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A sea of abandoned sandstone buildings spreads across a bold mountain cliff. The ancient, crumbling masonry looks as if it has grown into the rock, the remnants of a by-gone civilisation already fused with nature. This ancient aul, or mountain village, is not easy to reach, a steep hike half an hour away from the nearest road. The locals compare it with Machu Picchu, the remote Inca citadel in Peru which has laid abandoned since the 16th century. But Gamsutl was still inhabited until just a few years ago. Its last inhabitant died in 2015.

For centuries, Dagestan’s remote location high in the mountains of what is now southern Russia was an asset for Gamsutl’s population. It shielded them from the mighty armies of the Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Ottomans and Russians passing through the Caucasus. But its seclusion became an increasing liability in the late 20th century. People began to abandon Gamsutl in the late Soviet period. Of the few that stayed, most left after the collapse of the USSR, when state run enterprises had to shut down and the young headed to the cities in search of work.

The village of Chokh.

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Europe Russia Dagestan