The heart of Sukhum is its waterfront. Before the Revolution it was...
The Military-Sukhum road, historically known as the Misimiyanskaya Road, or the Ancient Abkhaz Way, begins on the right shore of Machara (Madzhara) River in the Gulrypsh District on the outskirts of Sukhum. The modern road was built in the second half of the 19th century, during the Russo-Turkish War and the campaign to conquer the mountain tribes of the Caucasus. However, this road, which crosses the Caucasus Mountains at the Klukhor Pass, had connected the North Caucasus and Asia Minor for the previous five thousand years. During the "great migration period" (4th-7th centuries) this was one of the key routes from the Byzantine Empire to Central Asia bypassing the Caspian Sea. During the Soviet Era, the popular All-Union Tourist Route #43 passed along Sukhum Road.
Markhyaul Mineral Spring
We will begin our journey to the sights of the Kodori Gorge with the mineral spring in Markhyaul settlement (Markh'aul, or Merkheul in the Abkhaz language). The spring is located 3 kilometers away from a traffic police post on Kodori highway. The mild mineral water of the spring, which is similar to the Truskavets mineral water, is considered medicinal. The Markhyaul mineral spring is only about 30 minutes by car from the center of Sukhum.
Markhyaul, which lays on a trading route, was a sort of a caravan rest stop for centuries. In the late middle ages the settlement became part of the feudal domains of the Amarshan family. In 1867 and 1877 many Markhyaul residents were forcibly relocated to Turkey. In the late 19th century the population of the community increased significantly with the appearance of Georgian and Armenian settlers. Markhyaul is also known as the birthplace of Laverntii Beria, a well known political leader of the 20th century.
In the middle of Markhyaul (at the 8th kilometer) a road branches off to left, towards a picturesque restaurant in Chernigovka settlement. The restaurant sits amidst huge limestone boulders, around which runs the cool clear water of Right Madzharka.
After a tasty lunch of the local cuisine in Chernigovka, we will return to the main road and continue on to Tsebelda (Abkhaz: Tsabal). Homo sapiens have lived in this region for half a million years. Weapons from the Acheulean Period (1.6 million to 150,000 years ago) have been found on the neighboring mountains of Apiancha and Prtskha. In the first centuries of the common era, the local late ancient culture flourished in the region surrounding Tsebelda. The Tsebelda culture appeared under the direct influence of the ancient world. The originators of this culture were the Apsils, one of the key Abkhaz early-feudal peoples. Monuments in Tsebelda are a uniquely complete source for studying the weapons, military arts and decorations of the era of the Great Migration to the territories of the Caucasus, Middle Europe and Southern Europe.
In the Middle Ages, Apsilia was subject to repeated Arab invasions. To protect themselves, the Apsils erected major defensive structures. Among the largest monuments to defensive architecture are the ruins of a fortress mentioned in the writing of Byzantine scholar Procopius of Caesarea in the 6th century under the name Tibilium, or Tzibila. The fortress is located 4 kilometers away from the Tsebelda settlement, from which it takes its name. Built on a rocky cliff of the Adagua Mountains, with a 16-meter gate tower and walls that are 8 meters high and 2-3 meters thick, the fortress was unassailable. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the walls of the fortress repelled many attacks by Arabs. Inside the fortress there remained containers for collecting rainwater, the ruins of a small church, utility chambers and stone baptisteries. Burial chambers under the walls contained silver coins from the Roman era, metal weapons, hoes, ornaments from the 3-6th centuries and a bronze sarcophagus that is currently kept at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Older artifacts have also been found in the area, including burial sites with numerous bracelets, necklaces and other objects from the last centuries before the common era, as well as graves from the end of the Bronze Age.
Voronov Manor "Yasochka"
Tsebelda settlement has another tourist attraction from a completely different period. If you turn right from the picturesque waterfall that is the source of the Madzharka River, in 2 kilometers you will arrive at the Yasochka Manor, the museum house of the Voronov family. The Voronovs were a famous dynasty of Abkhaz historians. N.I. Voronov, a well known public and cultural figure of Russia and Transcaucasia, moved here in the 1870s. N.I. Voronov was a member of the same academic movement as A.I. Gertsen and N.O. Ogarev. He headed the Caucasus department of the Russian Geographic Society and helped P. Uslar create an alphabet for the peoples of the Caucasus who did not have a written language; this included the first Abkhaz alphabet.
The story of the manor itself is also fascinating. The children of N.I. Voronov turned it into a workers' commune based on the ideas of Chernyshevsky. Later it was a safe house for Revolutionaries.
The Amtkel settlement is found 10 kilometers past Tsebelda along the main road, on the shore of the tempestuous Dzhampal River. In 1903 a hefty metal bridge was built across the Dzhampal, named the "Red Bridge", after the color of the paint used for its railing.
If you are not intimidated by the idea of walking on difficult terrain, we recommend that you visit an interesting site of Central Abkhazia, the mountain lake of Amtkel (Abkhaz: Amtk'al, Amtkyal), the second largest after the famous Ritsa Lake.
Before the Red Bridge you must turn left, towards the Amtkel settlement and go another couple of kilometers to the Cold River gorge. Our route then continues along the gorge. A heavy mountain stream used to course through the gorge, which is now overgrown with a wondrous boxwood forest. At the end of the gorge, we must go up 200 meters along a path that twists through the mossy boulders of the mountain side. Above is a wide trail, a former timber logging road. We should follow it left for half an hour and then turn right along a clearing in the forest. After a little while we will see Amtkel Lake.
The lake was formed in 1891, after a major earthquake caused a limestone landslide that blocked off the Amtkel River. This was not the first landslide in the history of the gorge. The lake is now at its deepest. The lake is 2400 meters long, 450 meters wide and about 80 meters deep, although the water level varies depending on the season. The lake is located in a crevasse between tall mountain ridges and collects water from the Amtkel River, a major mountain river. The amount of water flowing in depends on the rain and the intensity of snow melting. Some of the water seeps off under the rocks, creating the Cold River (along the boxwood gorge that we passed), and most runs off through the karst funnels on the southwest side of the lake and continues along underground passages to the mouth of the neighboring Dzhampal River.
The volume of water that can run off from the lake is limited. Therefore when incoming water exceeds outgoing water, the water level rises quickly. The lake looks especially beautiful in the early summer, when the water level is at its highest. The water level is lowest in February and varies by up to 40 meters from season to season. The average water line of the lake is 507 meters above sea level. In the summer the water is fairly warm, but in the harsh winter the lake is covered with a thin layer of ice. There is fish in the lake.
A trip through Tsebelda to see the Amtkel Lake will take an entire day. However, the memories of the beautiful mountain scenery are worth it.
If we continue along the road without turning off towards the lake, we will arrive at the edge of the Azanta settlement. Barely noticeable path twists through the woods between the hornbeams and oaks, moving away and then coming near the edge of the cliff at the bottom of which you can see the lake among the trees. Through 700 meters the path moves away from the edge of the cliff at 150 meters and goes through the woods. Be careful here: although the height of the dolmen with its lid and the bottom of the facade is about 3-4 m, so it is not easy to notice: the walls of buildings are overgrown with moss and ivy. Over the dolmen is an open glade, overgrown with prickly hawthorn. Here you can find semi-wild horses, which are wary leave a safe distance. In all, the path to the dolmen takes a little more than half an from the crotch.Dolmens are the burial chambers of the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 AD). Historians disagree about the origin of the West Caucasus dolmens. Some argue that the concept and shape of these burial chambers was brought to the region in the second half of the 3rd millennium before the common era by sea from afar (Portugal and Sardinia) and then spread throughout the West Caucasus. Others propose that the burial chambers appeared here independently, citing the evolution of dolmen covered with burial mounds during the period after the end of the third millennium AD and the beginning of the second millennium AD. Close to the Azanta Dolmen you can see the ruins of several other burial chambers. A similar dolmen from the Eshera village is exhibited in front of the entrance to the regional history museum in Sukhum.
If you continue the trip from the Red Bridge in the direction of the Kodori Gorge, you will arrive at the Bagada Cliffs. In the past, the ancient Klukhor Road ran along a narrow shelf on top of the cliffs, at a dizzying height above Kodori. Then a light bridge woven from local vines and fibrous plants was thrown over the narrow (10-15 meters) and deep (up to 60 meters) canyon. It is called the Devil's Bridge (Bagada in Abkhaz or Chortov in Russian). Now there are two tunnels that cut through the Bagada cliffs. In the middle of the 20th century there were plans to renovate the entire Military-Sukhum road to the level of the Trans-Caucasus highway. The tunnels are therefore wide, intended for double lanes of traffic. After the second 500-meter tunnel that was built by Metrostroi in 1958, you will arrive at a boom gate of the control checkpoint of the State Security Service of Abkhazia. In order to enter the Upper Kodori region you need special permission from the State Security Service of Abkhazia office in Sukhum.
There is a scenic view of the Tsebelda region of the Kodori Gorge from the area in front of the checkpoint. The Bagada Cliffs are an exceptionally picturesque corner of alpine Abkhazia. The mountain falls towards the waters of the Kodori River in two powerful parallel cascades of chalky cliffs. The mountain sides are covered with mighty forests. In the distance you can see the bluish mountains of the Greater Caucasus Range.
If you received the special permission to enter the Upper Kodori Gorge, you can continue the trip, at the very least in order to see a monument of the early Middle Ages: The ruins of a once impregnable fortress in the Chkhalta Chirks-Abaa settlement. The fortress towers over the confluence of the Chkhalta and Kodori rivers, to the right of the road. The walls of the fortification at the top of the cliff rise 8-10 meters above the precipice.
Inside the fortress walls the rectangular tower, the ruins of the church and the foundations of several structures have withstood the test of time well. Judging from its structural features, the fortress was built in the 9th-10th century. It is possible that a fortified settlement of the Apsils was located here earlier. Among the great finds at the fortress was a Justinian gold coin (6th century). Chirks-Abaa, located on the only road leading to the Klukhor Pass, controlled the route between Abkhazia and Cherkessia. The remains of similar fortifications can be found along the road to the mountain pass. Beyond the pass are the mountains of the Greater Caucasus Range and Karachaevo-Cherkessia. However, we will return to the valley and to the warm waters of the Black Sea in order to gladly take another trip into the mountains.