguing that the territory of the aul once boasted a Khan’s palace-fortress.
However it’s unlikely that the village was the Khan’s fortress. Despite its proximity to the Avar Khanate (more popularly known as Khunzakh Khanate), the territory has historically been a region of the Andalal free community. For this reason, while the citadel appearance is a common one for the majority of the mountain auls, the question around the existence of a Khanate citadel remains.
Auls Gamsutl and Chock are located in the Gunibsky region of Dagestan, in the heart of a truly picturesque Andalanskaya valley. Separated by several kilometers, the village of Chokh is a historical one, one of the most ancient in the North Caucasus, with routes of the world’s most vital network, the Great Silk Road, passing through.
Due to its remote location and inaccessibility, Gamsutl acquired a different glory. In Shamil’s Imamah, the settlement became “Shamil’s Siberia” and guilty highlanders were exiled there.
Construction in the village followed the laws of Avar mountain architecture. In the Saklia structure, the rock serves as one of the walls. If the shape was not suitable, it was crushed into pieces and used for construction. Overlapping floors and ceilings like intricate carpets were woven from logs and twigs. The flat roof was covered with earth and tamped with stone rollers. Quite often, the roof of one house served as the floor for the other. Richer houses could have two or three floors, several rooms in each and three or four cowsheds. Built from sandy-ocher stone, nothing breaks the monochromatic colour idyll.
The last resident of the aul, Abdul Jalil Abduljalilov, described how two folding bridges operated on either side of the village. During the day, people would go to the lower part of Gamsutl where there was agricultural land. At night, the bridges were raised and the aul was locked. A spring, Kuanits, directly translated from Avar as ‘edible water’ could be found in the lower part and supplied the villagers with drinking water. Traditionally, brides were taken the second day after the wedding to this spring.
“I am the happiest man. Some people died, others are still alive, and I remained the last of the Mohicans. I wake up to the singing of birds, light the stove, put tea on… You can live!”
Abdul Jalil Abduljalilov died in 2015, but his aul is not forgotten. Today Gamsutl is one of the most popular attractions for ghost-aul lovers.
Gamsutl is not the only one: ghost-auls are scattered all over the republic. In the Gubinsky area, 12 kilometers from Gunib and half-an-hour from Karadakh narrow, the Koroda village (from the Avar “kjor” — “trap”) can be found there. Today the aul is divided to the new and old part, and the route from one to the other follows a semicircular arch, reminiscent of a gateway between two dimensions. The last inhabitant of the village passed away in 2019.
In a two-hour walk from the famous village of goldsmiths Kubachi (Dakhadayevsky district of Dagestan) there is the village of Amuzgi. The best blades were once forged here, which were then decorated by Kubachi jewelers. An enchantingly beautiful mountain road leads to it, starting from the old Kubachi cemetery. Up until the 1930s, Amuzgi was one of the most famous centers for the manufacture of weapons in the North Caucasus. After the decline in demand for blades, the inhabitants of the village began to engage in agriculture. In 2016, the last resident of Amuzgi, Patmat Nugaeva, passed away, with her house offering lodgings for shepherds now.
And in South Dagestan, in the Akhtyn region, in the valley of the Muglakhchay river, at an altitude of 2300 meters, the walls of the Lezghin aul Ukhul are living out their days under the watchful eyes of the Shalbuzdag mountain.
VIDEO: Alice Kuchinski