The Tiny Russian Village Where Everyone Knows How to Walk a Tightrope

Tsovkra, a small village in the mountains of Russia’s Dagestan autonomous republic, is famous for being the only place in the world where all the residents know how to walk a tightrope. No one knows exactly how the tradition began, but for the last 100 years, every able-bodied man, woman, and child in the village has learned the walk a tightrope, and many have gone on to become circus performers. Although Tsovkra’s population has dropped from around 3,000 in the 1980s to under 400 today, all those who remain are trained in the art of tightrope walking. Legend has it that the men of Tsovkra learned the precarious art of tightrope walking as an efficient way of crossing rivers and chasms when bridges broke down, while others claim that it was an easy way to make money in a land where agriculture simply isn’t possible. There's no land for cultivation there, no grain, no bread — so in order to feed their families, men there started tightrope-walking. Tightrope-walking schools trained young children to become circus performers and they went on to entertain masses throughout the vast Russian empire and win prizes in international competitions. Unfortunately, the glory days of tightrope walking are long gone, and that has impacted Tsovkra immensely. There is no future in pursuing a tightrope-walking career, so most youths just get regular jobs in larger Russian towns and cities, with only some practicing their village’s tradition as a hobby.