Darial, Russia


Darial Gorge (Osset. Arvyk or Dayrany com, Georgian. checkpoint) Upper Lars and the village of Stepantsminda (Kazbegi). The length of the gorge is about 12 km. The name of the gorge - Darial (Dar-i-Alan) - is translated from Persian as “the gate of the Alans”. Since antiquity, almost the only path from Transcaucasia to the north passed along the gorge, the path was known since ancient times as the Darial Pass. In the most inaccessible place there was an impregnable fortress, blocking the path of the enemies. At the beginning of the gorge in the area of ​​Upper Lars there is an interesting attraction - a huge granite boulder that lies in the channel of the Terek - the Ermolovsky stone. Its dimensions: length 30 m, width 17 m, height about 15 m. The military set up observation posts in it, and in 1942 even artillery pillboxes.

For about 3 km, rocks rise up to 1000 m above the riverbed. The Georgian Military Road passes through the gorge, crossing a tunnel and a bridge on the Russian side, and then another tunnel, inside which the Russian-Georgian state border passes.


History of origin and description of the Darial Gorge

The Darial Gorge is located on the border of Georgia and North Ossetia on the Russian side. Nature has formed this gorge with the help of a river, through the rocks of the Greater Caucasus range. To the east of the gorge is the famous Mount Kazbek, the gorge itself is located between the Ossetian village of Upper Lars, and the Georgian village of Stepantsminda. The gorge is a deep canyon 12 km long, with the Terek River flowing at the bottom. The width of the gorge is about 100 m, its walls are steep and sheer.

The Georgian Military or Military-Galgaevskaya road from ancient times was the only way connecting Ossetia and Georgia. It was called the Darial passage and went along the Terek through the Cross Pass at an altitude of more than 2000 km. Going down to the Kura River on the side of Georgia, the road leads to Tbilisi. The ancient Greek historian Strabo has an ancient description of this winding and dangerous alpine serpentine. The modern road repeats the historical path.

Before the construction of the current road, the path through the Darial gorge was difficult and long, especially in winter. The snow-covered path winding along the raging river was marked only by sticks stuck in the snow along the route. On the northern slope of Mount Kazbek, the Devdorak glacier was formed. This powerful ice sheet is the largest on Kazbek. Periodically, collapses occur from it, during which huge masses of ice and stones fall on the Georgian Military Highway, in the Terek and the Darial Gorge.

In different years, starting from the 1700s, landslides blocked the gorge with ice dams up to 100 m high, as a result of which the road, surrounding villages and auls were flooded. The first information about the Darial Gorge appears in 262. Tesnina is mentioned in the inscriptions of the Shah of Persia Shapur I. Since ancient times, Georgia was under the cultural and political influence of Persia. The name Dar-i-Alan in Persian means the door or gate of the Alans.

The Ossetians called the gorge Dairan, which translates as "heavenly gorge". In ancient Georgian chronicles, the Darial Gorge is referred to as Dergali or Darialani, and as a result received its modern name. This gorge was the site of numerous historical clashes and battles, the Caucasian peoples in different periods tried to take this wild place under their control. The nomadic tribes waged continuous wars with the Iberians living in Georgia in order to take possession of the Darial Pass.

In the 1st century A.D. e. the gorge was blocked off by a real stone wall with iron gates, which made it possible to control the gorge from the Georgian side. Around the same time, a fortification was built, which today is considered the oldest fortress of the Georgian kingdom - there are mentions of it in the notes of Pliny, a writer of antiquity. The fortress was practically impregnable, having rocky cliffs on the eastern and northern sides.

All subsequent rulers of Georgia strengthened and modernized the citadel, it was rebuilt and renovated in the 5th and 12th centuries. Many legends and tales are connected with the Darial fortress, it was believed that Georgian queens Tamara and Daria lived here at different times. M. Yu. Lermontov's verse "Tamara" is dedicated to this legend, but there is no historical evidence for this. At present, two-meter-thick walls with a passage and the remains of a tower remain from the fortress.

In the Darial Gorge there is an unusual attraction - the Yermolovsky stone. This is a megalithic boulder weighing over 15,000 tons. A granite piece of rock 17 m high is striking in its size. However, the real mystery is its appearance in the gorge - all the surrounding rocks are made of slate, and the boulder is made of granite. Where did it come from - many scientists puzzled. The most plausible version is the avalanche from the Devdoraki glacier, which brought this megalith with it.

The stone was first described in 1867 by the scientist G. Abich, a naturalist and geologist studying the Caucasus. The boulder is named after General Yermolov, the conqueror of the Caucasus. According to legend, the general liked to sit on this stone, climbing iron brackets driven into the south side of the boulder. It is believed that a Cossack patrol was established near the stone, and Yermolov liked to stop here to rest. Another legend is the signing by the general of a peace treaty with the Dagestan king in 1821.

In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War, fortifications were built on the Georgian Military Highway to prevent German troops from entering the Darial Gorge. The stone was turned into a fortification. Rocks were removed from the boulder, concrete was poured and rooms were equipped for cannons and machine guns. A shooting platform was made on top of the stone. The Germans were stopped in Ossetia, and it was not necessary to use the boulder as a defensive structure. Until the 2000s, there was a frontier post on the Yermolovsky stone.


Other names

The Darial Gorge was known to ancient geographers as the Caucasus Gates (the Gates of the Caucasus), the Alan Gates, as well as the Sarmatian Gates.

Alan Gates is the ancient name of the Darial Gorge after the Alans, who owned this important passage through the Main Caucasian ridge in the early Middle Ages.

The Sarmatians are an ancient people who inhabited the steppe regions north of the Caucasus.


How to get to the Darial Gorge

Public transport to the Darial Gorge runs from the capital of Ossetia - Vladikavkaz. Regular bus number 61 goes from the Central Market at the address: st. Dzhanaeva, 40. The bus goes to the border post Upper Lars. The bus leaves three times a day. Passengers are dropped off near the checkpoint. The distance is 32 km, the travel time is within an hour. Another option is to take the bus from Vladikavkaz Airport to Tbilisi.

Buses leave twice a day and go to the Ortachala bus station in Tbilisi. There will be an intermediate stop near the Upper Lars checkpoint, the travel time to the checkpoint is about 3 hours. The best and fastest way to get to the Darial Gorge is by car. From Vladikavkaz, take the highway E117/A301. The path goes past the villages of Balta, Chmi and Nizhny Lars. The length of the route is 30 km, the approximate travel time is 40 minutes. In Vladikavkaz, you can order a taxi or minibus.

Services Maxim, Drive, Orion, Vip-taxi Ossetia and others work. You can also place an order through the Yandex-taxi mobile application. There are also organized bus tours from Vladikavkaz - they can be purchased on the websites of travel agencies. From Tbilisi, you can get to the gorge by bus from the Didube bus station. You should get off at the village of Stepantsminda. It is worth remembering that the Upper Lars checkpoint cannot be crossed on foot. It can only be reached by transport.


When is the best time to visit the Darial Gorge?

Tourists should remember that the Darial Gorge is located in the mountains and, therefore, the weather conditions here can change abruptly and suddenly. In winter, a sharp wind with strong gusts can blow, carrying snow storms. It is not for nothing that Mount Kazbek in Georgia is called Mkinvartsve, which means ice peak in translation. Dense and dense fog can descend from the mountain, making it difficult to travel along the Georgian Military Highway. The road itself is periodically blocked by snow avalanches and avalanches.

Considering that tourists who get on the road during the period of blockages can wait for the checkpoint to open for several days, or even weeks, winter and off-season are not the best time to travel along mountain serpentines. The ideal time to travel to the Darial Gorge is from May to September. During this period, alpine meadows flourish on the slopes of the mountains and all the natural beauty of the region is revealed. Also, in warm and dry times, it is better to visit numerous monasteries and churches, the path to which for the most part lies through the mountains.

What tourists need to know when visiting the Darial Gorge
In 1783, the Treaty of St. George was signed and Georgia came under the protectorate of Russia. On the old road, the journey from Russia to Georgia took more than a month. In 1811, the construction of a new road began, a colossal amount of work was carried out to strengthen and backfill the canvas, build dams, bridges and dams. The modern Georgian Military Highway has a length of more than 200 km, it is convenient for travel and landscaped. But today the passage on it has restrictions.

Tourists need to know that from Russia it will not be possible to drive along the entire Georgian Military Highway without a foreign passport and a reason for travel. The path ends at the Upper Lars checkpoint. The basis for crossing the Russian-Georgian border is the documented presence of relatives and real estate in Georgia, a trip for treatment or study. But even before the checkpoint along the road there are a lot of interesting tourist places for travelers.

A few years ago, the two-lane road in the neutral zone between the Russian and Georgian checkpoints was widened and improved to 7 lanes. Along the roadside, sidewalks are equipped along the sides, benches and dry closets are set up. In front of the Russian checkpoint, tourists have everything they need - currency exchange and insurance points, a hotel with a room for mother and child, bank terminals. It should be remembered that at the checkpoint there is always a line of trucks and trucks waiting for customs inspection.


What else to see in the vicinity of the Darial Gorge

In Stepantsminda, the local history museum of Kazbegi is a must-see. It is located in a stone two-story building that belonged to the writer Alexander Kazbegi, who wrote the story "The Parricide". It is believed that the writer is a descendant of the local prince Kazibeg, after whom Kazbek was named. The central exhibit of the museum is the gate of the Bethlem cave, a door forged from iron and entangled in chains. The door was found in the highlands of Kazbek, it closed the ancient rocky chapel.

The gates and objects of worship found in the cave date back to the 10th-11th centuries. In addition to artifacts from the Bethlem cave, the museum has an exhibition dedicated to the writer himself, the history of Georgia and the conquest of Kazbek. Not far from Stepantsminda is the Jeirakh Gorge. This gorge is a protected open-air museum of Ingushetia. You can admire the beauty of the snow-covered Caucasus Range, visit mineral springs and see the pearl of Ingushetia - ancient watchtowers.

In the village of Chmi, which is located on the Ossetian side at the entrance to the Darial passage, you can see a complex of ancient archaeological burials. The Alans buried warriors in chain mail with weapons - axes, swords and arrows. A large number of artifacts of enormous historical value were found in the burials - household items, gold and silver coins and jewelry, glassware and clay dishes. The complex is dated to the 6th-9th centuries.

The Darial Gorge is a stunningly beautiful place, with the harsh beauty of the Caucasus Mountains and the wild energy of the Terek. It is easy to breathe deeply here and it is impossible to cover all the cliffs, peaks and canyons with one glance. Nature and history have merged together here and time seems to have frozen in the ancient picturesque villages, dizzying gloomy clefts and sun glare on the eternal snowy slopes. Those who see the Darial Gorge will never forget this feeling of freedom and grandeur of the Caucasus.