Located in the northern range of Geogia’s Caucasus Mountains, the top of the Kazbegi region buts up right against Russia. The Military Highway that cuts north-south through the land, with its tunnels and whip-lash turns, is a major artery linking the Caucuses, Turkey, Russia, and the Central Asian republics beyond—an inheritor of the Silk Road’s importance. While Russia has made inroads into stealing Georgia’s lands farther west in South Ossetia, a physical border of two steep cliffs crossed by duo customs offices keeps the national lines distinct.
Stepantsminda, a transport hub located just before the border, is marked both by the grit of its industrial history and the grandeur of its medieval history. Abandoned villages sit silent and untouched at the foot of steep rises toward Mt. Kazbek, the bones of cattle mixing with the detritus of those who disappeared. Daily life in traditional villages like Sno, which harbors a celebrated fortress, continues at the same agricultural pace as it ever did. At the same time, new structures emerge slowly for tourism opportunities, the brutalist concrete aesthetics at odds with the stone and wood houses arranged in circular and arc patterns according to ancient custom. The pool of a brand-new hydro-electric plant gleams, flanked on one side by a line of idling, dusty semi-trucks waiting for the border quota to open, while on the other is the steep slope of the mountain. When the phalanxes move, they will pass just below a monastery complex, though not the famous monastery of Gergeti Trinity Church. That, they passed a few kilometers back during passage through majestic mountain-scapes. Only a hardy Soviet 4-wheel makes it up that vertiginous climb of mud and ice for a sweeping view on what has remained intact for hundreds of years.
“Land Strategies—Kazbegi” is one chapter of the larger project “On the Route to Ruins: From Baalbek to Bukhara,” wherein I follow a renewed Silk Road of tourism and international economic and energy relationships. Through these images I offer a visual meditation on civilization, geopolitical realities both historic and contemporary, and on how civilization is just a transition away from the natural world.