Hidden away in one of the five mountain ridges dividing the Caucasus mountains, awaits one of Russia’s biggest mysteries.
A cluster of peaked rooves and single window brick houses sits surrounded by picturesque farmland and cascading clifftops. But locals once believed those who enter the hard-to-reach ‘city’ will never return.
The village of Dargavs, otherwise known as the ‘City of the Dead’ is considered one of the creepiest places in Russia — sitting on the graves of 10,000 bodies.
It’s an ancient necropolis, where people were buried during the 14-18th centuries. According to those who have ventured along the dangerous roads to the hidden city in North Ossetia, some corpses have been so well preserved, flesh is still attached to their bones.
This ancient graveyard consists of 99 crypts huddled inside a 17 kilometre long valley. Some are big enough to house a single body, others are four storeys high.
All those who are buried in the grim valley are accompanied by their possessions, with Ancient Ossetians said to believe that the afterlife was at the end of the unnavigable rivers that ran by Darga.
Historians say each crypt has a well out the front, which played as a crucial role when signifying if a loved one had made it to the next world. If they dropped a coin down the well and it happened to hit a stone when it reached the bottom, it was said to be a good sign.
While there are many theories around the eerie city, evidence suggests that during a plague that swept through the area in the 18th Century, infected residents would quarantine themselves in the crypts to await their gruesome death. Historic legends suggest victims of the painful illness were targeted by ancient “gods” who were angered by the way villagers treated a young woman there centuries ago.
And until recently, the local people believed that anyone who visited the city would not come home alive.
In the years following the cholera epidemic which devastated the village, inhabitants who lived nearby villages decided to leave the valley and move to the plains so that the ‘city of the dead’ could be invaded by ghosts.
The creepy city attracts tourists from nearby as well as all over the world, although due to the difficulty in finding or travelling to the location there are not a lot of tourists at any given time. Some say it’s the local superstition that keeps visitors at bay. But those who do visit now pose the greatest danger to the city, with many taking bones and skulls as souvenirs, without realising they are the remnants of real people.
In 2018, a Moscow-based film company was forced to drop all plans to shoot a low-budget horror thriller at the village, because a regional administrator reportedly got spooked by the script and refused to allow the firm to film there.
In an interview with the BBC, historian Ludmila Gaboeva said the city had become a fascination for people from all over the world, who not only wanted to look at the medieval architecture, but are awed by the beauty of the surrounds.
“Stories about this mysterious place have been heard from early 20th century,” she explained.
“Ever since, adventurers have come here from all over Russia. In the crypts there are coffins that resemble boats … there are also palm prints, signs and marks.
“But we do not understand the purpose of many of them yet …[people come] to achieve peace with the eternal fear of death.”