“Recently, my wife and I were on a vacation in Arkhyz. Arkhyz is known throughout the world as an excellent ski resort. But we were interested not just in skiing – we wanted to see the ancient Christian temples of this beautiful place.
We stayed in the Pavlova Polyana hotel in the village of Solyonoye. The most frequent guests in this hotel are hunters. The village is small and is located in a mountainous and wooded area on the border of the Krasnodar Krai with the Karachay-Cherkess Republic.
Honestly, it seemed to me that the hotel complex Pavlova Polyana was the “center of civilization” of this village. In this village, life freezes in the evening – stores are closed down and the streets are dark, dirty.
In my opinion, for many locals, there is only one fun thing here – drinking moonshine. But this, of course, is my subjective impression. Undoubtedly, many wonderful people live in this village.
The local guide, a pleasant young girl, told us that the village of Solyonoye had recently been often visited by esotericists, Baptists, and other believers. They consider this land sacred. They think that once the Great Flood occurs, this village will remain untouched. Due to this, according to our guide, the Baptists and other believers began to buy land here.
By the way, Baptists are not drinkers – they are hardworking people. They are planting apple orchards in the village.
To be fair, I didn’t have the chance to talk with any Baptist. But I can responsibly say that it is worth coming to this place and breathe in the clear mountain air, admire nature, go to the mountainous waterfalls, and, of course, find out about local legends.
And yet, we soon left the wonderful village of Solyonoye for Arkhyz. After all, the purpose of our trip was to see the ancient Christian shrines of Arkhyz. I’ll be clear – I had long dreamed of seeing the image of Jesus’ face painted on the rocks here.
This image was discovered relatively recently, in 1999. The Face of Christ is located on a rock above the highway leading from the village of Zelenchukskaya to Arkhyz, opposite an ancient settlement. This ancient settlement is also called Lower Arkhyz. You will not see the image of Christ from the highway.
The Face of Christ has been discovered by locals, allegedly during a hunt. Some local residents claim though that they had heard about this image way before the official discovery. It seems that even Soviet partisans had seen it during the Great Patriotic War.
Nonetheless, officially, the Face of Christ was discovered in 1999. It was carefully examined by scientists, historians, and clergymen. And now, this place is revered as a Christian shrine.
There are skeptics who claim that this Face is a modern fake. But most scholars believe that the Face of Christ in Arkhyz has been drawn in the 10th century. At this time, the territory of Lower Arkhyz was inhabited by Alans.
Under the influence of Byzantium, the Alans have adopted Christianity. It is possible that one Byzantine preacher and icon painter painted the Face of Christ on a rock. By the way, this image of Christ to me is reminiscent of the image of Jesus Christ on the Shroud of Turin.
Currently, climbing to the image is not as difficult as it used to be in the first few years after its discovery. Now, there is a metal staircase here, and you can climb the stairs to the Image of Christ.
But I must warn you that not everyone will withstand this ascent. For older people or people with heart diseases, hypertension, respiratory failure, or asthma, I would not recommend such an ascent.
As I wrote earlier, the Face of Christ is located near the Lower Arkhyz hillfort. The hillfort is the remains of a large Alan settlement. It’s thought that the inhabitants of this settlement have often hosted merchants of “silk” caravans. That is, the Great Silk Road has passed through this place.
Fortunately, the hillfort’s three Christian churches have reached us well-preserved. The northern temple was the largest.
By the way, church services are being held here even today, albeit irregularly. The temple has not yet been fully restored. But on May 6, church services are always held – this is the day of commemoration of St. George the Victorious.
What struck and surprised me the most was that during excavations in the church, an elite female burial was found with 100 gold earrings, rings, and other jewelry, including the ring of Armenian King Ashot. More precisely, the name of Armenian King Ashot was carved on this ring in Arabic.
It remains a mystery who this woman buried in the temple was and where did the ring of King Ashot come from.
I must say that in the history of Armenia, two kings were known by the name of Ashot – Ashot I the Great (820-890 AD) and Ashot II the Iron (year of birth unknown, died in 928 AD). Both kings are known for their fierce struggle against the Arabs. The Arabs recognized Ashot I as “the prince of the princes of Armenia” and Ashot II as “the king of the kings of Armenia and Georgia”.
These two kings were from the royal dynasty of Bagratids (Bagratuni). With this in mind, it remains a mystery for historians who this noble woman buried in the walls of the Northern Temple of the Arkhyz (or Alan) settlement was.
There are many similar mysteries in the ancient land of Karachay-Cherkessia. As the archbishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz and now the Metropolitan of Kazan and Tatarstan Theophanes Ashurkov once correctly said:
‘We go to Egypt or Greece, get acquainted with the heritage of Christianity, and get excited from the mere realization that a temple from the 9th or 10th century is before us. But we are completely forgetting that we have similar wealth in the Caucasus.’
In my opinion, this is said very accurately. And yet, as I already wrote, Arkhyz is known in our country as a ski resort.
Before this trip, I had last visited Arkhyz 20 years ago with my friends. Now, I did not recognize this resort.
A large number of alpine ski lovers from all over the country come to Arkhyz, especially from Moscow. A modern cableway and excellent hotel complexes have been built in the past years. Nothing of what we have today existed 20 years ago. As one skier from Moscow told me, the facilities of Arkhyz are not inferior to those of the Sochi Krasnaya Polyana, and they’re even cheaper in Arkhyz.
But I should admit that the roads in Karachay-Cherkessia leave a lot to be desired. We are used to scolding our Rostov roads. My friends, go to Karachay-Cherkessia. And you will see that not everything is so bad with us. But let’s hope that the roads in this republic will be put in order.
Nevertheless, the local police watch the civil order vigilantly. They have stopped our tourist bus three times. I hope that such security measures have been introduced exclusively to combat terrorists.
Arkhyz is also world-famous for its astrophysical observatory. Here, in Nizhny Arkhyz, you can find Europe’s largest optical telescope. Not far from the village of Nizhny Arkhyz, near the village of Zelenchukskaya, you can find the world’s largest radio telescope as well.
It is from this place that our scientists, astrophysicists, and astronomers observe distant galaxies, stars, and the Universe.
After a trip to Arkhyz, I can say that those who like skiing and those who, like me, love the history of their Fatherland can indeed have a nice vacation here.”
Source: Newspaper Nakhichevan-on-Don No. 5 (260), May 2018