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 Resorts and Adventures at Caucasus Mineral Waters

 

History of Caucasus Mineral Waters

A passing glance at the map of the region, where the mineral spas of the Caucasus, otherwise known as Mineralni'ye Vody, are located, will detect Pyatigorsk at once. First, because it is central, second, because it is the biggest town in the region, and, finally, because Beshtau and Mashuk, the two tallest peaks in the foothills of the Greater Caucasus Range, that are situated in Stavropol Territory (the administrative unit of the Russian Federation) pinpoint it with unerring accuracy from the angle of terrain and relief. Map of region of Caucasus Mineral Waters (KMV)

Low-lying Mt. Goryachaya (Hot) is one of Pyatigorsk's many natural wonders that owe their origin to the local hot mineral springs. From its top the bronze effigy of an eagle clutching a writhing snake in its claws looks out at the town. This artistic representation symbolizes the struggle waged against the ills "that flesh is heir to".

As a poetic legend goes, one day a snake surreptitiously crept up to the eagle, the lord of the skies, as it perched on a mountain crag, and delivered what would have been a mortal bite, had not the wise bird quaffed the healing waters of a local spring and bathed its wound in their soothing effluence. Saved from an otherwise inevitable death, the eagle, cast in bronze, is today the proud emblem of Pyatigorsk. Symbol of Caucasus Mineral Waters (KMV)

The foregoing is but one of the many fanciful and edifying myths woven around these places; yet not one can hold a candle to the plain, unvarnished truth, which is that from time immemorial this beauty spot with its sun-steeped, inimitable lovely scenery and wonder-working mineral springs, is a real treasure-trove of health, strength and good cheer. As year follows year and generation, the town, in its exquisite scenic setting, is changing, as new buildings of modern architectural shape complement its historical image. And though some springs run dry and new ones gush forth, Pyatigorsk as elder of Mineralniye Vody, continues to be fountainhead of health for the millions.


Pages from the past

Lermontov's gallery at Pyatigorsk In times of yore, a legend related by the mountain folk goes, the Caucasus was flat steppeland, wherein a tribe of giants, the Narty, dwelled. Their Golden Age would have lasted forever, had not the crafty villainous Ebliz poisoned with the liver of a mad boar, the marrow of a bedrid old goat, the bile of a cunning wolf and the venom of a serpent the viands which the giants had procured for a banquet. Having eaten of this food, there nested in their kind hearts the insanity of the boar, the jealousy of the goat, the blood-thirstiness of the wolf and the spite of the snake. Their chieftain, the handsome silver-haired Elborus, or as some have it, Elbrus, conceived an illicit passion for the lovely Mashuka, his son's darling bride to be. He dispatched the youth to the chase to have the girl for himself. However, she broke away from the old man's embraces and fled, unfortunately dropping in her flight the ring with which the young man had plighted his troth. Elborus flung the ring aside, inflamed with jealous envy of his rival for the maiden's charms. The youth spotted the ring out in the steppes, and troubled, rushed back home. Old Cauvasus picture

The ensuing battle was fiercely fought. The Narty divided, some taking up arms for Elborus, others for his son. In the forefront of the fray were the father and his son, the one wise in the ways of battle, the other full of youthful vigour. Then a moment came when the father, knocking the iron helmet off his son's head, slew him, and with his sword, chopped the dead youth's body into five parts, thus taking away the life that had sprung from his own seed. Yet, neither did Elborus remain unharmed; with a mighty blow of his sword, his son had cleaved the helmet and so seriously wounded the old man, that he crawled away to die. Mashuka, unable to bear her darling's death, flung herself upon the youth's mutilated remains, and, plucking his dagger forth from its sheath stabbed herself to quench the anguish of her loving heart.

The battle raged all through the night, even though the two main antagonists were dead. But as wars ever end, when dawn broke not a living soul was left on the field of the fray. Thus did the tribe of the Narty become extinct, their place taken by mountains as memorials in rock and stone to this erstwhile mighty race.

Mashuka's ring is now an annular-topped mountain, while her betrothed's helmet is Mt. Zheleznaya (Iron). The youth himself is the five-headed Mt. Beshtau; next to it is the grieving Mashuka in whose side the Proval Grotto gapes. The icy tears of repentance shed by Mingi-Tau, the name the mountain folk have given Mt. Elbrus, fail to resurrect the petrified Narty. Perchance this will be wrought one day by the hot tears flowing from Mt. Mashuka, that spring from the depths in wonderworking springs capable of curing every wound and ailment. To this day a life-giving stream emerges from Mt. Mashuk, as it is called now, to bring health to all and sundry. Meanwhile, the sun shoots its beams through the funnel-tike crater to impinge upon the deep turquoise lake of sulphuric waters inside the natural phenomenon of the Proval Grotto.

The chain of mountains, dominated by the twin-headed Elbrus, which seem hurled into the bottomless azure vault of the heavens, is more than a feast for the eyes for any visitor to Pyatigorsk and its environs. It is at the same time a vast subterranean treasure-chamber, wherein Dame Nature brews those mineral waters that have earned the region well-deserved world-wide fame. Underground forces were at work here in those remote times, aeons ago, when the Black Sea, with its sister Caspian Sea, had rolled their waves across the entire breadth of the Northern Caucasus. It was these forces that produced many fissures through which the mineral springs spurt to bequeathe their name to the celebrated Mineralniye Vody of the Caucasus. Nowhere else in the world will one find such a diverse wealth of mineral springs—some half a hundred all told—as in and around Pyatigorsk.

Mt. Mashuk, upon whose slopes, at more than half a kilometer above sea level, the town of Pyatigorsk sprawls, resembles an immense cone with a spur extending from it in a south-western direction. This peak, which the great 19th-century Russian poet Alexander Pushkin named "the giver of healing streams", is that wonder- working mountain which indeed furnishes all of Pyatigorsk's springs with its healing waters. This was the site chosen in 1780 to build the Fortress of Konstantinogorsk (Constantine's Hill).

Fifty years later, in 1830 the small health resort here of Goryachevodsk (Hot Waters) was renamed Pyatigorsk, an appellation that derives from the purplish mass of Mt. Beshtau, which is the Turkish for "five hills". Read now how Pechorin, the central character in Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, describes Pyatigorsk in his diary: "In the west the five-headed Beshtau looms blue like the last cloud of a scattered storm'; in the north Mashuk rises like a furry Persian hat to obscure this entire part of the horizon... Below there stretches in motley before my eyes a new, clean little town; healing springs gurgle and the multilingual throng clamours - but there, further off, mountains of deepening blue and increasing mistiness rise in an amphitheater, while at the edge of the horizon there extends a silver chain of snow-caps, starting with Kazbek and ending with the twin-headed Elborus.—Truly it is cheerful to live in a land like this!"

Pyatigorsk is one of Russia's oldest health resorts. Purposeful studies of its natural conditions and balneological wealth are associated with the names of such celebrated scholars, among others, as the pharmacologist Alexander Nelyubin and the President of the Russian Balneological Society Sergei Smirnov. Even before that, the Court Doctor H. Schober brought back the initial information about the mineral springs of the Caucasus, having been dispatched there in 1717 by order of the Emperor Peter the Great "to seek within our realm for the waters of springs that could be used to treat illnesses".

However, it remained for General Alexei Yermolov, the Commander-in-Chief of Russian forces in the Caucasus, a man who had distinguished himself by his gallantry during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, known in this country as the Patriotic War of 1812, to initiate Pyatigorsk's development as a health resort. In response to his request for the first time ever, in 1822, the sum of 550,000 roubles was assigned for this purpose. While he was in command, several balneological and residential buildings, including Pyatigorsk's Yermolov Baths, were erected in the region of Mineralniye Vody.

Those gifted architects, the Bernardazzi brothers, likewise signally contributed to the town's overall aesthetic appearance. An admiring look at the Lermontov Baths, the Aeolean Harp Pavilion and Diana's Grotto, which they designed, involuntarily conjures up Goethe's famous remark that architecture is truly "frozen music".

The blend of steppe with hill-land not only imparts a unique relief; it likewise makes for an extremely diversified plant kingdom. Though there is plenty of sunshine even in winter, the best time of the year here is between May and October; while the warm, dry, golden-tinged autumn, when the riotous greenery of a summer just past is interspersed with the crimson and ochre of falling leaves, is simply unforgettable. Then the pale disk of the sun, much like a large yellow coin, rent in twain by a dark-blue strip of cloud, hangs suspended above the snowcaps. The zigzagging road, full of hairpin bends beckons, calling upon us to ascend to the top of Mt. Mashuk, from whence the Aeolean Harp twangs its unending melody. However, should one prefer to rise in comfort one may take the cable car which brings one up to a spot that is 994 metres above sea level. From this point, at the base of a 113-metre tall TV tower—which, in combination with the height of the mountain makes it Europe's tallest television mast—one obtains a bird's-eye view of all of Pyatigorsk.

Pyatigorsk is famed not only for its scenic beauties and healing waters. It likewise boasts an eventful history and a wealth of cultural tradition; it abounds in spots of interest associated with celebrated names in the world of literature and the arts. Surely every visitor will be thrilled to tread the same pathways upon which Pushkin, Lermontov, the noted literary critic Vissarion Belinsky, the composer Alexander Alyabyev and the painter Ilya Repin—to mention but several of the eminent geniuses of the past, who comprise the pride of Russia's cultural heritage—once set foot. "This will be my first town, from which I will not go repenting," Leo Tolstoy remarked after visiting Pyatigorsk in 1852 and 1853. The composer Mikhail Glinka admitted: "I felt fine, especially in Pyatigorsk." While his confrere Milii Balakirev observed: "I was most pleased with Pyatigorsk's location, as I had never seen anything like it before." The celebrated singers Leonid Sobinov and Fyodor Chaliapine, the pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff and the poet Sergei Yesenin gave recitals in the town. In 1903 Pyatigorsk hosted the great proletarian author Maxim Gorky.

Pyatigorsk is famed as the birthplace of the celebrated Russian photographer Rayev, whose unique efforts may be seen not only at the Russian Academy of Sciences but also in the Louvre in Paris, and in Belgium, and also of Mikhail Vasilyev-Yuzhin, one of Lenin's closest comrades. In its time the town hosted the officers who were involved in the ill-fated December uprising against the Tsar in St. Petersburg in 1825, and Kosta Khetagurov, the founding father of the literature of the Ossetian, a small Caucasian nationality that dwells in Georgia.

Pushkin stayed for a while in Pyatigorsk in 1820 and 1829. There is mention of the town's Tsvetnik Park in his Journey to Arzrum, while in his Caucasian Prisoner ballad we encounter the following lines:


  

"On days depressed by sad departing, My pensive musings, disenheartning, The Caucasus brought back to me, Where stands cloud-wrapped Beshtu in solitary grandeur, Its pentad capitate, of field and village seignior, Twas a Parnassus new for me."

To which one may add that if for Pushkin Pyatigorsk was a new Parnassus, for Lermontov Pyatigorsk was his be-all and end-all, the last in its most tragic sense. This unruly rebel, who visited the town time and again throughout his all too brief life, is indeed, as the noted Soviet Daghestanian bard Rasul Gamsatov has so aptly observed, "the dominating peak of the Caucasus". Even one who has never visited Pyatigorsk will have gained an impression of it from Lermontov's writings. For that matter the poet's prose creation, A Hero of Our Time is to this day the best of all guides in its lyrical descriptions of places in the Caucasus that are associated with his name. Today we jealously preserve everything in Pyatigorsk—and not only there, may we add—that relates to the great bard. Some of the buildings here comprise a memorial quarter, which ever attracts all who flock here to render tribute to Lermontov's genius. His hand penned many an emotion-packed line and conjured up many a charming image in these places,


  

"Where the Podkumok rushes, rumbling, Where behind Mashuk day rises And beyond Beshtu's crags ends, tumbling." Izmail-Bei. Poem

In mid-October, when autumn singes the summer green with its orange flame, Pyatigorsk is a scene of the traditional Lermontov poetry fest. For the event, prominent writers and poets, scholars studying Lermontov's oeuvre, singers, musicians and other performers as well as poetry lovers from all over the Soviet Union and from abroad, converge upon these places where the illustrious bard of the Caucasus breathed his last breath. A veritable "must" for everyone is the cottage where the poet lived and worked. In 1973 opened here was the Lermontov Museum-Preserve, which displays a wealth of memorabilia relating to his life and literary efforts.

Lermontov conceived a life-long love for the Caucasus when seeing these places for the first time in boyhood. Later, exiled here by the Tsar, he extolled Pyatigorsk and its environs in his romantic verse. The picturesque grotto on the southern slope of the Mikhailovsky Spur, which Lermontov chose as the place of assignation between Pechorin and Vera in his immortal novel, now bears his name. Along with the Yelizavetinsky Spring, today site of the Academy Gallery, the Aeolean Harp Pavilion and other sights, that the poet described in his Princess Mary, are included in a top-popular tourist excursion.

As if guarding the great Russian poet's memory, there stand two posts with the broken strings of a lyre and pages from a book. Symbolically indicative of Lermontoy's untimely tragic death, they show where to turn off the motorway to the spot where the fateful duel was fought. Russians venerate all that is associated with Lermontov. Thousands descend upon Pyatigorsk to "breathe in Lermontov", as the composer Balakirev so aptly put it. In a figure of speech one may say that Lermontov's memory is one more endless spring, one more fountainhead nourishing sentiments of lofty patriotism and serving as earnest of Pyatigorsk's further flourishing as one of the Soviet Union's most celebrated spas and health resorts.


Автор текста и дизайна страницы - Андрей Милантьев

 
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