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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/398

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384
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

splendid, good-tempered, fair giant. Fair men with tawny heads are common. The third was a tattered, dark, stumpy, noisy barbarian. The costumes and manners of the women are various.

After its natural beauties, its peaks and forests, what strikes the traveler in Suanetia is the local architecture. The castellated villages which lawlessness has produced are as prominent in his eyes as the castles of the robber barons are to the Rhine tourist, or the towers of San Gemignano to those who wander in Italian by-ways. Nothing more strangely fantastic can be imagined than these towered hamlets. Mestia alone has seventy towers, from forty to eighty feet high, Ushkul about fifty, and two castles besides. Let me try to describe, from a sketch, a street scene in Chubiani, one of the hamlets of Ushkul, seven thousand feet above the sea. The house is a square block, built of irregular pieces of slate and slate-roofed. The only windows are small holes, high up, and unclosed. The smoke escapes through the roof. Birch-bark torches are used at night. A wooden passage, capable of being cut down in case of emergency, leads to the tower of refuge. Let us enter the house: it consists of one large ill-lighted room; two or three rude stones form the hearth; there are a few rough wooden benches and stools on the earthen floor; in the corner is a raised wooden platform with skins and cushions, the family couch. Groping up a dark passage, we reach the tower. Ladders, easily removable, reach from story to story. The ladders are short, and to gain each story one is compelled to scramble up projecting stones left in the wall. Skulls of wild goats, and other odds and ends, lie about on the landings. On the top story are loop-holes for firing. These towers, unlike the churches, are built of untrimmed black slates, generally whitewashed. At Ushkul, however, there are two castles, one fifty the other five hundred feet above the village (attributed, of course, to Queen Thamara), in which the black slate has been left in its native color. In the lower castle I found a ruined chapel. The higher castle commands a view of the pass to the Upper Skenes Skali, and must have been the defense of this entrance to the valley. M. Bussanio Nichoradse, a native of Ushkul, and a schoolmaster, told me that in ancient times all the families in a village were bound to assist their neighbor who was building a tower, but that no new towers had been raised, though many had been repaired, within his memory. A somewhat similar custom existed in the present generation at Chamounix.

"Savage Suanetia," the title chosen by an enthusiastic sportsman for the most recent description of this district, although in one sense appropriate, seems to me, so far as nature is concerned, singularly unhappy. Smiling, sylvan—such are the epithets that come naturally to the traveler's lips as he suddenly