Recording the mosque, tombstones, doors and whole hilltop

Kala-Koreysh, Daghestan - May 2016

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On the 10th May, a team from Factum Foundation – Alexander Peck, Ferdinand Saumarez-Smith and Eva Rosenthal – and two photographers from Daghestan – Shamil Gadzhidadaev and Gennady Viktorov – winners of the Peri Foundation competition ‘Cultural Heritage 2.0’ and trainees at Factum (Madrid) for the month of April 2016, were sent to record Kala-Koreysh in Daghestan, a site of significant importance in the understanding of the spread of Islam in the region.

This initiative stemmed from a collaboration between the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation and the Ziyavudin Magomedov Charitable Peri Foundation to record objects of cultural significance from Kala-Koreysh using photogrammetry – a portable, adaptable and relatively cheap method for achieving high-resolution 3D data – and to produce detailed documentation of the site itself.

View of the 15th Century mausoleum at Kala-Koreysh. Image © Ksenia Sidorova

Stunning views from Kala-Koreysh

The mosque at Kala-Koreysh, ‘fortress of the Koreysh’, is thought to have been established by members of the Quraysh clan in the 7th century, during the first outpost of Islam in the Northern Caucasus. It was nevertheless an important town of the Kaitag feudal state, and one in which a number of its rulers were buried. Kala-Koreysh stands on a small, rocky hilltop, surrounded by two rivers and beyond that, by higher hills and forests; ideal for defence but making the site almost impossible to reach. The last villagers were forcefully removed to Chechnya in the 1940s, after the resettlement of a majority of the Chechen population to Central Asia. The children and grandchildren of the last inhabitants returned to Daghestan, but, because of the difficulties created by the location, never returned to Kala-Koreysh. There is currently only one inhabitant: Bagomed, guardian of the mosque, and whose job it is to receive pilgrims to the site.

Discussing the history of Kala-Koreysh with Bagomed, guardian of the mosque and only inhabitant of the village

Scanning the doors of the mosque

The four doors of the mosque, (male and female entrances), have been kept at the Museum of History and Archaeology in Makhachkala since the first half of the 20th century. The museum was moved three years ago to a 19th century Petrine baroque building in the historic centre of Makhachkala, near the seafront. It has been under reconstruction for the past three years, and the doors – along with everything else – have been kept in storage.
The doors are made of heavy oak with complex zoomorphic and plant motifs carved in deep relief. Their provenance is uncertain: it has been suggested that they were once the doors of a Christian church in Kubachi (an important neighbouring village) and that the lions and eagles on the fronts had their heads hacked off once Islam had become established in the region.
The first difficulty the team from Factum and Peri encountered was with finding a room for the scanning. There were no rooms available in the new wings of the building, so the scanning took place in a storeroom with very limited space. A big enough area was cleared on the floor; the doors were raised from the ground on a soft foam mattress covered by white paper. Several methods were attempted before deciding upon a rig system in which the camera was held on a rail supported by two tripods and photographs taken every 4 cm to achieve near 90% overlap on every photograph.

Gennady Vitktorov and Ferdinand Saumarez-Smith scanning the back of one of the Kala-Koreysh doors in the museum storage room

One especially disruptive problem was encountered during the scanning: the doors had a thin layer of grease covering the relief, and, together with the smoothness and shine of age, this surface proved almost impossible to photograph without glares. The problem was eventually resolved by mitigating the reflections using a polarising filter on the lens, and polarising paper on the ring flash.

Routing the facsimile of the doors of the Kala-Koreysh mosque

Factum Arte, Factum Foundation´s sister company, will begin routing the facsimile of the doors of the mosque at the warehouse in Madrid. In this particular case, Factum will not be producing an exact facsimile – instead, a ‘working object' will be created with the idea of re-installation at Kala-Koreysh. The doors will be routed in oak at the highest possible resolution: the carved area will be made to fit the current frames, and the iron fittings altered to facilitate their re-integration into the mosque.

3D render of the data recorded using photogrammetry; doors to the male entrance of the mosque at Kala-Korey


After four days in Makhachkala, the team moved to the village of Kubachi, some thirty minutes by car from Kala-Koreysh, in the mountains of southern Daghestan. The first two days of work at the mosque were occupied by planning and by testing various methods for scanning. The locations of the most important graves, and of the 13th/14th century sarcophagus, were mapped out on handmade plans of the graveyards, mosque and mausoleum. Forty-four stones were counted: some complete, others broken – it may be possible to digitally reconstruct some of the broken stones. There are also a number of ‘stumps’ in the ground which have not been included in the survey.

Spectacular recording in Kala Koreysh

Alex Peck, Gennady Viktorov and Ferdy Saumarez-Smith recording the tombstones. Image © Ksenia Sidorova

Sublime aerial view of Factum´s Alexander Peck recording the tombstones at Kala-Koreysh. Image © Ksenia Sidorova

The team began recording the least deteriorated parts of the gravestones, both in the graveyards and in the mausoleum, followed by their fragments. Various methods were tested to speed up the photogrammetry process and to enable systematic scanning of the lower part of the stone, including hanging the camera upside down from a rail suspended between two tripods. This method was abandoned in favour of a one-tripod system with a vertical camera-slider, and a camera with a ring-flash adaptor. The ring-flash ensures that everything from the point of view of the camera is evenly illuminated, particularly important when recording a relief that is not only intricate but also bares very deep relief.

Tombstones inside the mausoleum

Detail of the tombstones inside the Mausoleum

Several models have been draft processed very successfully, although thus far only the painted gravestone in the mausoleum has been processed at high-resolution.

Post-processing gathered data. Image © Ksenia Sidorova

3D render of the front of one of the tombstones

3D render of the back of the same tombstone

3D render of one of the tombstones

Detail of the 3D render of one of the tombstones

Colour 3D render of one of the tombstones in the mausoleum

First textured render of the interior of the mosque in Kala-Koreysh

In addition to a general documentation of the site, Shamil Gadzhidadaev has been using a drone to record a high-resolution map and 3D model of the entire site. This will place the gravestones in the context of the remarkable surroundings and aid in the visualisation and understanding of the rest of the data.

Team watching the Phantom DGI 4 drone, piloted by Shamil Gadzhidadaev - take off on an overcast day, perfect weather conditions for aerial photogrammetry

Shamil controlling the drone. Image © Ksenia Sidorova

3D data of Kala-Koreysh taken with the Phantom DJI 4

The team also scanned the sarcophagus, stones in the walls of the mosque and mausoleum, the interior of the mosque and mausoleum and the remaining pieces of the mihrab.

Sarcophagus at Kala-Koreysh recorded using photogrammetry. The software used is RealityCapture and every white dot represents the spot where every image was taken.

We hope that the data from the project will be useful to scholars studying the Northern Caucasus, but also that it will prove equally interesting for the general public, both local and international.

Old Kubachi

Kubachi is probably the most famous village in Daghestan, known throughout Russia for its silversmiths and implausible architecture. The old village has been almost completely abandoned; there is no running water and the streets are too steep and treacherous to comfortably carry water from the well. Because of this slow withdrawal, most of the houses are falling apart: one of the old mosques collapsed only two months ago and many of the standing walls appear to droop over the streets, ready to cave in at any moment.

View of old Kubachi

Apart from the loss of the architectural richness and imagination of the place, the loss of old Kubachi would represent the loss of a vast number of entirely unrecorded carved stones of historical and cultural significance. In the past, villagers reused the old carved stones in the walls of new houses; now, as old Kubachi falls apart, the permanence of the stones is no longer ensured.
Two carved stones at the old mosque have been recorded using photogrammetry, and a number of others have been photographed as an example of the crucial work that needs to be carried out in the near future.
We hope that the data from the project will be useful to scholars studying the Northern Caucasus, but also that it will prove equally interesting for the general public, both local and international.

Image © Ksenia Sidorova

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