The Anatori Vaults are a number of square slate structures located in a remote area in Georgia near the border of Chechnya, a land surrounded with lot of mysterious legends and folklore that captivate every visitor.
This area of Georgia is wild and remote. Pagan “Ram’s Head” churches can still be found in this area and its proximity to Chechnya, a Russian republic, only adds fuel to the story’s fire….
We are in high mountains region Khevsureti, in the North direction from Tbilisi near the border of Russian republic. Distance is 160 Km from Tbilisi and 4×4 cars need 7 hours: in fact, on the road we cross the pass Datvijvari (2700 meters) and we are in the mystical place, of Khevsureti!
The vaults are at the center of most of the stories about this area, which is hardly surprising: They’re stacked with the bones of a now-vanished village’s dead.
According to one popular legend, 18th century, in this place the plague (Black Death) was raging: the whole village was infected people were died one by one. The locals called it “Zhami”.
When the Black Death spread to this region, the village of Anatori was hit hard and fast and couldn’t care for all its sick. Rather than infect their family and friends, people who fell ill took it upon themselves to perish in isolation.
So they went, of their own free will, to die in vaults built a distance away and once there, the doomed lay upon stone shelves while waiting for their eventual demise, accompanied only by those who were also dying.
Once there were no more vacant vaults, the ill faced their fates surrounded by the bodies of people already dead, and when there was not any single free place to die and people threw out the dead bodies and occupied their places. Here you can see bones and clothes of this people, and we even can’t imagine how people can do this: they have to die and they went to their graves by themselves.
This story is a superb demonstration of commitment to one’s community and courage: only big hearted human can do it, in order not to harm his/her family, friends and loved ones.
If today steel grates guard the entrance and windows of the vaults, apparently to stop people from stealing bones, the dead weren’t always offered such protections.
Locals tell stories of a time before there were grates, when a Russian woman was seen crossing the Arghuni River and collecting all the skulls from the vaults in a sack before making her way back across the border.
It’s impossible not to feel deep respect for these people while listening to Anatori’s tragic story.
Georgian poet Giorgi Arabuli wrote a very sad verse named “The Notes of Anatoreli” (the resident of Anatori). Here an extract translated into English.
“I left outside my horse.
“You gave birth to me, mother –
You gave birth to your own pain.”
“My children are here too.
I do not breathe anymore,
So the air is enough for them.”
Text in Collaboration, Ivan and Leo.
Images from Web.