Tabasarans - Settlements

Most Tabasaran settlements are ancient. Whether settlements have a vertical or horizontal plan depends on geography. In the mountains, settlements were located on slopes. There were no straight streets, since the location of streets depended on such factors as topography and kinship ties. The oldest type of settlement is the small village in which a single kin collective ( tukhum ) lived. At some stage of historical development the kin-based settlements began to break up and were replaced by larger villages consisting of several blocks based on kin groups. By the nineteenth century the principle of kinship-based settlement was no longer dominant, yielding to purely territorially based settlements. Only the territorial principle is followed today. The social division of the village is into blocks. In many villages the name of the block corresponded to the name of a kin group; villages preserving no memory of kin-based blocks are in a minority. In addition to the division into kin-based blocks, every village also had a topographic division into a zaan mahal (upper quarter) and askan mahal (lower quarter). In every village there was a gathering place ( gim, godekan ), usually adjacent to the blacksmith's shop and later to the mosque, where important economic and social questions concerning the whole village were decided and where men met for conversation. Every village cemetery had plots for the individual tukhums, a tradition that persists to the present day. Some villages had cemeteries for each tukhum (Zildik, Chere, Tinit, Julzhag, and others). Structures belonging to the entire community included military towers and mosques. All villages changed in appearance during the years of Soviet power. Sometimes whole new blocks with special buildings for social and cultural activities arose next to old villages. A number of new villages have arisen in the lowlands, with wide straight streets, running water, electricity, and plantings.

The traditional houses are made of stone and are usually two-storied, with living quarters on the second story and large loggias, a gallery with an arcade, or overhanging balconies; these buildings were joined with the other household work buildings into a single complex. Hay barns were constructed separately and placed next to the house or at the edge of the settlement. In mountain settlements there were three-story and occasionally even four-story buildings. Buildings were L-shaped, U-shaped, or square with a flat earthen roof and an internal court. Many had a central support column, the murkhval , often decorated with wood carving. The principal building materials were stone, wood, and clay. Houses were decorated with carved stone detailing with various signs and cosmological symbols—circles, rosettes, swastikas—and depictions of animals such as lions and deer. A good deal of wood went into the construction: wide window and door frames, corbels for cornices, column supports, the upper part of the wooden staircase leading to the second story, loggia, and window supports, all decorated with ornamental carving. The wooden elements of the facade, as well as the beams, were smeared with oil to prevent rot. The rooms in the living quarters had hearths ( gamu ), and the walls had niches for beds, dishes, and other household items. The interior decoration included rugs; chests (decorated with carving) for grain and other food products; wooden bed frames with shelves underneath; low stools; trunks; children's dolls; dishes; utensils of pottery, wood, or copper; and a loom for weaving rugs. During Soviet times two-story houses were built with large windows, slate or metal roofs, and yards (with orchards, vines, and/or gardens). National traditions are preserved in the plan and decoration of modern dwellings.

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