Being the highest mountains in Europe, the Caucasus Mountains serve as a natural border between Europe and Asia.

The location of the Caucasus Mountains

The Caucasus Mountains are situated between the Black and the Caspian seas.

The mountains are often called “the Caucasus”.

It is worth mentioning that sometimes only the Greater Caucasus or the Caucasus ridge with the highest European Mount Elbrus (5642 m/18 510 ft) are regarded as Caucasus or the North Caucasus.

While the Lesser Caucasus, situated on the south of the Caucasus ridge, and their valleys are referred to as Transcaucasia or the South Caucasus.

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Chegem Gorge (Kabardino-Balkaria) is among the most beautiful places in the Caucasus Mountains

About the Caucasus Mountains

The Caucasus Mountains were formed at the same time as the Alps. Their formation took place more than 25 million years ago during the so-called Tertiary Period.

The Caucasus Mountains are the place where the Arabian and the Eurasian continental plates collide.

It results in constant crustal movement and several powerful earthquakes, which can cause numerous casualties.

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Chegem Gorge in the Caucasus Mountains

The history of the Caucasus Mountains

The first record about Caucasus dates back to 479 B.C. The Greek poet Aeschylus used this word in his tragedy “Prometheus Bound”. By that time the Greeks had already finished the colonization of the northern coast of the Black Sea and this term took root in their vocabulary.

In other words, the name “Caucasus” has been used for more than 2 500 years old. Therefore, modern linguists find it hard to determine the exact meaning of this word.

However, the first people inhabited this region long before the Greeks. In the Caucasus Mountains archaeologists have found settlements, which date back to the Early Stone Age.

In the first millennium B.C. several states were formed in this area, like Urartu, the Colchian Empire, the Empire, the Yervandid Kingdom Iberia and some others.

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Chegem Gorge in the Caucasus Mountains

The Russian Conquest of Caucasus

Several centuries ago the Caucasian free folk often conducted raids on Russian settlements. It sparked a serious concern in ruling circles of the Russian Empire. Besides, the Caucasus Mountains serve as a natural border between Europe and Asia.

Furthermore, Caucasus was a major point in the trade route between Europe to Asia.

Initially, Caucasus belonged to the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Later the Caucasus Mountains fell under the control of Russia and remained its entities till 1921. Then some Caucasian territories (south-western) were seized by Turkey.

After the collapse of the USSR some ex-Soviet republics, located in the Caucasus Mountains, gained independence while the others became federal subjects of the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, some territories are still a matter of dispute between the republics.

Nowadays 10% of the Russian population lives in the Caucasus Mountains and neighboring areas.

The climate of the Caucasus Mountains

Caucasus is located on the boundary between moderate and subtropical climatic zones. The Caucasus Mountains have glacial covering, i.e. their tops are white the whole year (more than 2000 glaciers).

The Russian ski resorts in the Caucasus Mountains

The winter in the Caucasus Mountains is mild. As a result, in the winter Caucasus turns into a popular ski resort. The best-known destinations are Krasnaya Polyana in Sochi, Terskol in Kabardino-Balkaria (Mount Cheget offers trails for avid skiers while trails on Mount Elbrus are suitable for amateurs) and Dombay in Karachay-Cherkessia.

It is quite striking that in Sochi you can spend a day skiing in the mountains and in the evening you can go down to a valley and enjoy the warm Mediterranean climate.

However, the skiing in Elbrus requires acclimatization since the highest trail lies 4200 m (13 780 ft) above sea level. You should be ready to spend some time getting used to these weather conditions.

Dombay amazes skiers and snowboarders with its stunning views of Dombay valley and gives them plenty opportunities for freeriding.

Who lives in the Caucasus Mountains?

The population of the region numbers more than fifty peoples.

They speak various languages, which belong to three families: Caucasian, Indo-European and Altaic.

Interestingly, it is the Russian language that serves as a means of cross-national communication among Caucasian peoples.

The view of the Caucasus Mountains from the sea

The view of the Caucasus Mountains from the sea (1899). Ivan Aivazovsky

The Caucasus states and state formations

The North Caucasus Mountains belong to Russia. There are such territorial entities as Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Krai, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, Stavropol Krai and Chechnya.

The south of the Caucasus ridge is occupied by Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the following self-appointed self-governing states: Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

There are also four Turkish provinces in the southern Caucasus.

Since the times of the USSR the Caucasus Mountains have been a major center of sports activities and medical tourism. Throughout the year Caucasus attracts many Russian tourists.

Photos by Alexander Frolov

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