- The Caucasus: past and present
- Between Europe and Asia
A mountainous region
The Caucasus region extends for over 1,200 kilometres between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It is a mountainous region made up of very high ranges in the north, the Greater Caucasus, famous for Mount Elbrus, which rises to a height of 5,642 metres, and the Lesser Caucasus in the south, made up of smaller ranges, plateaux and valleys. At the junction between Europe and Asia, the region also forms a natural barrier, since some massifs are difficult to cross.
Great ethnic diversity
The region is inhabited by a patchwork of people of diverse origins. Some are endogenous, in other words they originated within the region, such as the Circassians, a mountain people from the northwest of the Caucasus, who already lived there in antiquity. Others arrived through migration or invasion, including Indo-European peoples such as the Armenians and Iranians, and Turkic peoples, especially in Azerbaijan. The result is a rich variety of linguistic traditions. The most striking example is the region of Dagestan, to the north of Azerbaijan, where some thirty languages are spoken.
A region of many tales
The Caucasus appears in several myths. It was here that Zeus bound Prometheus in chains to punish him for giving humanity the gift of fire before being rescued by Hercules. The Argonauts also headed for the Caucasus in search of the Golden Fleece. Lastly, Noah's Ark was fabled to have run aground on Mount Ararat, on the border between Turkey and Armenia, after the Flood.
Many European travellers have also ventured into the Caucasus and survived to tell the tale, including Marco Polo, who wrote the Book of Marvels in the 13th century, and Alexander Dumas, author of the Tales of the Caucasus published in 1859.