The village of Lutkun. Akhty District.

Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

1962. Lezgins

The Lezgin village of Akhty, the administrative centre of the Akhty District, is located at the influx of the Akhtychai into the Samur. Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962 “The village of Akhty stands out from the neighbouring villages in more than one way; its central part consists mainly of dwelling houses, only some of them with small gardens. Since the left bank of the Akhtychai is very steep, part of the village is therefore terraced. The streets, as is customary in Asian villages, are extremely narrow <…>, even a pedestrian would often have to walk on the roofs of the houses; the whole of this quarter, called the Asian Quarter, is centred on the main mosque. The right-hand, or European Quarter, as it is referred to by local intellectuals, is considerably more spacious than the Asian Quarter owing to the negligible sloping. It has relatively broad streets and a market place, and accommodates every office indispensable to the administrative centre of the Samur District, e.g. the District Governor’s office, the naib (police) station, a post-and-telegraph office, the rural administration, a pharmacy, a poorhouse, a jail and a school.”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 141 (in Russian)

“…we have made it to the Lezgin village of Akhty. This is the largest inhabited locality in the Samur valley and the economic centre of its upper half. The middle of the village is noted for the dense building-up, whereas the periphery consists of farmsteads surrounded with orchards (with apple trees, apricot and sweet cherry trees, etc. growing in them). In the village, there is a small inn, tearooms, a barber’s shop, a pharmacy, a museum, a cinema and the Lezgin Drama Theatre with a repertory company. At the local market, they sell fruit, vegetables, mutton, sour milk, unleavened bread and handicraft articles, e.g. copper bowls and jugs, clothes and variegated woollen stockings. It is believed that the best Lezgin stocking are knitted here in Akhty.”

L.I. Lavrov. The Ethnography of the Caucasus. L., 1982. P. 78 (in Russian)

“…we have made it to the Lezgin village of Akhty. This is the largest inhabited locality in the Samur valley and the economic centre of its upper half. The middle of the village is noted for the dense building-up, whereas the periphery consists of farmsteads surrounded with orchards (with apple trees, apricot and sweet cherry trees, etc. growing in them). In the village, there is a small inn, tearooms, a barber’s shop, a pharmacy, a museum, a cinema and the Lezgin Drama Theatre with a repertory company. At the local market, they sell fruit, vegetables, mutton, sour milk, unleavened bread and handicraft articles, e.g. copper bowls and jugs, clothes and variegated woollen stockings. It is believed that the best Lezgin stocking are knitted here in Akhty.”

L.I. Lavrov. The Ethnography of the Caucasus. L., 1982. P. 78 (in Russian)

“Drinking water is supplied by the Akhtychai; in this river water is muddy at all times but quite healthy; peasant women bring water from the Akhtychai in copper pitchers which they carry on their shoulders.”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 143 (in Russian)
Valley of the Akhtychai River

Woman with a water jug. The village of Lutkun.

Akhty District. Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist

Republic. 1962. Lezgins

Female villagers have always had a lot of work about the house, besides they have alway participated in practically all the spheres of agricultural activity. Fetching water has always been considered a purely female chore, so it was only natural that the spring became the place of gathering for highland women.
Streets of Akhty

Officers of the Russian army.

Dagestan Oblast. Late 19th – early 20th century. Lezgins

There were few Russian officers in the Eastern Caucasus. Administrative and military offices were predominantly occupied by Caucasians themselves. As a matter of interest, many Dagestanian men in Imam Shamil’s service continued to serve after the end of the Caucasian War, but as representatives of imperial authorities. By the end of the 19th century, a whole stratum of local military elite was formed.

There is a romantic legend connected with Russia’s southernmost Akhty fortress: the renowned theologist and poet Mirza Ali Al Akhty fell in love with its commandant’s daughter Nina Rot and dedicated to her a cycle of poems written in Turkic. When the fortress was besieged by Shamil, Mirza Ali approached the Imam hoping to be forgiven, as a man of venerable age, for his staying with the Russians. Shamil, however, ordered him arrested. Upon his release from prison the theologist married a local girl who had a strong resemblance to the commandant’s daughter. Nina’s choice fell on the Lezgin Alisultan who converted to the Russian orthodox faith for her sake.


“Close to Akhty, there is a Russian fortress built in 1839. This is an imposing structure with formidable walls about 4 metres high. It is made of cemented boulders covered with plaster. In the system of walls, there is one round tower and quadrangle bastions. Walls are bordered with a wide ditch and a tall rampart. The fortress is situated so that it could keep under observation both the Samur River and the lower Akhtychai. Although the fortress lies in a hollow, the distance to the closest mountains does not exceed the smooth-bore gun fire range. Its builders counted on the enemy’s not having any artillery. But when Imam Shamil opened fire from the mortar guns, the fortress was on the verge of falling down at the Dagestan Imam’s feet.”

L.I. Lavrov. The Ethnography of the Caucasus. L., 1982. P. 80 (in Russian)

Women processing wool. Dagestan Oblast.

Late 19th – early 20th century. Lezgins

Bridal shop. The village of Akhty. Lezgins

Street in the old part of Akhty with a passage between two houses. Akhty District.

Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962

Playing children. The village of Akhty. Akhty District.

Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962. Lezgins

In Southern Dagestan, children, both boys and girls, used to have their hair cut short. Girls began to grow and plait their hair when they started school. They had their ears pierced in the first months of their lives, however, and were given earrings to wear at the age of two or three.

Girls at a stone wall. The village of Lutkun. Akhty District.

Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962. Lezgins

Portrait of a boy. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1953
Girl with a dog. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962. Lezgins

Portrait of a boy. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1953

Girl with a dog. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962. Lezgins

Old Akhty

Lezgin shawl vendor.

The Caucasus. Late 19th –

early 20th century. Lezgins

Referred to as Lezgin shawls were woollen cloths produced in Dagestan. Cloth manufactured in highland areas was more expensive than those produced in the foothills. As a rule, this kind of cloth was sold in chokha-lengths.

In the village shops one can buy everything, from foods and household chemicals to carpets, albeit mass-produced. Buyers and shop assistants are as a rule neighbours who have known each other for years, therefore more often than not purchases are made on the “to be charged” terms: the assistant puts down the amount owed in a notebook, and the buyer pays some time later.

The village of Akhty. Lezgins

“Most of buildings are two-storeyed <…>. The lower level has no windows, but normally has several doors: one of them is usually the entrance and the rest lead to neighbours’ houses; the lower level is used exclusively in the winter time. <…> The upper level serves as a summer room and also for entertaining guests; it has windows looking onto the street or the roof of the lower level.”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 142, 143 (in Russian)

“…many inhabitants of Akhty’s old quarter (Lezgins) move to new houses with orchards and vegetable gardens down on the river bank. Quite often, dwellers from an old quarter build new houses in a more suitable location leaving the old houses to the mercy of fate. The abandoned plots are sometimes used for the expansion (…) of adjacent pieces of land, but more often than not they stay in ruins. This is how the “ghost” quarters and “ghost” villages appear …”

L.A. Natanson. Account of a Journey to the Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1962. F. 2. Op. 1. D. 1435. L. 13, 14 (in Russian)

Many houses in the Akhty centre now stand unattended, some of them are abandoned and going to ruins.

A street spanned with a house. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1953

A street spanned with a house. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1953

“Most of buildings are two-storeyed <…>. The lower level has no windows, but normally has several doors: one of them is usually the entrance and the rest lead to neighbours’ houses; the lower level is used exclusively in the winter time. <…> The upper level serves as a summer room and also for entertaining guests; it has windows looking onto the street or the roof of the lower level.”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 142, 143 (in Russian)

“…many inhabitants of Akhty’s old quarter (Lezgins) move to new houses with orchards and vegetable gardens down on the river bank. Quite often, dwellers from an old quarter build new houses in a more suitable location leaving the old houses to the mercy of fate. The abandoned plots are sometimes used for the expansion (…) of adjacent pieces of land, but more often than not they stay in ruins. This is how the “ghost” quarters and “ghost” villages appear …”

L.A. Natanson. Account of a Journey to the Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1962. F. 2. Op. 1. D. 1435. L. 13, 14 (in Russian)

Many houses in the Akhty centre now stand unattended, some of them are abandoned and going to ruins.

The arched bridge designed by the engineers Giorse and Debernardi in 1915 is Akhty’s architectural landmark. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962

“Akhty-nameh” is a conventional title given to two records based on a medieval manuscript dealing with the history of Akhty and some neighbouring Lezgin villages in the 6th through the 9th century in the context of the events that took place in the Caucasus and the Middle East. The records were made in the first half of the 19th century. One of them is an exposition of the manuscript as published by A.F. Desimon, an ad hoc officer in the service of the Special Caucasian Corps commander, in an article about Kyurin communities written for the “Severnaya Pchela” magazine. The other one is part of a historical work in the Persian language “Gulistan e Iram” by the Azerbaijanian enlightener, scholar and writer A. Bakikhanov. Although the medieval manuscript itself has never been found, the text analysis of the records undertaken by the orientalist A.R. Shikhsaidov corroborates the assumption that it had in fact existed.


Bakikhanov’s record describes the circumstances of the Akhty fortress construction by the Persians: “<…> the Emir Shahbani, a descendant of the Sassanids, having come at the order of Nushirvan with sixty families out of Fars inhabitants and three hundred warriors (sipahi) to the area of Akhty, settled [there], having built … a fortress whose ruins can still be seen on the top of the mountain.”

A.R. Shikhsaidov. Akhty-nameh // Dagestanian Historical Works. M., 1993 (in Russian)

The arched bridge designed by the engineers Giorse and Debernardi in 1915 is Akhty’s architectural landmark. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1962

“Akhty-nameh” is a conventional title given to two records based on a medieval manuscript dealing with the history of Akhty and some neighbouring Lezgin villages in the 6th through the 9th century in the context of the events that took place in the Caucasus and the Middle East. The records were made in the first half of the 19th century. One of them is an exposition of the manuscript as published by A.F. Desimon, an ad hoc officer in the service of the Special Caucasian Corps commander, in an article about Kyurin communities written for the “Severnaya Pchela” magazine. The other one is part of a historical work in the Persian language “Gulistan e Iram” by the Azerbaijanian enlightener, scholar and writer A. Bakikhanov. Although the medieval manuscript itself has never been found, the text analysis of the records undertaken by the orientalist A.R. Shikhsaidov corroborates the assumption that it had in fact existed.


Bakikhanov’s record describes the circumstances of the Akhty fortress construction by the Persians: “<…> the Emir Shahbani, a descendant of the Sassanids, having come at the order of Nushirvan with sixty families out of Fars inhabitants and three hundred warriors (sipahi) to the area of Akhty, settled [there], having built … a fortress whose ruins can still be seen on the top of the mountain.”

A.R. Shikhsaidov. Akhty-nameh // Dagestanian Historical Works. M., 1993 (in Russian)

Popular etymology derives the name Akhty from the Arabic ‘ukhti’ meaning ‘my sister’. Sheikh Abu-Muslim, whose name is associated with the advancement of Islam, made a match, legend has it, between his sister, who was subsequently buried in the Akhty mosque, and a local ruler, Persian according to some sources and Jewish according to others.

“According to <…> legend, in the olden days a powerful athlete (pehlevan) named Sharveli*, now revered as a saint, lived not far from the arched bridge on the right bank of the Akhtychai River. Before his death he said to his fellow villagers: if the enemies attack, and the hard times come, let someone of you climb the mountain, the one between the Samur and the Akhtychai, and shout, ‘Sharveli, Sharveli!’, and I will come to help you.”

L.I. Lavrov. The Ethnography of the Caucasus. L., 1982. P. 79 (in Russian)

A rotunda in honour of the Lezgin epic hero Sharveli was built in 2009 on Mount Kelezkhev. His sword, legend has it, hidden in the mountain. Climbing up to the rotunda has become part of a theatrical show based on the epic. In the performance finale, the hero with a sward appears on the mountain top symbolizing a revival of his native land.

Akhty centre. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1952

“Since the country is extremely mountainous, with steep slopes, and the soil meagre, people are mostly engaged in seasonal work in remote areas where they stay for more than eight or nine months a year; they go primarily to the Baku and Elizabethpol Guberniyas, to the Transcaspian area and to other parts of the Empire. A negligible proportion of dwellers is engaged in gardening, horticulture, grain farming and cattle breeding, and that exclusively for consumption by themselves; should there be any surplus, they sell it in the neighbouring auls (villages) without venturing any further. Sheep breeding is also a major means of sustenance for the inhabitants of the Samur Okrug, whereas cottage industries are pursued on rather a small scale.”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 145, 146 (in Russian)

Akhty centre. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1952

“Since the country is extremely mountainous, with steep slopes, and the soil meagre, people are mostly engaged in seasonal work in remote areas where they stay for more than eight or nine months a year; they go primarily to the Baku and Elizabethpol Guberniyas, to the Transcaspian area and to other parts of the Empire. A negligible proportion of dwellers is engaged in gardening, horticulture, grain farming and cattle breeding, and that exclusively for consumption by themselves; should there be any surplus, they sell it in the neighbouring auls (villages) without venturing any further. Sheep breeding is also a major means of sustenance for the inhabitants of the Samur Okrug, whereas cottage industries are pursued on rather a small scale.”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 145, 146 (in Russian)

Referred In the late 19th century Akhty, with a population of about 6,000, was a major inhabited locality in the Dagestan Oblast, second only to Derbent. Even today it remains one of Dagestan’s largest villages. According to the Russian National Census of 2010, its population totalled 13,405.

On a bridge across the Akhtychai River. The village of Akhty. Akhty District.

Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1940–1950s. Lezgins

District inn director Pirmagomed with his grandson.

The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist

Republic. 1953. Lezgins

Akim works as Hospital CEO and surgeon in one of the villages of the Akhty District. His service record includes postgraduate studies, a career in politics and business as well as guitar poetry. His boutique in one of the Akhty’s central streets sells clothes under his own brand name: “Palcha Lezgi”.

Volleyball is in fact the only non-domestic sport-related activity accessible to girls. Girls perform only in junior teams, because “the husband would not permit this” after marriage.

Junior volleyball group for girls. The village of Akhty. Lezgins

In the evening, Jalil Fatakhovich Fatakhov, Head of the Akhty District Sports Committee, runs training sessions for the free-style wrestling group at the local sports club. During the warm-up lively atmosphere prevails, but as soon as the head coach gives directions and shows a hold, half a hundred voices go quiet, young wrestlers listening to their master. On Saturdays, Jalil Fatakhovich goes to the famous Akhty sulphur bath, which he considers a guarantee for good health. The coach’s another hobby is heeler breeding.

Free-style wrestling group at the sports club. The village of Akhty. Lezgins

The village’s major attraction, the Akhty baths have been built on a mineral spring with water temperatures ranging between 38° and 68° С.

“...these springs are situated in a narrow gorge on the left bank of the Akhtychai on a small hillside in the ‘Khun-Pad’ foothills (Khun-Pad meaning ‘to be preserved’ in the local dialect) <...>. Each spring is surmounted by an unpretentious small-sized structure <...> made from plain flagstone and mud, clayed and whitewashed from inside and outside; the earthen roof is flat. At a distance (...) there is a somewhat better looking building accommodating two bath sections with 12 rooms, a kitchen and several stables; it bears the name of ‘the Komarov baths’; there are separate baths for officers and soldiers here...”

D. Babayev. The village of Akhty // Collection of Writings for the Description of Localities and Peoples of the Caucasus. Issue 17. Sec. 1. Tiflis, 1893. L. 144 (in Russian)

The Akhty local history museum originated from a school exposition which in 1937 was transferred to the building of the mosque. At some point it was declared the best village museum in the USSR, its excellent collection numbering over 12,000 exhibits. After the mosque had been returned to the believers, the museum moved to the building which used to belong to the district communist party committee. This demonstrates a peculiar tendency for arranging museums in the village’s former ideological centres. The director Akhmed Daglarov (a grandson of Nurudin Daglarov, the museum’s founder), complains about the dismal condition of the museum, with the building requiring a major renovation, the exposition halls overloaded and storage rooms missing.

With onset of summer, many of the peoples inhabiting Dagestan used to organize festivities to celebrate flower and herb picking. The event that has come to prominence in the literature is known as Tsukverin Suvar, the Akhty Lezgins’ Flower Festival. Akhty residents and their neighbours would get together on one of the mountains, where dancing as well as diverse contests (stone throwing, wrestling and horse racing) were organized. The major competition, however, was singing small folk couplets in which young men and girls kiddingly praised and tongue-lashed each other. The girls took centre stage, and therefore some scholars have drawn a parallel between this festival and the history of the Amazons, mentioned by Strabo.

The Queen of Flowers and her two young escorts, principal participants in the Flower Festival. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s


Celebration in honour of the best livestock breeders. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1979. Lezgins
The celebrating men are holding skewers with shashlik (grilled meat); the girls holding trays with bread, salt, cheese and a jug of milk. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s. Lezgins

With onset of summer, many of the peoples inhabiting Dagestan used to organize festivities to celebrate flower and herb picking. The event that has come to prominence in the literature is known as Tsukverin Suvar, the Akhty Lezgins’ Flower Festival. Akhty residents and their neighbours would get together on one of the mountains, where dancing as well as diverse contests (stone throwing, wrestling and horse racing) were organized. The major competition, however, was singing small folk couplets in which young men and girls kiddingly praised and tongue-lashed each other. The girls took centre stage, and therefore some scholars have drawn a parallel between this festival and the history of the Amazons, mentioned by Strabo.

The Queen of Flowers and her two young escorts, principal participants in the Flower Festival. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s

Celebration in honour of the best livestock breeders. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1979. Lezgins

The celebrating men are holding skewers with shashlik (grilled meat); the girls holding trays with bread, salt, cheese and a jug of milk. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s. Lezgins

“During our journey we also worked at the Makhachkala People’s Art Education and Research Centre, where we were told about traditional and new festivals held in various localities throughout Dagestan. <…> The most interesting and colourful of them all this year was the Flower Festival in the village of Akhty (Akhty District, Lezgins). It received a broad coverage in the press and was shown in the Vremia television program. The celebration falls on the last Sunday in May. Preparations are made in each home: people cook plentiful food and many make new garbs. During the last night before the festivities people with torches gather in the village square and go to the mountains to fetch flowers. Festivities start with the first rays of the sun: three horsemen appear, a girl with a garland of flowers and two youths who are the honoured hosts of the festival, the best young workers of the village. This is followed by the official part: the kolkhoz (collective farm) members speak about their achievements, and the best workers are given prizes and gifts. The formality is followed by an amateur show, sport competitions, and ropewalkers’ performance. In the afternoon the villagers bring flowers to the monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) at the entrance to Akhty. Thus the festival scenario is being filled with new content. It may be of interest to observe its development in the future.”

Ye.B. Kochetova. Account of the Journey to the Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1985.

Archive of the Russian Museum of Ethnography. F. 2. Op. 1. D. 2158. L. 29 (in Russian) The Flower Festival has not been held lately. Local dwellers ascribe this to a major car accident which followed the festival a few years ago.

Performance of a music band at the Flower Festival. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s. Lezgins

Performance of a music band at the Flower Festival. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s. Lezgins

“During our journey we also worked at the Makhachkala People’s Art Education and Research Centre, where we were told about traditional and new festivals held in various localities throughout Dagestan. <…> The most interesting and colourful of them all this year was the Flower Festival in the village of Akhty (Akhty District, Lezgins). It received a broad coverage in the press and was shown in the Vremia television program. The celebration falls on the last Sunday in May. Preparations are made in each home: people cook plentiful food and many make new garbs. During the last night before the festivities people with torches gather in the village square and go to the mountains to fetch flowers. Festivities start with the first rays of the sun: three horsemen appear, a girl with a garland of flowers and two youths who are the honoured hosts of the festival, the best young workers of the village. This is followed by the official part: the kolkhoz (collective farm) members speak about their achievements, and the best workers are given prizes and gifts. The formality is followed by an amateur show, sport competitions, and ropewalkers’ performance. In the afternoon the villagers bring flowers to the monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) at the entrance to Akhty. Thus the festival scenario is being filled with new content. It may be of interest to observe its development in the future.”

Ye.B. Kochetova. Account of the Journey to the Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. 1985.

Archive of the Russian Museum of Ethnography. F. 2. Op. 1. D. 2158. L. 29 (in Russian) The Flower Festival has not been held lately. Local dwellers ascribe this to a major car accident which followed the festival a few years ago.

Dances during the Flower Festival. Dancing in the foreground is Fazu Aliyeva, Dagestanian famous Poet. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. 1970s

Professional festivals used to be customary events during the Soviet era. The “Akhtynsky” sovkhoz (state farm) used to celebrate Orchardist’s Day. The event took place in an orchard, the back of a truck serving as a stage, with banners and fruit baskets for scenery. Even the “Glory to Labour” slogan was laid out with apples. Participants in the show were amateur teams and actors, normally dressed in stylized national costumes, and the heroes of the day were the best workers. After the collapse of the USSR, state farms gave way to agricultural enterprises and peasant farms. Akhty is still considered to be an apple-growing village, the local varieties of apple admired by many in Dagestan. In 2015, a new agricultural festival was initiated, the Akhty Apple Day. Its purpose, according to one of its organizers, is to revive local fruit growing. This festival is to be held every odd year because apple-trees are known to yield good harvests once in two year.

Orchardist’s Day Concert at the “Akhtynsky” state farm. The village of Akhty. Akhty District. Dagestan Soviet Socialist Republic. Late 1970s

Cabbage harvesting in the Samur valley. The village of Khlyut. Lezgins

The main occupation of people living in the vicinity of Akhty is growing and selling cabbages that compete successfully with cabbages from the village of Levashy widely known in Dagestan. Local dwellers claim that their cabbage is more tender and better suited for fermenting and salads. Trying to solve sales problems, many families buy pickup trucks so as to deliver their cabbages to town.

The village of Lutkun. Lezgins

Orchards in the Samur River valley near Miskinja

A large village, Miskinja, although located near Akhty, is administratively part of the Dokuzpara District. Miskinja is mentioned in medieval manuscripts which describe it as Akhty’s military antagonist.

Monument to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. The village of Miskinja

Miskinja is unique in that it is the only Lezgin village whose dwellers are Shia Muslims. The central religious event of the year for Shias is the first ten days of the Muslim month Muharram. On these days the people of Miskinja gather in the mosque and remember tragic days from the Imam’s life (at this time in 680, Mohammed's grandson Imam Hussein and his followers were killed during the Battle of Karbala). In the centre of the village, mourning Shia banners appear, hung, among other places, on the monument to heroes killed in the Great Patriotic War.

The mourning culminates in all the villagers’ gathering at the sacred place, Pir Yusuf, where the chosen men and boys take part in a ritual procession, the rest of the people watching.

View of the village of Miskinja. Lezgins

Mt. Shalbuzdag, the sacred mountain, one of the highest mountain peaks in Dagestan (4142 m above the sea level), is situated on the border between the Akhty and Dokuzpara Districts. Pilgrimage to this mountain is of all-Dagestan importance and is linked to venerating the graves of the saints buried there (the main ones are Pir Suleyman and Pir Erenlar) and the Zam-Zam spring. The pilgrimage is normally made between the end of July and mid-August (as the mountain is too cold for the rest of the year) and takes approximately 24 hours. By the evening, the pilgrims go up from the village of Miskinja, which is closest to the mountain, in jeeps (provided by the local people) to the holy place, the grave of Sheik Suleyman, whose body, legend has it, was transferred to the Shalbuzdag by pigeons. Not far from Pir Suleyman, there is an inn for pilgrims, mosque, toilets and a canteen – all these are free of charge, and the service is provided for donations by the believers themselves, mostly those from nearby villages. The pilgrims donate their gifts of meat, sweets and money.

After a short rest on common mattresses in the inn, before sunrise, pilgrims begin their ascent to the sacred spring and Pir Erenlar along a steep sloughing path.

Mt. Shalbuzdag. Pilgrims resting after an exhausting climb up the mountain at the Zam-Zam spring (so named for the sacred spring in Mecca). On the way back, they will fill their flasks with health-giving water to take home.

After the sacred spring the pilgrims go on to a narrow vertical crevice in the rock. It is called a sin-meter, on the assumption that only a pure-souled person can squeeze through it, whereas a sinner, no matter how slim, is sure to get stuck. The main danger at this point, however, is not the narrowness of the passage, but the risk of slipping on the rocks polished by the predecessors’ feet. Those who are unable to get out of the narrow sin-meter on their own are helped by others, who have already climbed up.