Caucasus is a unique region situated between Europe and Asia, which includes in itself several countries with various cultures, histories, arts and religions. The country Azerbaijan, in a sense, is one of the luckiest countries, to be situated in Caucasus. Because this is where East and West meets, where the cultures are mixed, this is where there is a perfect climate for the most fruits, and vegetables. And this country appears to be my motherland. Here in Azerbaijan, there are lots of interesting things to be seen, each city of the country is beautiful differently, for its cultural monuments, art, and history. So I would like, to begin with, the city of Shaki, a small city in the northwest part of the country.
The city of Shaki is one of the oldest cities of Azerbaijan. It’s situated in the northwest part of Azerbaijan, on foothills of Great Caucasus Mountains. There is a mount precipice on the north border of the city, so if you enter the city that way, you can see an amazing natural landscape. Also, the city itself has a strange structure, because of the river flowing through the region: it divides the town into two pieces, Southern and Northern parts. The city, surrounded by the mountains and forests, has a breathtakingly beautiful sightseeings. Rather than that, there are many historical significant architectures in the city, because of its antiquity. Here are the list of main historical monuments to visit, once you go to Shaki: Shaki Khans’ Palace, Fortress, Galarsan-Gorarsan, Upper Shaki Caravanserai, Lower Shaki Caravanserai, House museum of Fatali Akhundov. On top of that, there are several bathhouses and mosques in the city belonging to XVIII or XIX century, which aren’t less interesting.
Shaki Khans’ Palace
One of the most famous historical monuments of Shaki is the Shaki Khans’ Palace. This place is a former residence of Shaki Khans. At present, the palace appears to be a museum, a historical and cultural monument. The palace was built in XVIII century in the style of eastern culture. It is located in the northeast part of the city, in the territory which is enclosed by fortress walls. The building itself has 6 rooms and 4 corridors. The rooms inside the palace are entirely ornamented and painted (all of the niches, stovepipes, ceilings and stalactite cornices). The palace had a restoration period during 1955 and 1965, in the course of which palace complex and drawings were developed. The last total restoration was carried out in 2002-2004 with the support of world bank. This historical monument is known not only in the country but also in bordering countries.
Fortress of Nukha
The fortress was built in 1765, in the city of Nukha (former name of Shaki) with the purpose of protection of the city on the northeast part. This is the second most important monument of the city. From the complex erected in the Nukha fortress which consisted of several structures, only a two-storeyed palace has survived to the present day. After the annexation of Sheki khanate to the Russian Empire, the palace was under the jurisdiction of the local administration and was repeatedly repaired.
In 1853, the citadel’s plan was drawn up, according to which a considerable number of buildings for various purposes for the families of the khan’s nobility were housed in it.In the fortress, besides the palace, there were barracks, a treasury, a prison, and an Orthodox church converted from the Khan mosque in 1828. The original paintings of the palace left a deep impression on the travelers. In 1896 a mudflow in several places was broken through the wall of the Nukha Fortress. In 1958-1963, the heavily destroyed wall and towers of the fortress were restored and acquired the present look.
As it is known to many of you, caravanserais were built for the purpose of lodging for a night in eastern countries. During the middle ages, and later on, when the trading had its prosperous period in the East, Asian countries used to build caravanserais for merchants travelers. The word “serai” came from Persian language and means “building”, and “caravan” also takes its origin from the Persian language (“caravan”) and means camels. Later this word was used for a group of pack animals carrying luggage and people in the desert or in the steppe. So, this is how the word “caravanserai” came into sight. And as Azerbaijan is situated in between Europe and Asia, it always kept being in the center of attention as a trading country for many years. In general, the building of a caravanserai had a form of a castle with only one gate. This way in case of a danger, closing of the gates turned it into an impregnable fortress. Construction of these Caravanserais belongs to XVII century. The Lower and Upper Caravanserais, built by local craftsmen, in terms of their layout structure, large sizes, and convenience for trade are the largest of those recorded in the Transcaucasus. Nowadays both of those caravanserais are used as a hotel for tourism in the country since 1988.
It’s situated at a distance of ten or fifteen minutes of walk from the Shaki Khans’ Palace and has more than 300 guest rooms in it.
It is located on a more complex terrain (near the caravanserai flows the fast-flowing river Gurjanachai), and unlike the upper caravanserai, it has entrance gates on four sides.
The Castle of Galarsan-Gorarsan
This castle seems to be the oldest amongst the above-mentioned monuments, as far as it belongs to VIII-IX centuries. A certain region called “Kish” generally names this castle as a Maiden tower, because “maiden” means invincibility. For now, we have only two resources, according to which this fortress is called “Galarsan-Gorarsan” (you will come and see). The given name is related to an interesting story about the Khan of Shaki, Chalabi khan, and the Persian governor Nadir Shah. Allegedly, in 1743, when Nadir Shah had superiority on most lands of Azerbaijan and headed to invade Shaki, Chalabi Khan resisted his suggestion to give in without a struggle and fortified himself in this fortress. When Nadir Shah asked him, how he was going to defend his freedom, he answered back “you will come and see”. Becoming furious about this situation, Nadir Shah decided to seize the fortress by force. In 1744, he approached the fortress with a large army, but couldn’t take it and stepped back.
This sweet is very known in Azerbaijan, even not only in Azerbaijan but also in other bordering regions. Shaki pakhlava is the pride of Shaki population, this is a sweet, which every stranger coming to Azerbaijan, has to taste. Many people say that you have to see a master cooking it, to feel this sweet. The very thin pastries on the bottom and on the top of it make it crispy, a thick layer of blended nuts inside makes it soft. It’s very difficult to cook it, and even in Azerbaijan, not every confectionery is good at it. The best option to buy the Shaki pakhlava is to buy it from its motherland: Shaki.