The Nagorno Garabagh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has come to be known as one of the most tragic conflicts of the 21st century, affecting the lives of millions. The conflict that was spurred by the open territorial claims of Armenians on Azerbaijan’s historic lands in 1988 and ethnic provocations led to a military invasion of Azerbaijan’s lands by Armenians, with them occupying 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory.
Tourist destinations of Azerbaijan
The Inner / Old City
A gem of Azerbaijan’s architecture, the Old City takes up a 22 ha area in central Baku, an openair exhibition of hundreds of ancient landmarks, 4 of which have been assigned international significance, and 28 more domestic. A truly unique city inside a city, the old fortress houses upwards of 1300 families, several museums, 18 hotels, and over 100 stores, restaurants and cafes. Sitting on medium height hills off the Caspian shore, the Old City is fenced in with fortress walls. The Old City was included in UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage list in 2000, including the Maiden’s Tower and the Shirvanshakh Palace.
The Maiden’s Tower
The Maiden’s Tower, a cylindrical structure built on a huge rock on the Caspian shore, has become a symbol for Baku. The tower is 31 meters high on the northern part, and 28 meters on the southern, and has a diameter of 16.5 meters at its lowest, with walls as thick as 5 meters in some place. This 8-7th century B.C. monument has 8 floors on the inside, with each floor built with thick stones and domed off at the top. Interfloor access is available either through a staircase in the south-eastern wall of the Tower or a system of ropes. The Tower’s gate also used to be multi-layered. A water well hidden away inside the tower’s south-eastern wall drew researchers’ attention. The water from this 0.7 m wide well proved to be drinkable. Researchers also do not rule out the possibility that an underground passage connecting the Maiden’s Tower and the Shirvanshakhs Palace sprouts from the lower quarters of the well.
The Shirvanshakhs Palace Complext
The Shirvanshakhs Palace Ensemble, one of the jewels of medieval architecture and the quarters of the Shirvan rulers, remains one of the most popular architectural sights to see in the Old City. As the capital moved from Shamakhi following a devastating earthquake in the 12th century to Baku, the Shirvanshakhs Palace was built at the city’s highest elevation. The entire complex consists of 9 structurally and functionally different areas: the Palace, the Divanhane (the Council), the Dervish Crypt, the Eastern Gate (Portal), the Palace Mosque, the Key-Gubad Mosque, the baths and the water reservoire. As it was built on a complicated terrain, the palace’s architecture is not unfirom. This however does not result in any sharp contrast between the buildings. The buildings have 3 yeards, each 5-6 meters higher than the other. This particular area was built using the special stone called ‘badamdam’. The Divanhane and the Shirvanshakhs’ Crypt portal are especially prominent. Owing to its beauty and delicate work, the Divanhane is considered to be one of the architectural gems not only in Azerbaijan but throughout the Middle East. In 1954, the Shirvanshakhs Palace Complex was formally recognized as the state-protected historical and architectural monument.
The Small Kervanserai
The Small Kervanserai or the Khan’s Kervanserai is a late 15th-early 16th century complex, off the city’s trading main. The Small Kervanserai now has the so-called Garden of Arts, a beloved spot for locals and visitors, offering varied tastes of the national cuisine and witness how works of art are born in the hands of the local craftsmen and artists.
The fortress walls were commissioned by the Shirvanshakh Manuchohr the 3rd (1120-1149) around 1138-1139. The Old City’s Fortress Wall that used to run as long as 1500 m in the middle ages, now only has roughly 600 m left intact. The walls were built using processed limestone, and are 3-3.5 m thick, and 8-12 m high.
The Seaside National Park
The most popular recreation and enertainment spot in the capital. The Baku Boulevard, Europe’s second longest, was upgraded to a National Park status on December 29, 1998. The 3.7 km long National Park boasts 60-70, 150-200 years old trees, rare plants that help build its unique ambience. It also offers carriage and boat rides, a variety of merrygoround and other attractions. It also has a 4D movie theatre.
The Fountain Square
The Fountain Square, locked in between a variety of the 19th and 20th century architectural gems of Azerbaijan, is very unique, boasting all kinds of modernistic fountains, attractions and high street shopping.
Ateshgah – the Temple of Fire
Ateshgah is located in the south-eastern part of the township of Surakhani, a Baku suburdb some 30 km off the city. It once sat atop a site of flaring natural gas in the 17th-18th centuries. One cannot help bu be mesmerized by the amazing dance of fire and wind in this monumental site representing the never-ending flames of the Land of Fire. Considered one of the most remarkable historic places in the world, Ateshgah was declared a state-protected historic reserve in 2007.
Yanar Dagh – The Flaming Mount
Yanar Dagh is located in the village of Muhammadli in the Absheron peninsula. Another spot of natural gas-fueled flames, Yanar Dagh was recognized as a state-protected historic reserve in 2007. It is also known as Pilpile (Sizzly), Bozdagh (Greymount), and Gaynarcha (Redhot).
The Nakhichevan Khan Palace
The Nakhichevan Khan Palace is an 18th century historic monument. Built after the fashion of the Nakhichevan-Maragha shool of architecture’s style, it was the place of residence for the Nakhichevani Khans up intil the early 20th century. It was built at the behest of Kelbeli-khan Kengerli, the father of Nakhichevan’s last Khan, Ehsan-khan, in the late 18th century. The Khan Palace was transformed into a Nakhichevan Carpetry Museum in April 1998.
The Gemigaya petrogliphs are found in Ordubad, a region in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The petrogliphs and the adjacent abodes are at least 7-8 thousand years old. Research helps find out more about the way the ancient people lived and developed culturally. Most of the petrogliphs are Bronze age, but some are presumed to be even older.
The Momine-khatun Crypt
The jewel of the famous Azerbaijani architect Ajami Nakhchivani and one of the most valuable monuments ever for the Nakchivan-Maragh school of architecture, located in the historic part of the city of Nakhchivan, the Atabeys Architectural Complex. The crypt is the only monument of those times still standing. It was built by Ajami in 1186 in the western part of Nakhichevan. Colloquially known as the Atabey Cupola, the crypt was built to commemorate Momine-khatun, the widfe of Atabey Shamsaddin Eldeniz and mother of Muhammad Jahan Pehlevan.
Yusif ibn Kuseyr Crypt
Yusif ibn Kuseyr crypt is one of the oldest historic monuments of architecture in Nakhichevan. It is also known colloquially as the Atababa Crypt. Inscriptions on the crypt say that it was built in 1162 by the architect Ajami Nakhichevani, son of Abubakr.
Sheki Khans Palace
The town of Sheki, some 305 km from Baku, is known for its beautiful nature, historic monuments and great food. The 18th century Sheki Khans Palace was commissioned by Muhammadhasan-khan. It was designed by the architect Zeynal Abdullah. And the overall architecture and mosaics of the palace are breathtaking, with an estimated 5000 wood and glasswork mosaics per square meter, and even as many as 14000 in some of the most sophisticated and exquisite spots. The art of stained glass mosaics, a craft that has been passed down in Sheki for generations, truly shines in splendor in this palace. The building used no nails or adhesives, wood and glass were interconnected with an intricate system of clogs. The ornaments, decorations, the multicolor palette make this place truly unique and beautiful. Besides the walls, the ceilings in the rooms were also richly adorned and decorated.
The Sheki Kervanserai
Another valuable piece of the 18th architectural history is the Sheki Kervanserai. The deep basement two storey building is rich with the original Eastern architectural elements. The Kervanserai’s broad entrance area offers several points of access stairways to the second floor. While it may appear as a complicated maze at first sight, the building boasts a number of architectural designs that actually make finding your way around it quite easy, such as the handrailed balconies that also enhance the building’s overall appearances, making it even more beautiful. Used as an inn for visitors and merchants in the times of old, it still is functioning as a hotel, offering all comforts and amenities for travellers. The building is structured in a way that the guests would have no need for air conditioning on hot summer days, enjoying fresh and cool air.
The Galarsan-Gorarsan (Come and See) Fortress
The Galarsan-Gorarsan Fortress, located in the north-eastern part of Sheki’s village of Kish, one of the banks of the Kish river, sits atop steep cliffs. The 15th century fortress was considered one of the most advanced fortifications of the time due to its location. It used to be called the Maiden Fortress at one time. According to many accounts, the later name, Galarsan Gorarsan (Come and See) came about following historic events. The legend has it that in 1743 Nadir-shakh came to conquer Sheki, putting the town under a lasting siege. The warring armies could even talk to one another. It is said that in one of such conversations, the shakh asked “What manner of fortress it is that we cannot take it?”. The response was “Come and see”. This piece of architecture that boasts numerous and deep historic roots, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area.
Village of Khinalig
57 km south-west of the city of Guba, and 225 km from the capital, this village’s ethnography is unique. It bears a semblance to an amphitheatre cascading down from high Caucasus mountains. The name of the village, Khinalig, is actually derived from the beauty of its nature. The name signifies the color of the sunrise reflecting off the mountain. At 2350 m above sea level, the 5000 years old village locked in by the Gizil Gaya, Shakh, Tufan and Khinalig mountains, is one of the highest located residences in the world. The villagers speak a morphologically complicated Khinalig language, like no other in the world. The village was declared a state-protected historic and ethnographic site in 2007.
The village of Lahij, in the district of Ismayilli, in one of Azerbaijan’s oldest residential areas, located at 1505 m above sea level, on the southern slope of the Great Caucasus mountain ridge. The village is surrounded by Babadagh and Niyaldagh mountains on the bank of the Girdiman river. Being locked in in between two mountains makes Lahij somewhat a natural fortress, helping it fend off incursions and attacks in the olden times. The samovar made by the master craftsman Najafgulu in 1717-1718 became famous for its originality, beauty, and the rich ornamentation. In late 19th century, Lahij had up to 200 coppersmith shops. Lahij craftsmen are also known for making cold arms (daggers, sabers, knives, etc.) and fire arms (rifles, pistols, etc.). The weapons would be richly decorated and stamped by the crafstman’s seal. The village turned into one of Azerbaijan’s smithery and weapon making centers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Copper pitchers, bowls, plates, pans, lanterns made by Lahij craftsmen were known in Central Asia, Daghestan, Georgia, Iran, Turkey and many other places. The village was recognized as a state-protected site in 1980, covering old neighbourhood mosques, a water line and sewage, the Girdiman fortress, with the crafts continuing to develop. The monuments of culture created by the numerous coppersmiths, blacksmiths, jewellers, painters, carpter weavers, shoemakers and canal builders, as well as other masters, still live on in global recognition.
At 375 km from the capital city, Ganja is reachable by automobile or airplane travel. The Goygol lake, a source of inspiration for Azerbaijani painters, known for its unique beauty, is located in this area. The earthquake of 1139 in Ganja splintered the Kapaz mountain, with a huge piece of rock blocking the Aghsu river, resulting in the formation of the remarkably beautiful, famous Goygol lake, known for the purity of its water. With its unique environment, unparalleled wildlife, the lake still functions as a state-protected site. The lake is a natural habitat for protected trout, different from other river trouts of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s prominent literary figures such as the genius Nizami Ganjavi, Mesheti Ganjavi, Mirza Shafi Vazeh were born and are commemorated in Ganja in crypts. 16th century fortress walls, city baths, Javad-khan’s tomb are still preserved in the city. Maralgol, another lake, at some 45 km from Ganja, is another beloved tourist destination.
At 225 km from Baku, the ancient city of Gabala, had been the capital of the Caucasian Albania for 600 years. A chestnut grove located at 1000 m above sea level is a treasure of the district. There are state-protected trees here that date back more than 500 years. The city of Gabala that is known for its refreshing mineral water springs and creeks, is also a place of meeting for classical music lovers. Every summer Gabala hosts an international classical music festival. Musicians from all over the world gather here yearly to give open air performances. Gabala’s ancient fortresses, crypts, 9th-10th century tower, the History Museum are places to go who are eager to see and learn. Numerous monuments have been discovered in Gabala’s village of Nij. The Albanian church in the village, and the Dagh Bulag spring fountain are among such monuments. A number of uniquely designed homesteads of the village are also an attraction for tourists.
Azerbaijan’s highest point, the Bazarduzu mountain of 4466 meters, is located here. Gusar, known as a land of mountains and plains, is also unique for its wildlife and plants. The district with 20 percent of its area forested offers special protection to its hazelnut groves. Shahnabaz and Laza waterfalls offer a uniquely beautiful view for visitors. The district’s historic monuments, such as the Sheikh Juneyd crypt, and ancient mosques are quite well preserved. Shakhdagh Winter and Summer Tourism Complex, 30 km north of the city of Gusar, capable of hosting up to 5000 tourists a day, is under construction. The complex sitting on more than 2045 hectares of land offers skiing and other winter sports, gaming areas, recreational spots and sporting terrains for those who want to have active leisure.
The Naftalan resort, located on the foothills of the Small Caucasus, is one of the best examples of the nature’s fondness for mankind. The Naftalan oil has been used for centuries as medication for various ailments. The resort, located 320 km from Baku, has dry and hot summers and moderately mild winters, and operates year round. The Naftalan oil, colloquially known as medication against all “33 miseries” is known worldwide for its curative qualities for neurological, gynecological, urological and skin diseases, as well as liver and joint problems.