History of Vladikavkaz

The history of Vladikavkaz, Russia began nearly 250 years ago when a fortress was built on site to guard the road linking Georgia with the Russian Empire. Despite many attacks the outpost flourished over the years, and today it is a regional capital in the Caucasus with a diverse population.

Vladikavkaz in the Russian Empire

In 1783, Georgia and the Russian Empire signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, according to which Georgia passed under the patronage of its northern neighbor. A year later, Vladikavkaz Fortress was founded and construction of the Georgian Military Road began. The fort provided vital protection to the Russian Empire for years, for it was the fourth and final mountain citadel which guarded the entrance to Darial Gorge, a natural barrier between Russia and Georgia.

The name of the fortress, “Vladeyu Kavkazom” (Vladikavkaz) literally means “I own the Caucasus” and was chosen by Catherine the Great after the Russian Empire had successfully extended its power into the region. Around the same time, the Empress ordered the construction of an Orthodox church inside the fort, yet made it clear to her troops they were not to force indigenous residents to convert to Christianity or persecute them if they chose not to attend church.

The first combat battalion was stationed in the fort in 1804, and in the coming two decades three semi-bastions and two complete five-sided bastions were added to the citadel. Gradually, both the fortress and its suburbs began to teem with life as burghers, merchants and wealthy military pensioners invested in its development and erected summer houses here. The population of Vladikavkaz and its surrounding lands continued to increase, and in 1860 Vladikavkaz officially received the status of city.

During the first half of the 19th century, military skirmishes with local mountain tribes led to the fort being partially destroyed and rebuilt several times. Finally, in 1858 the fortress and its adjacent territories were further reinforced with the construction of a massive stone wall.

Another significant event occurred in 1875, when railway transport was launched between Rostov-on-Don and Moscow. Vladikavkaz, as a result, experienced increased economic activity as new investments came pouring  into the southern regions of the Russian Empire. As diverse nationalities began relocating to Vladikavkaz, new houses of worship and mansions built in a myriad of styles came to reflect the mesh of cultures now represented in the city. The varying ethnicities generally lived amicably, which led to mutual enrichment and a peaceful environ.

The turn of the 20th century was marked by mass construction of Art Noveau buildings, both in the city center and the surrounding areas. Evidence of this building frenzy is reflected today in the more than 250 buildings in Vladikavkaz which are protected by the state as valued architectural monuments. Vladikavkaz continued to develop, and by 1904 a tram service had been established in the city.

Vladikavkaz in the Soviet Era

Before the Soviets came to power, Vladikavkaz was the capital of Terek Region. From 1921 to 1924, it served as the center of the Mountain ASSR. After this administrative unit was abolished, Vladikavkaz was appointed capital of both the Ingush and North Ossetian Autonomous Regions. Since 1934, the city has been the administrative center of the North Ossetian Region only.

In the early years of Soviet rule, life in Vladikavkaz continued much as before. Yet during World War II the German army made several attempts to capture the city, including a pivotal attack in 1942 when the enemy was stopped on the very outskirts of the city. Due to these events, Vladikavkaz was awarded the honorary title of City of Military Glory.

In Soviet times, Vladikavkaz’s name was changed several times. Before and after World War II the city was called Ordzhonikidze, and from 1944 to 1954 it was named Dzaujikau (a local Ossetian name). In 1990 it reverted back to its original name, which it has retained to this day.

Vladikavkaz Today

Today Vladikavkaz serves as the capital of Russia’s North Ossetia-Alania Republic. It still stretches along both banks of the Terek River, which serves as the central axis of the city. In recent years, efforts have been made to modernize the neighborhoods along its embankment, while the construction of many comfortable hotels has helped to attract visitors.

Over the past 30 years, the ethnic composition of Vladikavkaz, Russia has barely changed, and today the city is populated with a mix of Ossetians, Russians, Ingush, Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis and other nationalities. Although the original Vladikavkaz Fortress has not survived, its outline can be traced in architectural objects in the city center which serve as a reminder of the city’s proud and colorful past.