During a month on board of Russian corvette along Abkhaz shore
...At 1 P.M. on July 28 we cast anchor in the bay of Gagra, wide and exposed
to all winds with the exception of the Southern wind. Russians erected
on the shore a fort at the mouth of a narrow ravine over which rise steep
mountains covered by dense forest. In accordance with Russian classification
this ravine separates the lands of the Caucasus - Circassia and Abkhazia1.
Fort Gagra having garrison from 600 to 700 men is build on piles and protected
by walls of former cloister whose church serves as a powder depot. It is
equipped with a dozen of cannons and is 300-400 steps wide and 600-700
|1830th years were marked by rise of interest of secular part of Europeans
to the Caucasus. This part didn“t have anything to do with military service
or politics. But dramatic events which took place in the Caucasus absorbed
attention of the whole world which sympathized with fight of courageous
mountaineers doomed to failure.
Many travellers went to the Caucasus in 1836. However, not all reports
of these trips were introduced in scientific turnover. Some interesting
testimonies and observations are still not covered by researches. It was
in 1836 when Dubois de Monpere, Safonov, Skalskovsky, Chernetsov, Verestchagin,
Bodenschtedt, Blanche travelled in the Western Caucasus.
We offer to readers“ attention an abstract from the book of French
traveller Saint-Sover «Excursion en Krimee... et du Caucas» published in
Paris in 1837.
In the end of the text some notes and explanations are presented.
Air in Gagra is very unhealthy. High mountains dominating this ravine
and their dense forests exhale on the sunsets wet coolness which cause
dangerous fever. Eight officers of the garrison out of 18 and many soldiers
died during the current year.
This fort undergoes attacks of Circassians2 to an even greater degree
than Anapa and Gelendjik. Soldiers can“t move away from it in the distance
of several hundreds of steps without running a danger of an attack. Water
necessary for needs of the garrison is taken from a source in the ravine.
Mountaineers several times led it aside or blocked it up.
Once the troops passed without water three days. It often happens that
they remain without any connection with the Russian government for several
Officers showed us a hill situated over the fort. There Circassians
often appeared and from a distance of 100 m shot at soldiers while those
were engaged in parade drill. We were told that in June of the past year
3-4 thousand Circassians suddenly descended from the mountains and assaulted
the fortress during 4 hours. Battle proceeded just near the fort“s fence
and the mountaineers almost captured it.
Circassians carry on active trade with Turkish ports on the Black Sea,
mainly, with Trapezund though Russians declared blockade and established
cruising. Circassians receive powder, lead, weapons, salt, tools, cotton
and other materials from Constantinopol3 which are delivered in large boats
with deck and mast. These boats due to their small size may moor everywhere
and they almost always manage to slip away from the cruisers. If Russians
attack Turks on the shore where they landed to, Circassians defend them
descending from the mountains. In these battles Russians incur great losses.
When they win they gain only cheap boats. Also, the cruisers refused to
attack those shores where they detect Circassians. We saw a lot of them
hiding behind trees in ravines situated between Gelendjik and Anapa.
Unfortunate are those ships which bad weather compels to seek for shelter
on this shore or those attracted by its silence. They run a great risk
to be robbed by men from these boats which Turks together with Circassians
use both for trade and for piracy.
Circassians in exchange for goods delivered to them by Turkish boats
and sometimes small ships from ports of Southern Russia give skins of animals,
wax, honey, walnuts, fruits and cereals. They sell to Turks slaves of both
sexes designed for Constantinopol harems. But recently volume of this trade
has reduced considerably, evidently, since this tribe is engaged in fighting
against Russians and also because representatives of the Russian government
established in Turkish ports on the Black Sea control in order to prevent
from this trade.
Russians believe that the best means for pacification of Circassians
is interception of all communications which they have with Turkish ports.
They think that if the mountaineers are not able to trade with these ports
and receive necessary goods, mainly, powder, lead, weapons and salt they
will be forced to stop fight and submit. In order to achieve this goal
count Vorontsov investigated the shore from Anapa till Gagra and, judging
from what showed his negotiations with count Vitte, he determined the following
measures which he offers to the emperor to perform. They include erection
of 20-25 forts on the shore at the mouths of ravines between Gelendjik
and Gagra. Each of this fort should have 4 cannons and 500 soldiers. Also,
the shore should be protected by steamers instead of sailers which may
easily capture boats and small ships.
These measures, certainly, will entail great expenses and will cost
many lives since a lot of people will die of deseases or in battles. But
these measures would be successful only if Circassians, indeed, could obtain
goods solely from abroad. Meantime, people who were in this country told
me that Circassians had factories for manufacture of powder, weapons, lead
mines, salt. Only those Circassians who live on the shore are engaged in
trade since it delivers them from necessity to go to internal regions of
the country to obtain salt, powder, weapons and tools. On their fields
wheat, barley, millet and other cereals grow in volume that is quite enough
for their needs. They have numerous herds of cows, goats, sheep, horses.
Their women themselves weave most fabrics which they bear and make remarkable
embroideries. This tribe is benighted and its members need a little for
life. Among them there are such individuals who content themselves with
crushed grains of millet moistened in water. Taking into account resources
of Circassians, their striving for independence, courage, hatred to Russians,
tribal mode of living under chiefs“ authority who most part of the time
are at war with each other, nature of the country - mountains covered with
dense forests - it is difficult to believe that several forts and cruising
of some steamers will make them submit. They never recognized domination
of the peoples who captured in turn this shore.
In their attempts to become established here ancient Greeks, Romans
and Byzantines didn“t succeed. It is hardly probable that Russians would
manage to subdue Circassians.
Turks, with whom Circassians have much in common due to their religion
that is a mixture of Islam and idolatry, established with them friendly
relations but they never managed to enslave them. Pasha of Anapa where
these relations, mainly, took place never compelled them to recognize his
customs beyond this fortress4. People, who know Circassians, believe that
Russians can hope only for establishing the same relations that Turks have
with them. They need instead of burning their villages and fields to send
their representatives with the aim to attract Circassians to their side
and convince them that the Russian government intends not to change
their customs and laws but to stop hostilities.
Count Vorontsov, being benevolent and noble man, is inclined to such
measures. He is convinced that they should be taken togerher with blockade
by means of forts and steamers.
We left Gagra at 2 P.M. Approaching to this hollow we saw that mountains
grew higher. These mountains are offshoot of the central Caucasus ridge.
On their peaks snow lay. No doubt, we would have seen Elbrus - the highest
mountain of the Caucasus - if we had moved away a little farther from the
shore. We made our way to a cape covered with forest, 2-3 lieue long, which
spread to the South from the mountains. It was situated in the distance
of 7-8 miles from Gagra. On the shore at the mouth of river Bzyb 8-10 huts
were situated. It was Russian post of fortress Pitsunda.
rounded the cape we found ourselves in a spacious bay. Corvette and «Peter
the Great» cast there anchors in the distance of 50 steps from the shore.
We continued our way in boats and after landing made our way to the fort
Pitsunda through a forest which consisted of pines, ashes, oaks, hazels,
platans around which vine and ivy twined forming archs.
We reached it in fifteen minutes. The fort has garrison of 200 people
and its quadrangular rampart is formed, for the most part, by walls of
ancient cloister. In the middle of the fortress there is a large church
built of bricks. Inside, over a gate and on the sides there are graceful
galleries supported by columns and archs. There are also multi-coloured
stained-glass windows. Probably, it is the same church devoted to Virgin
Mary which was erected by Saint Prokopy5 at the time of emperor Yustinian
when Abkhazes were converted to Christianity.
It seems to me that the fort Pitsunda occupies the most part of the
place where once city of Pitius was situated. The above-mentioned church
though partly destroyed is suitable for services. Moreover, the emperor
granted a sum that is equal to 60 thousand francs for repairs and promised
to give more.
Russians call Circassia a country situated between Kuban and Gagra6.
After this fortress Abkhazia begins. Therefore, we were in this country,
in Pitsunda. Abkhazes are peaceful people and live quite in harmony with
Russians. However, soldiers don“t dare to move away alone from the fortress
even to small distances...
...We rised on board again at 8 P.M. and at night passed by fort Bambora
which is situated in the distance of 8-9 miles from Pitsunda and cast anchor.
The next morning we saw inhabitants of the Caucasus shore. These Abkhazes
armed in the same manner as Circassians were tall, strong, deft men with
proud look. We bought from them several daggers. The garrison may communicate
with Bambora and Pitsunda by means of escorts but soldiers can“t move away
alone or in small groups from the fort without risk of undergoing attacks
on the part of Abkhazes who, in spite of their submissiveness, rob and
kill them when opportunity occurs.
bay Sukhum-kale there were a corvette, a brig and a battle ship. Captain
of this ship told us that ten days ago he had received an order to go with
20 sailors and 50 soldiers to fort Dranda situated in 9-10 miles from Sukhum-kale
and in 3-4 miles from the shore which has a garrison of 1000 men and fetch
a deserter from there. This deserter, soldier of Sukhum battalion, had
been arrested in Dranda. When commander brought him to the shore in order
to embark the ship, convoy was assaulted by 300-400 Akhazes and Circassians
who killed and wounded one third of general number of soldiers and liberated
the deserter who had rendered to them earlier various services.
We left Sukhum-kale and some time later approached cape Iskuria, village
Kelasura and ruines of ancient city are situated. Perhaps, they are remains
of a city about which Strabon and Pliny said the following: «Dioskuria
was a great city trading with all countries situated around. There merchants
from 300 tribes of the Caucasus rallied. Negotiations were performed with
the help of 130 interpreters».
Starting from Pitsunda space between the sea and mountains is 2-5 lieues
wide. It is covered with forest. The farther we advanced to the South-East
the farther mountains receded from the shore. At 1 P.M. we passed by the
mouth of a river named Markula, at 3 P.M. - the mouth of a river Gudava
which serves as a border between Abkhazia and Mingrelia7. At 5 P.M. we
passed by city Anaklia where river Ingur flows into the sea. At 6 P.M.
we cast anchor near Redut-kale. In spyglass we saw in forest adjacent to
Anaklia ruines of quadrangular tower and walls.
1. Here under the term «Circassia» the whole territory of the Western
Caucasus populated by Abkhazes and Adygs except for Abkhaz principality
but including Abkhaz district of Sochi-Adler sector is implied.
2. These are Djigets who were ethnic Abkhazes and Ubykhs.
3. Former name of Istanbul when it was a capital of Byzantine empire.
4. Pasha of Anapa was a deputy of sultan on the Caucasus shore from
Anapa to Gagra. Pasha of Sukhum carried out control for Abkhazia from Gagra
to Ingur. Generally, pasha of Sukhum was somebody from Adler Abkhazes,
5. Byzantine court historian of VI century Prokopy of Kesaria.
6. See note 1.
7. Ingur was at that time a border between Abkhazia and Mingrelia.
However, adjacent to Mingrelia Samurzakan district which started from the
above-mentioned river Gudava was disputed then by Mingrelia. Opinion of
Russian administration about belonging of this territory changed depending
on changes of political situation on the Caucasus shore.
Notes and publication of D. Chachkhalia