City of the Dead; Dargavs, Russia

A place called the City of the Dead actually exists in Russia’s North Ossetia, hidden in one of the five mountain ridges that cross the region. Needless to say, several myths and legends shroud the place, with locals claiming that no one has ever come back alive. The ‘city’ hardly ever gets any tourists either, although this might be due to the difficulty of just getting there.

Reaching Dargavs, the City of the Dead, entails a three-hour journey through winding, narrow roads, and several hills. The foggy mountain weather certainly doesn’t help matters. Once there, you’ll find that the city is in fact another hill covered with small white buildings. It is these very buildings that cause the place to get it’s name. The white house-like structures, countless in number, are stone crypts where locals buried their loved ones. The city itself is an ancient Ossetian cemetery. Each family of the area has a crypt, and the higher the structure, the greater the number of people buried in it. The oldest of the crypts dates back to the 16th century.

The area is of little interest to anyone, barring a few archaeologists who have made some unusual discoveries here. It was discovered for instance, that the bodies inside the crypts were buried in wooden structures that look like boats. The mystery remains as to how the boats came to be in a place with no navigable rivers. One explanation is that the departed soul had to cross a river in order to get to heaven, and hence the boat. Another interesting presence is that of a well in front of each crypt. It is said that once the Ossetians buried their dead, they would drop a coin in the well. If it happened to hit a stone at the bottom, it was taken to mean that the soul had reached heaven.

Some buildings are out of limits – these are the crypts of the criminals of the land. It is also said that when plagues wiped out entire families, people with no one to bury them would come to their family crypt and wait for their death.