Dagestan: A land of ancient crafts

It takes a real craftsman around 10-12 minutes to produce a wineglass. Source: dementievskiy.livejournal.com

It takes a real craftsman around 10-12 minutes to produce a wineglass. Source: dementievskiy.livejournal.com

In the numerous villages of this mountainous region, family secrets of pottery, engraving, gilding, and carving continue to be passed down from one generation to the next.

Each village has its own specialisation. In one their expertise is in the production of hand made rugs, from sourcing plants for the dyes right up to weaving the fibres of the rug. The area is a place of natural beauty with residents of unrivalled sincerity and hospitality.

The Village of Kubachi, Dagestan

They believe that each and every one of their guests has a spiritual significance. Even if the household is poor the table will be laid with the very best the hostess can provide. Today we travel to the village of Kubachi, one of the most famous traditional centres for the production of silver jewellery, stone and wood carving in the Caucasus.

You can only marvel at the craftsmanship of these people. Source: dementievskiy.livejournal.com

This village has a rich history and back in the IV Century it was mentioned in the Persian chronicles under the name of Zerikhgeran (warriors), and Kubachi is derived from the Turkish translation. Armourers have worked in the village since ancient times, forging chain mail, swords, and sabres of various shapes and sizes. At that time select pieces of weaponry were decorated with ornamental script, silver or gold. This lent beauty to the weapons and increased their value. Legend has it that Aleksandr Makedonskiy’s helmet was made by Kubachi craftsmen as well as the collection of blank weapons given as a gift by Aleksandr III to Queen Victoria. In Soviet times items made by Kubachi craftsmen were often presented to people of power as extravagant gifts. For example today a vase is kept in the village museum (which features bone carvings, gilding, silversmithing), which was presented to Stalin. After his cult was dethroned it was miraculously returned to the village where it was made.

Today’s realities have naturally left their mark on production. Chain mail is of course no longer produced, and if a sword is made it is of course not as a weapon. Generally the village produces chique dinner-sets, equestrian harnesses, and an awful lot of jewellery for women. Interestingly, parallel to the state enterprise, which is engaged in production, many private craftsmen work in the village. It is for this very reason that it is worth coming here and seeing for yourself, how sought after silver plates or a delicate women’s bracelet are produced from off-cuts and scraps of silver. The bracelets are decorated with gilt and filigree enamel. As an added nonus you can even watch the entire process from beginning to end.

Silver needs to be smelted and leaves cast for further processing / dementievskiy.livejournal.com

As the village is small, all the inhabitants know each other. You can form a more or less complete picture of which craftsmem are in the village now and what their specialisations are quite rapidly. There are craftsmen who are able to take on any work but they are few and far between. It is more often the case that a craftsman will specialise in a specific type of work. For example, silver needs to be smelted and leaves cast for further processing. Only a few people in the village are able to do this kind of work and the other craftsmen approach them. Next a thin silver leaf needs to be rolled from the moulded silver scraps, which will become the basis of a plate, goblet, or wineglass. This also requires specialised machinery and so another craftsman's services would be called upon.

Then the real filigree work begins. A billet is cut from the leaf, which could become a cup, wineglass, or even a samovar.

...Then the real filigree work begins. Source: dementievskiy.livejournal.com

It is surprising how quickly the craftsmen work, it takes a real craftsman around 10-12 minutes to produce a wineglass. Although after the glass has been prepared the stalk needs to be made and soldered on and the surface worked to lend the glass beauty and radiance. If there is a pattern, engraving or a drawing that needs to be laid on then naturally this greatly increases the amount of work but the piece will be immeasurably more beautiful.

The Kubachi Artistic Combine

This combine was once renowned throughout the whole country and even beyond its borders. Craftsmen still work in the combine but not on the same scale as before. A unique collection of objects produced in the combine over a number of years is kept there and is worth taking a look at. Some of them were in series production, while just a few examples of other objects were produced for a specific order. As you examine the examples displayed behind glass, you can only marvel at the craftsmanship of these people working with silver and wood.

The Surroundings of the Village

It is not only the craftsmen that make the village of Kubachi interesting. Not far from the village is the unique historical ‘Kala-Koreysh’ monument.

Armourers have worked in the village since ancient times. Source: dementievskiy.livejournal.com

In the middle-ages Kala-Koreysh was a political and cultural centre as well as the focal point for the spread of the Islamic faith in the Northern Caucasus. At that time it was a heavily defended fortress. Gradually the influence of this centre faded away and today this place is reminiscent of a ghost town. It is said that climbing up here is considered to be a mini-Hajj (a pilgrimage linked with visiting Mecca and its surroundings). Kala-Koreysh is situated around five or six kilometres from the village and a clearly discernable path leads you there. The first thing a traveller encounters is a fairly long slope and in places views open out onto the neighbouring mountainsides, covered in greenery. Then there is a short and simple climb and ten minutes later, passing the ruins of residential houses, you find yourself in what for many Muslims is a holy place.

There is a house right at the top where the warden lives. You can rest for a few hours in this house, and even spend a few nights here if you so wish. It is however complicated with respect to water, and you have to bring a few bottles along with you. People come here with their families, with friends or just on their own. You can really be in communion with yourself here, and enjoy the unspoilt scenery or just relax to gather your strength for the rest of your journeys around Dagestan.

How to get there

You can reach Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, easily by air as it takes just two and a half hours from Moscow. You can also come here by train, however you will spend two days travelling, and it takes just as long to go by bus. You can travel to the village of Kubachi straight from Makhachkala, or if you have time, take a detour to visit the ancient town of Derbent. You can spend a few hours here walking around the old fortress. From Derbent it is only 60-70 km to Kubachi. The road however crosses the mountains and in general it takes two hours. It is not easy to travel on hairpin mountain roads!

Where to stay

There are no hotels or guesthouses in the village due to the lack of tourists. At least, nobody mentions them.

You will need to negotiate with one of the local residents for a place to stay, but this is not a problem. For residents of the Caucasus, a guest has a spiritual significance and nobody will ever refuse you a place to stay. Not only will they find you the most comfortable place to sleep they will put everything they can find in the house on the table. Furthermore, you will often hear invitations to share tea whilst you are wandering around the village, and if you pop in it wont just be one tea that you will be drinking. To refuse tea and a meal can be offensive to a host who is trying to entertain a guest.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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