We are in the Gunibsky district of Dagestan, Russia, where lies Mount Gamsutlmeer. At an altitude of roughly 1,400 meters above sea level, resides the pictoresque village of Gamsutl, known to be one of the oldest settlements in the region.
Translated from the Avar, the majority ethnic group of the republic, Gamsutl literally means “at the foot of the kahn’s fortress”, leading many to assume that someone named Khan chose this location to build his fortress or tower, to defend himself from his enemies. And, eventually, a community evolved around the structure.
Unfortunately, neither the name of Khan nor the exact date of the village’s founding were kept in the history.
Either way, it is surrounded by cliffs and steep slopes, so it is not easy to get here. However, visitors can still venture into the abandoned village by driving from the nearby town of Chokh into the base of the valley. From there, it’s a two-hour hike into the foothills and ancient pathways created by the original residents for herding and transporting their cattle.
It’s believed the village has something like 2,000 – 5,000 years old, and at its peak, boasted about 300 homes. Even during the 20th-century, the village was still bustling and contained shops, a school, a post office, a hospital and even a maternity hospital. Today, it is hard to believe, but once there was a road suitable for motor vehicles leading to the village.
However as times changed, more opportunities for better livelihoods in other towns forced locals to abandoned the village, that became too impractical to live in such a remote location, and took their families with them.
In 2015, the village’s last remaining resident, Abdulhalil Abdulhalilvov, passed away and today, only 70 abandoned buildings are all that remain of this ancient stronghold.