The Caucasian country has a very irregular outline, and forms a sort of isthmus between' the Black sea and the Caspian. It is bounded on the north by the governments of Don Cossacks and Astrakhan; on the west, by the sea of Azov, the strait of Enikaleh, and the Black sea; on the south, by Turkish Armenia, the river Arras, and Persia; and on the east, by the Caspian sea. The principal feature of the country is the celebrated mountain-chain of Caucasus, which has been fully described on previous pages. This region includes several ancient kingdoms, states, and provinces, which have acquired historical celebrity.
The inhabitants of the Caucasian country include a great number of tribes, evidently derived from a variety of stocks, and speaking a diversity of languages. The vignette at the head of this chapter presents types of some of the more important of these tribes. The portrait seen on the left, marked 1, represents a Tcherkessian, or Circassian; 2, a Mingrelian; 3, a Nogai Tartar; 4, a Georgian ; 5, an Armenian; 6, a Lesghian; 7, a Cossack of Terek. These tribes are all distinguished by one noble quality— an almost inextinguishable love of freedom; and in bodily constitution are at once so robustly and so elegantly formed, that what is known as the Caucasian race is universally acknowledged to be the finest type of man.
The Russians first got possession of this country in the time of Peter the Great, who even extended his dominion along the Caspian sea into Ghilan; but in the reign of Anne the military establishments were withdrawn to Kizliar, and a line of forts carried along the Terek for the defence of the frontier. Mozdok was built in 1763, and from that point the line was extended gradually westward to the sea of Azov, along the northern bank of the Kouban. The wars in which the Russians have been engaged with Turkey and Persia, having led them again to the south of the Caucasus, they have been anxious to establish their authority over the intervening mountain-tribes, who, if not reduced to subjection, are likely to prove most troublesome and dangerous neighbors. In the course of time they may succeed in effecting their subjugation, but as yet their progress has been very slow.
The government of Georgia (Russian, Grussia; Persian, Gurdjistan; the ancient Iberia) is situated near the centre of the Russian possessions, on the south side of the Caucasian range, between the fortieth and forty-third degrees of north latitude, and the forty-third and forty-seventh degrees of east longitude. It has the province of Shirvan on the east; an Armenian mountain-range on the south, which separates the basin of the Kour from that of the Arras ; a branch of the Caucasus on the west, forming part of the water-shed between the Caspian and Black seas; and the central chain of the Caucasus on the north. Thus, surrounded on three sides by mountain-ranges, Georgia is in a great measure shut out from communication with the neighboring countries, there being but one pass either across the Caucasus into Circassia, or across the western range into Imeritia. The length of the province from northwest to southeast, measured on the best maps, is about one hundred and seventy-five miles, and its average breadth from one hundred to one hundred and ten miles. It contains about eighteen thousand square miles.
The surface of Georgia is mostly mountainous, consisting of table-lands and terraces, forming a portion of the southern and more gradual slope of the Caucasus. The country, however, slopes from the south and west, as well as the north, to the centre and southeast, which are occupied by the valley of the Kour, an undulating plain of considerable extent and great fertility. Between the mountain-ranges there are also numerous fertile valleys covered with fine forests, dense underwood, and rich pasturages, watered by an abundance of rivulets.
All the rivers have more or less an easterly course. The principal is the Kour, or Mthwari (the ancient Cyrus). This river rises in the range of Ararat, a little northwest of Kars. It runs at first north, and afterward northeast to about latitude forty-two degrees north, and longitude forty-four degrees east, from which point its course is generally southeast to its mouth, on the western shore of the Caspian. It is in many places of considerable breadth, and sometimes several fathoms deep; but its great rapidity prevents its being of much, if any, service to navigation; and hence rafts only are used upon it. Its principal affluents are the Aragwi from the north, which unites with it at Mtskethi, the ancient capital of Georgia, about ten miles northwest of Teflis ; and the Arras (the ancient Araxes) from the south, which joins it not far above its mouth, where its course deflects southward.
The climate of Georgia, of course, varies greatly, according to elevation. It is, however, generally healthy and temperate, being much warmer than that of Gircassia, or the other countries on the northern slope of the Caucasus. The winter, which commences in December, usually ends with January. The temperature at Teflis, during that season, is said not to descend lower than about forty degrees Fahrenheit; and in the summer the air is excessively sultry, the average temperature at the end of July, in one year being, at three o'clock in the afternoon, seventy-nine degrees, and at ten o'clock in the evenings seventy-four degrees Fahr.
The soil is very fertile; and agriculture and the rearing of cattle are the chief employments of the inhabitants. Wheat, rice, barley, oats, Indian corn, millet, the Holcus sorghum and H. bicolor, lentils, madder, hemp, and flax, are the most generally cultivated articles; cotton is found in a wild state, and is also cultivated.
Georgia is noted for the excellence of its melons and pomegranates; and many other kinds of fine fruit grow spontaneously. Vineyards are very widely diffused, and the production of wine is one of the principal sources of employment. It is strong and ful-bodied, with more bouquet than Port or Madeira; but from having generally little care bestowed on its manufacture, it keeps badly; and casks and bottles being for the most part unknown it is kept in buffalo-skins, smeared with naphtha, which not only gives it a disagreeable state, but disposes it to acidity. But notwithstanding these drawbacks, and its extensive consumption in the country, considerable quantities are exported. Mr. Wilbraham says that " the Georgians have the reputation of being the greatest drinkers in the world: the daily allowance, without which the laborer will not work, is four bottles; and the higher classes generality exceed this quantity; on grand occasions the consumption is incredible." According to Smith and Dwight, ''the ordinary ration of the inhabitants of Teflis, from the mechanic to the prince, is said to be a tonk, measuring between five and six bottles of Bordeaux! The best wine costs about four cents the bottle, while the common is less than a cent."
The multiplied oppressions to which the inhabitants have been long subjected, and the fertility of the soil, have gone far to extinguish all industry. The peasant thinks only of growing grain enough for the support of himself and family, and a small surplus to exchange at the nearest town for other articles of prime necessity. The plough in use is so heavy as to require six or eight buffaloes for its draught, and often double the number are used; the harrow is nothing more than a felled tree; and a great quantity of the produce is wasted owing to the grain being trodden out by buffaloes.
Domestic animals of all kinds are reared. The horses and horned cattle equal the best European breeds in size and beauty; and the long-tailed sheep afford excellent wool. Game, including the stag, antelope, wild-boar, hares, wild-goats, pheasant, partridge, &c, is very abundant; bears, foxes, badgers, jackals, lynxes, and it is said leopards, are common. The forests consist of oak, beech, elm, ash, linden, hornbeam, chestnut, walnut, and many other trees common in Europe; but they are of little or no use. The mineral products of the country, though nearly unexplored, are believed to be various: iron is plentiful on the flank of the Caucasus, and coal, naphtha, &c, are met with.
The houses of the peasantry, even in the most civilized parts, are nothing more than slight wooden frames, with walls made of bundles of osiers covered over with a mixture of clay and cowdung, and a roof of rush. A room thirty feet long and twenty broad, where the light comes in at the door; a floor upon which they dry madder and cotton; a little hole in the middle1 of the apartment, where the fire is placed, above which is a copper caldron attached to a chain, and enveloped with a thick smoke, which escapes by either the ceiling or the door, is a picture of the interior of these dwellings. In the houses even of the nobility, the walls are some times built only of trunks of trees cemented with mortar, and the furniture consists of a very few articles.
The roads, except that across the Caucasus to Teflis, which has been improved by the Russians, are in a wretched state. The vehicles in use are of the rudest kind, and all commodities, except straw or timber, are transported upon horses, mules, asses, or camels. The inhabitants never ride except on horseback. Coarse woollen, cotton, and silk fabrics, leather, shagreen, and a few other articles, are manufactured. The arms made at Teflis have some reputation ; but most of the other goods are very inferior, and only enter into home consumption;
Georgia, as before intimated, composes one of the Trans-Caucasian provinces of Russia. Their government is wholly military: and how little soever it may square with our notions of what a government should be, it is not ill fitted for the circumstances of the country; and there can not be a question that its establishment has been most advantageous to the great majority of the population.
The Georgian ladies have usually oval faces, fair complexions, and black hair, and have long enjoyed the highest reputation for beauty in the East; the men are also well formed and handsome. This superiority in the physical form of the Georgians and other contiguous Caucasian tribes, and the low state of civilization that has always prevailed among them, explains the apparently unaccountable fact that these countries have been, from the remotest antiquity down to our times, the seat of an extensive slave-trade. Latterly, the harems of the rich mussulmans of Turkey, Persia, &c., have been wholly or principally supplied by female slaves brought from Georgia, Circassia, and the adjoining provinces ; and they also furnished male slaves to supply the Mameluke corps of Egypt and various other military bodies with recruits.
In modern times the Georgians have been divided, with the exception of a few free commoners, into the two great classes of the nobles and their vassals or slaves. Previously to the Russian conquest, the latter were the absolute property of their lords, who, besides employing them in all manner of manual and laborious occupations, derived a considerable part of their revenue from the sale of their sons and daughters! Indeed, the daughters of the nobles not unfrequently shared the same fate, being sacrificed to the necessities or ambition of their unnatural parents!
The Russians have put an end to this traffic; and they have also deprived the nobles of the power capitally to punish their vassals, and set limits to their demands upon them for labor and other services. There can not therefore be, and there is not, a. doubt with any individual acquainted with the circumstances, that the Russian conquest has been of signal advantage to the bulk of the Georgian people. It is probably true, however, that the Russians are quite as much disliked by the nobles of Georgia as by those of Circassia; and those travellers who live with them, and credit their stories, will be amply supplied with tales of Russian barbarity and atrocity.
"With a settled state of affairs, Teflis, the capital, might again become, as in the days of the emperor Justinian, a thoroughfare for the overland commerce between Asia and Europe. The Georgians belong to the Greek church, and, since becoming subject to Russia, have been subordinate in ecclesiastical matters to a Russian archbishop at Teflis, who has three suffragans south of the Caucasus. The clergy are generally very ignorant. . A high-school in the capital has been recently erected into a gymnasium ; and in addition to it, there are a few small schools, in which, however, very little is taught. No serf is, or at least used to be, instructed in reading, but all the nobility are more or less educated: the females of this class teach each other, and are commonly better informed than the males. The Georgian language is peculiar, differing widely from the languages spoken by the surrounding nations.
Georgia was annexed to the Roman empire by Pompey the Great, anno 65 B. C. During the sixth and seventh centuries it was long a theatre of contest between the eastern empire of Constantinople and the Persians. In tne eighth century, a prince of the Jewish family of the Bagratides established the last Georgian monarchy, which continued in his line down to the commencement of the present century. The last prince, George XI., before his death in 1799, placed Georgia under the protection of Russia (though up to that time it had been regarded as nominally a dependency of the Persian monarchy) ; and, in 1802, it was incorporated with the Russian empire. In the present war (1854) between Russia and the Ottoman Porte, the frontiers of Georgia and Armenia were early the theatre of important military operations, and the Russians falling back, Georgia was in the month of May declared independent; but it is highly probable that, by either reconquest or treaty settlement at the close of the war, the province will again fall under the sway of the czar.
Teflis, or Tiflis, the capital of Georgia and of the other Trans-Caucasian provinces, is situated near the centre of the country, on the right bank of the Kour, three hundred miles east by north of Trebizond, in Turkey, in a contracted valley formed by irregular mountains, parallel with the stream on the side of the city, and hills coming down in a point quite to the water's edge on the other. A circular fort covers this point, and, together with a small suburb, is united to the city by a bridge of a single wooden arch, thrown over the river ; while the ruined walls of an old citadel crown the top, and extend down the side of a part of the opposite mountain.
The old and native part of the city is built upon the truly oriental plan of irregular narrow lanes, and still more irregular and diminutive houses, thrown together in all the endless combinations of accident. Here and there European taste, aided by Russian power, has worked out a passable road for carriages, or built a decent house, overlooking and putting to shame all its mud-walled and dirty neighbors. A line of bazars, too, extending along the river, and branching out into several streets, together with much bustle and business, display some neatness and taste, and is connected with two or three tolerable caravanseries. Several old "and substantial churches, displaying their belfries and cupolas in different parts, complete the prominent features of this part of the city.
In the northern or Russian quarter, officers, palaces, government-offices, and private houses, lining broad streets and open squares, have a decidedly European aspect, and exhibit in their pillared fronts something of that taste for showy architecture which the edifices of their capital have taught the Russians to admire.
Teflis has the appearance of an excessively busy and populous place. Its streets present not only a crowded, but, unlike many oriental cities, a lively scene. Every person seems hurried by business. Nor is the variety of costumes, representing different nations and tongues, the least noticeable feature of the scene.
The Armenian cathedral is a large and somewhat striking edifice. There are likewise two mosques ; and, among the other places of worship, is a German protestant chapel. The city has also a French and a German hotel; they are represented, however, as being, in most respects, the reverse of what they should be. House-rent is high, but otherwise living is not expensive. Teflis has many remarkable sulphureous hot springs, their temperature varying from one hundred to one hundred and twelve degrees Fahrenheit; and to these, it is supposed by some, the city owes its name. Over some of these the Russian government has erected the crown-baths, a plain edifice, but which, by being kept in good order, differs widely from all the other bathing-establishments in the city, and realizes a handsome revenue.
Teflis is very favorably situated for trade, and its commerce is pretty extensive, having greatly increased during the period of Russian occupation. Almost all the trade is, however, in the hands of the Armenians.
In 1830, scarcely half a dozen mercantile houses existed belonging to any other foreigners, and only one European consul (a Frenchman) resided here. In the same year, the Russians founded a school at Teflis, which has since, as already remarked, been erected into a gymnasium ; and there are some other schools.
Teflis, as well as Georgia in general, has for a long while been celebrated for the beauty of its women; and, according to the missionaries, D wight and Smith, " this has not been overrated, for we have never seen a city so large a proportion of whose females were beautiful in form, features, or complexion, as Teflis." Teflis does not boast a very high antiquity. It is said to have been built in 469 by Vachtang, the founder of a dynasty which ruled from the Euxine to the Caspian. It was taken by the Tartars under Zinghis Khan, in the thirteenth century; subdued by the Turks in 1576 ; sacked by Aga Mohammed Khan, shah of Persia, in 1795; and finally fell into the possession of the Russians, with Georgia, in 1802. It suffered greatly from the ravages of the cholera in 1830. It is the residence of the governor-general of Caucasus, and of a Georgian and Armenian archbishop. There are four newspapers published, here in the Russian, Georgian, Persian, and Armenian languages, respectively. Its present population may be reckoned at from thirty-five to forty thousand, the great majority of whom are Armenians, with some mussulman families.
Among the other chief towns are Elizabetpol, or Ganjah, ninety miles southeast of Teflis; Signak, fifty-six miles east by south ; and Akhaltsike, a hundred and ten miles west, once the capital of a Turkish pachalic, and having forty thousand inhabitants, but now only thirteen, thousand, chiefly Turkish Armenians: it has some fine churches and ruins. Warzich, in the volcanic region of the Trapovanie and the Kour, formerly the favorite residence of the Armenian queen Thamar, is an extraordinary spot. It is a complete city, hewn out of volcanic stone, and contains three large churches, entirely cut out of the rock, subterraneous passages, innumerable chambers, finely sculptured, and the queers summer and winter palaces. The whole country around is covered with lava and volcanic products of various kinds.
The province of Shirvan lies on the south of the Caucasus, principally between the fortieth and forty-second degrees of north latitude, and the forty-seventh and fiftieth degrees of east longitude; having the Caspian on the east, Daghestan on the north, Georgia on the west, and the river Kour on the south, which divides it from Talysch, formerly a portion of the Persian territory of Ghilan. It comprises about nine thousand square miles.
Shirvan ( Shirwan, or Guirvari) was formerly a province of Persia. Its climate and natural productions are much the same as those of Georgia. It consists chiefly of a well-watered plain, which produces cotton, rice, wines, and fruits of various kinds; but along the shore of the Caspian there is a flat tract almost a desert. The inhabitants of this province are chiefly Mohammedan Persians.
Baku, or Badku, the capital of Shirvan, is situated on the southern shore of the peninsula or cape of Abcheran on the western coast of the Caspian sea, of which it is one of the most frequented ports. The walls of the town were formerly washed by the Caspian, but they are at present about five yards distant from it: the sea, however, has gained upon the land in other places, the ruins of ancient buildings being found at the depth of nearly twenty feet. It stands on a declivity, the summit of which is crowned by the palace of the former khans and Persian kings ; is defended by a double wall and deep ditch, constructed in the time of Peter the Great, and has two strong forts, under whose protection vessels can anchor in from four to six fathoms water, within eighty yards of the shore, in a spacious road, sheltered from all quarters.
The town is ill built, with crooked and narrow streets. The houses are small, with flat roofs coated with naphtha. The Yirgin's Tower is the most striking object in the place. There are, however, several spacious mosques, public squares, marts, and caravansaries ; a Greek and an Armenian church, and some Tartar schools.
The chief exports of Baku and its neighborhood are naphtha, salt, and saffron; in return for which it receives, principally from Persia, raw silk and cotton, rich carpets and shawls, rice, &c.; and from Europe all kinds of ironware and cutlery, cotton, linen, and woollen manufactured goods— thus becoming an entrepot through which an important trade is carried on between the East and the West. The adjacent island of Salian has important fisheries. Baku has a population of about six thousand.
The jurisdiction of Baku extends over thirty-two villages, with nineteen thousand inhabitants, of whom one thousand are Turkomans. The khanate of Baku was formerly attached to Persia, but wrested from it by the Russians, under Peter the Great, about 1723. It was restored in 1735, but retaken'in 1801 by the Russians, to whom it now belongs.
The peninsula of Abcheran, or Apsheron, is rocky and barren, destitute of trees, and the water, obtained only from wells, is very brackish. It is in many respects a most singular region, and is particularly famous for its naphtha-springs. The quantity of naphtha procured in the plain to the southeast of the city of Baku is enormous. It is of two kinds, black and white, and its principal sources are about six miles from Baku. The black oil shines with a reddish tint in the rays of the sun, and is used for burning and for coating roofs. The supply seems inexhaustible, some of the wells yielding fifteen hundred or two thousand pounds a day, and on being emptied immediately fill up again; the entire annual yield is upward of four thousand tons!
Near these springs is the Artech-gah, or " Field of Fire" nearly half a square mile in extent. A stream of white oil here gushes from the foot of a hill; it readily ignites and burns on the surface of the water: and in calm weather people amuse themselves with pouring it into the sea, where they set fire to it, and it floats away, giving the waters the appearance of a sea of fire. The poor people obtain a cheap light and fire for cooking by driving a clay pipe or reed into the ground, and burning the gas which rises through it. The Persian ghebers or fire-worshippers likewise send the gas in bottles to their friends at a distance. The " Field of Fire" is in constant motion, and emits a flame without heat. Occasionally the whole region seems to be in flames; and it appears as if the fire rolled down the mountain-sides in large masses, with incredible velocity, presenting on a winter's night a scene of wonderful sublimity. In ancient times the burning field was one of the most celebrated ateshyahs or shrines of grace among the ghebers or parsees of Persia, and frequented by thousands of pilgrims. They have still several temples here, and many of them spend their days in worship and in penitential exercises so severe as often to cost them their lives. The peninsula is likewise celebrated for numerous volcanoes, which discharge immense quantities of mud.
Russian Armenia comprises that portion of the former kingdom of that name which lies south of Georgia and north of the Arras and Mount Ararat, being two hundred miles in length and about one hundred and thirty in breadth. It formerly constituted the Persian province of Erivan, by which name it is now sometimes known. It contains about eight thousand square miles.
The country consists of a mass of mountains, crowding on each other and filling up the whole space with volcanic amphitheatres. One of the largest of these amphitheatres is occupied by the great fresh-water lake of Gukcha (blue lake), called also Sivan, the surface of which is five thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea. In the northwestern portion of the lake is an island called Sivan, with a monastery, twelve hundred yards from the shore. The lake is said to be unfathomable, and has the dark-blue appearance of deep water. A branch of the river Zengue, which passes the town of Erivan, carries the surplus waters of the lake to the Arras. The whole country in the neighborhood is volcanic. The soil of the valley of the Arras is extremely fertile, and the mountains are covered with pasture. Directly south of Erivan a small portion of the
Russian territory extends to the southwestward of the Arras, and in the southwest corner of this portion stands the famous mountain Macis (Agridagh),or Ararat, a view of which is herewith given.
It consists of two mountains — the Great Ararat, on the northwest; and the Less Ararat, on the southeast: their summits, in a direct line, being about seven miles apart, and their bases insensibly blending into each other by the interposition of a wide, level, upland valley. The summit of the Great Ararat is seventeen thousand three hundred and twenty-three feet above the sea-level, and fourteen thousand three hundred and twenty feet above the plain of the Arras. The northeastern slope of the mountain is about fourteen miles in length, and the southwestern about twenty miles. On the former, visible even from Erivan, thirty-two miles distant, is a deep, gloomy, crater-like chasm. The mountain is covered with perpetual snow and ice, for about three miles from its summit downward, in an oblique direction. On the entire northern half, from about fourteen thousand feet above the sea-level, it shoots up in one rigid crest to its summit, and then stretches downward on its southern side to a level not quiteso low, forming what is called the " Silver Crest of Ararat" Little Ararat rises thirteen thousand and ninety-three feet above the sea-level, and ten thousand one hundred and forty feet above the plain of the Arras ; and is free from snow in September and October. Its declivities are greater and steeper than those of the Great Ararat; and its almost conical form is marked with several delicate furrows, that radiate downward from its summit.
The top of the Great Ararat was first reached, October 9,1829, by Professor Parrot, who reports it to be a " gently-vaulted, nearly-cruciform surface, of about two hundred paces in circuit, which at the margin sloped off precipitously on every side, but particularly toward the southeast and northeast. Formed of eternal ice, without rock or stone to interrupt its continuity, it was the austere silvery head of Old Ararat." Toward the east, this summit is connected, by means of a flattish depression, with a lower summit, distant four hundred yards, and in like manner covered with ice. After remaining on the summit three quarters of an hour, determining the height, and making various observations, Parrot descended to the monastery of St. James; the third day after, he left it. The observations of Parrot have been in every respect confirmed by another Russian traveller, named Abich, who reached the summit of the Great Ararat without difficulty, July 29, 1845. He, with six others, remained an hour othe top, without experiencing any inconvenience from cold, so much felt by Parrot and his companions.
All travellers attest the volcanic nature of the Ararat mountains, as evidenced by the stones found on all their slopes, undoubtedly the products of a crater. They are composed chiefly of trachytic porphyry, and on them pumice and various descriptions of lava have been met with. Reineggs avers that he saw the Great Ararat send forth smoke and flame for three days in 1785; but this is believed to be one of the many romances which that traveller has related. No such occurrence was remembered, in 1843, by individuals resident on the mountain at the period indicated, and no eruption is found recorded in the chronicles of the monastery of Echmiadzin, though they extend back over a period of eight hundred years. All doubt as to the volcanic nature of the two Ararats was put an end to on July 2, 1840, when an eruption took place from the head of the great chasm, which destroyed the monastery and chapel of St. James, the village of Arguri, and their inmates. Dr. Wagner, an enterprising German traveller and naturalist, who visited the spot in 1843, gives in substance the following account of that event, as related by Sahatel Chotschaieff, brother to Stephen Aga, village elder of Arguri, honorably mentioned by both Parrot and Dubois, and confirmed by other two eye-witnesses : —
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855