The Anatori Vaults are a number of square slate structures located in a remote area near the border of Chechnya that’s ripe with mysterious legends and folklore. The vaults are at the center of most of the stories, which is hardly surprising: They’re stacked with the bones of a now-vanished village’s dead.
According to one legend, when the Black Death spread to this region, the village of Anatori was hit hard and fast and couldn’t care for all its sick. Rather than infect their family and friends, those who fell ill took it upon themselves to perish in isolation.
They went, of their own free will, to die in vaults built a distance away. Once there, the doomed lay upon stone shelves while waiting for their eventual demise, accompanied only by those who were also dying. Once there were no more vacant vaults, the ill faced their fates surrounded by the bodies of those already dead.
Now, steel grates guard the entrance and windows of the vaults, apparently to stop people from stealing bones. But the dead weren’t always offered such protections. Locals tell stories of a time before there were grates, when a Russian woman was seen crossing the Arghuni River and collecting all the skulls from the vaults in a sack before making her way back across the border.
This area of Georgia is wild and remote. Pagan “Ram’s Head” churches can still be found locally and its proximity to Chechnya (a Russian republic) only adds fuel to the story’s fire.
Know Before You Go
Trips in a 4 x 4 can be arranged from Tbilisi. If driving independently, it can be a difficult journey on the dangerous Georgian Military Road over the Jvari Mountain Pass. The road can be blocked at any given time due to heavy snow, rain, rock falls, and avalanches. Nevertheless, it's a spectacular journey.