As a divide between Europe and Asia, the Caucasus has two major regions – the North Caucasus and the South or Transcaucasus. The North Caucasus, composed mainly of plain (steppe) areas, begins at the Manych Depression and rises to the south, where it runs into the main mountain range, the Caucasian Mountains. This is a series of chains running northwest-southeast, including Mount Elbrus (5,642 m), and Mount Kazbek (5,047 m).
The Caucasian Mountains are crossed by several passes, notably the Mamison and the Daryal, which connect the North Caucasus with the second major section, the Transcaucasus. This region includes the southern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains and the depressions that link them with the Armenian plateau. The region is a meeting place for European, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern civilizations, and shows a mixture of features from these cultures as well as many that are strictly its own.
The beauty of the Caucasus is much celebrated in Russian literature, most notably in Pushkin’s poem “Captive of the Caucasus,” Lermontov’s novel “A Hero of Our Time”, and Tolstoy’s novels “The Cossacks” and “Hadji Murad”. The high mountains and deep valleys of the Caucasus has been the source of inspiration for the legends of ancient peoples: Prometheus was chained here, Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece at Colchis, and the mythical bird Simurg, the reflection of divinity and eternity, lived on the highest hills of the Kaf (Caucasian) Mountains.
The Caucasus is one of the most ethnographically complex areas in all Eurasia. The Caucasian Mountains, known also as the Mountain of Languages, are home to a bewildering variety of ethnic groups, some of which seem to be survivors from earlier eras. These groups speak roughly fifty languages, the majority of which are unrelated to any other languages on earth, and show complex and exotic features that set them apart from the other languages of Eurasia. In this one area there are three distinct indigenous language families: the Southern or Kartvelian, the Northeastern, and the Northwestern. The Northwestern languages are perhaps the most complex of any in the region and are spoken by the Abkhazians/Abazas, the Ubykhs, and the Adygheans. These peoples are often grouped together as “Circassians”.
The North Caucasus now includes the Adygea Republic, the Karachai Cherkess Republic, the Kabardino Balkar Republic, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya, the Dagestan Republic, Krasnodar Territory, Stavropol Territory, and parts of Kalmykia and the Rostov region. The Transcaucasus includes Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are located geographically in Transcaucasia, but historically and culturally belong to the North Caucasus.
Satellite image of the Caucasus