Russia’s City of the Dead: The mysterious cemetery in Dargavs, North Ossetia

David Goran
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Located outside the village of Dargavs in North Ossetia, Russia, is a large above-ground mystical necropolis with elaborate, ancient tombs, called the “City of the Dead” where people that lived in the valley buried their loved ones along with their clothes and belongings.

The necropolis, located on a hillside outside the village, looks like a small village itself. Source

The necropolis, located on a hillside outside the village, looks like a small village itself. Source

The valley stretches for 17 kilometres and the cemetery contains 99 different ancient stone tombs and crypts. 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).

The ancestors of Ossetians settled down on the five mountain ridges but the necropolis was placed in such a hard-to-reach location because the land back then was so expensive and they had to put their cemetery on an otherwise relatively useless piece of land.

It lies in the middle of a mountain valley which stretches over 17 kilometers. Source

It lies in the middle of a mountain valley which stretches over 17 kilometres. Source

 

The ancestors of Ossetians were forced to choose the windiest and most unserviceable place for their cemetery. Source

The ancestors of Ossetians were forced to choose the windiest and most unserviceable place for their cemetery. Source

 

99 crypts keep ancient secrets for many years. Source

99 crypts keep ancient secrets for many years. Source

 

The crypts in Dargavs were built in ancient Nakh style, characteristic of the people who lived in the region. Source

The crypts were built in ancient Nakh style, characteristic of the people who lived in the region. Source

The placement and “plan” is very similar to the Necropolis in Itum-Kali , where the tombs and crypts are placed on hills or mountain sides closely together, though some crypts are located sparsely. On the highest point or at least higher up than the rest of the buildings, there must always be a tower to watch over the dead.

At the back of the complex there is a tower to watch over the dead. Source

At the back of the complex, there is a tower to watch over the dead. Source1 Source2

 

The bigger crypts can be 2–4 stories high. Source

The bigger crypts can be 2–4 stories high. Source

 

The crypts have ridged curved roofs going inwards in steps with a pointed peak at the top. Source

The crypts have ridged curved roofs going inwards in steps with a pointed peak at the top. Source

Residents have been burying their dead here for hundreds of years and 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 navigable 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.

The smaller crypts have flat sides and they have no roofs at all. Source

The smaller crypts have flat sides and they have no roofs at all. Source

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.

The crypts that are more sparsely placed are common crypts where people would be buried if there were no one to bury them or if they were not from the village. Source

The crypts that are more sparsely placed are common crypts where people would be buried if there were no one to bury them or if they were not from the village. Source

 

Skeletons inside Dargavs Crypt. Source

Skeletons inside Dargavs Crypt. Source

There are a lot of myths and legends surrounding the place. It is said that there were plagues that wiped out entire families. 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.

The walls have square slits to put in the corpses. Source

The walls have square slits to put in the corpses. Source

 

Even now this scary place is still shrouded in mystery. Source

Even now this scary place is still shrouded in mystery. Source

Another myth is that the place is cursed and any man who dared to walk in would never walk out alive and this is one of the reasons the locals tried to avoid going to the City of the Dead.