Those who visit Barda for the first time find it difficult to believe that Barda used to be a developed and large trade centre and the capital of the most powerful antique state in the Caucasus. There is not a single trace left from the city’s legendary past. A difficult page in the history of Barda began in the 1990s. The war that broke out in Nagorno-Qarabag turned people into refugees. Some of the residents of Agdam, Lachin and Kalbajar took refuge in the closest place – Barda. The reason is believed to be that those people were engaged mainly in cattle-breeding. Since 1993, Barda has hosted as many refugees and displaced persons as its own population.
The distance between Baku and Barda is 314 km. As a district, it was established in 1930. It is situated in the northwest of the Kura-Araz plain and in the centre of the Qarabag steppe. The Tartar and Khachin rivers, as well as the Yukhari Qarabag canal pass through the district. The Kura River flows along the border of the district. On the right-hand side of the Tartar road, there are two lakes and a hot sulphur water spring – Istisu, while the Agali Lake is situated at a distance of 23 km and the village of Muganli near the mineral water spring.
It is a common name given to the area. There is a hill called Soltanbud near a forest under the same name. Until recently, there were even seven hills here. After that, the hills were dug out and plundered in the belief that there were treasures in them. It is not known what was found in those hills, but out of the seven hills, only the biggest one Soltanbud was left. There are various legends about this place. It is believed that the hills emerged during the Mongol invasion. Mongol soldiers who fought for a long time and travelled a lot buried their dead commanders in those places. As part of the ritual, each Mongol soldier threw a handful of land on the grave. Thus, every grave turned into a big hill. The seven hills – the Soltanbud barrows – are regarded as graves from the same series.
BardaA gate between the Qarabag mountains and plains
Barda, which was called a gate between the Qarabag mountains and plains, was regarded as an important cultural and political centre between Tabriz and Ganja. Houses built from burnt bricks, baths, caravanserais, gardens, fields and bazaars in Barda, which was once compared with the city of Baghdad for its beauty and wealth, used to be a talking point. Barda is often mentioned in works by travellers and writers of various times. In his work “Roads and Countries”, Ibn Khordadbeh (10th century) reported about trade routes going through the last capital of Arran, Barda, and the city’s administrative structure. Nizami Ganjavi, who visited Barda in the 12th century, liked this place so much that he praised and admired the city in his “Isgandarnameh”.
Barda is so beautiful, so handsome,
In summer and winter, it is flourishing all the time…
“The first city established in the Qarabag region is the city and fortress of Barda situated on the Tartar River and three groves away from the Kura River.”
Mirza Jamal Javanshir Qarabaghi (5th century)
Written sources first mention Barda in the 5th century. Although Azerbaijani historian Mirza Jamal Javanshir Qarabaghi says in his work “The History of Qarabag” that Barda was the first city in the Qarabag region, he does not say anything about the history of its establishment. Abbasqulu Bakikhanov (19th century) recorded that the ruins of the city of Barda existed in his time in the country of Qarabag near the bank of the Kura River.
According to historical sources, Barda, which had been developing since the 4th and 5th centuries BC, was regarded as one of the largest cities of the Caucasus 1,500 years ago. Barda was mentioned in the Kirabi Dada Qorqud ballade. Hamdullah Qazvini recorded that Barda was built by Alexander the Great. Qubad, the son of Firuz, renovated it and built a wall around the city. During that time, the city was called Firuzabad for some time. According to Moses Kalankatli, Barda was built under Albanian King Vache II (459-484).
Strabo mentioned a city called Ayniana in the Uti region in lowland Qarabag. One of the first researchers into Barda, Abdurrahim Haqverdiyev said that this city was Barda. Claudius Ptolemy mentioned 29 cities and large settlements in Albania and recorded that between Iberia and the Araz River flowing into the Kura, there was a large settlement called Bakura (Barda).
It is located about 5 km away from its current territory. In ancient times, the city consisted of two parts. The city centre which was surrounded by fortress walls was called Shahristan. The part that was called Rabat was home to merchants and a caravanserai. The city’s famous Al-Kirkuy bazaar, which turned into one of the most important trade and cultural centres of the Middle and Near East in the 8th-9th centuries, was located near the Barda Gate.
BardaBrief historical note
Under the Sassanids, Barda was a province, in 752 – the centre of the Arran province, and in the 6th-10th centuries – the capital of Albania for about 500 years. In 552, the centre of the Albanian church moved to Barda. In 628, the city was taken over by the Khazars and in 639 by Iranian feudals, however, the Albanian King Javanshir managed to oust them from the city. Under Caliph Othman (644-656), Arab troops seized the city. Barda, which was repeatedly attacked and destroyed, was also destroyed during the military campaigns by the Mongols in the 12th century and then by Amir Timur. In 1736, it was totally devastated by Iranian Shah Nadir. After all this, the city went into decline and turned into a small village with a population of only 200-300 people in the second half of the 19th century. Since then, the city has been unable to recover its greatness.
“After the centre of Caucasian Albania moved from Qabala to Barda, a new period of renaissance began in the development of this ancient city. In the early Middle Ages, it was one of the political, economic and cultural centres of the Middle East. The city is located in Azerbaijan’s remotest part. It is built from red bricks and lime and is situated on a plain. According to Al-Istakhri, Barda is a very big city. If you ask me, it is an old note, because nothing has been left of the city. In Azerbaijan, I have met people who lived in Barda and asked them about the city. They said that the city was totally destroyed and very few people live there now. It is almost like a village; it is dangerous to live there, poverty and destitution are obvious, houses have been destroyed and there are traces of plunder everywhere.”
Yaqut Al-Hamawi (1179-1229) “The Alphabetical List of Countries” (geographical encyclopedia)
BardaRussians in Barda
Russian fighters who invaded the Caspian basin were aware of the city that was economically developed and was very wealthy. The Russians occupied the city in 943-944, killing 20,000 people and imposing a tax on the population. Everyone was supposed to pay a certain amount of money to save their life. Those who did not pay were executed. For this reason, the population left its place of residence. The Russians launched arson attacks in order to find out how many people lived in the city. People were forced to leave their hideouts. Since the plague spread in the city at the time, the Russians left it very soon. Beginning from that time, the city went into decline. After that, it was unable to recover.
Historically, there have been names such as Parda, Barza, Partav, Berda, Harum and Firuzabad. In “Isgandarnameh”, Nizami Ganjavi hinted that the city’s original name was Harun. No-one but Nizami mentioned this fact.
The place name Barda is also common in Central Asia, Urals and Altai, and is linked to Sak tribes. Incidentally, the Saks who came to Azerbaijan in the 8th-7th centuries BC established their own province on the Kura and Araz Rivers. Researchers link Barda to the place name Parda in Manna and to Bardo, a Turkic Hun tribe which settled in Azerbaijan.
Barda’s name is also linked to Partatua, one of Scythian kings who lived in the 7th century BC. It is believed that he fought the Assyrians here. Based on this information, it is believed that Barda is at least 2,700 years old.
Barda, which is a word of Persian origin, implies a place of captivity or a narrow place. This name originates from the fact that rulers kept their prisoners from surrounding areas in this place.
Another interpretation of the place name says that it means a girl’s city. According to another theory, the place name comes from the Turkic word berdi and implies a dish, bowl or jug. At the same time, Berdi means silk thread or a narrow river, branch or string.
It is also believed that Barda is linked to the name of Bardia, one of the sons of Achaemenid King Cyrus (6th century BC), who was mentioned on the Bisitun Stone and implies a giant and strong man.
Unlike many provincial centres, most of Barda’s important historical monuments are located inside the district. Apart from the sepulchers of Akhsadan Baba (14th century), Guloglular, Bahman Mirza Qajar (1880) and others and the multi-faced sepulcher built by master Ahmad Ayyub oglu al-Hafiz in 1322, the square fort built from row bricks in the Middle Ages is also of great interest.
It is the largest village in Barda. It is known under the name Hajioglular. This village is mentioned in the most ancient sources. Only a 12th century bath which is lit with one candle still remains here. The village bath used to cater for women on Thursdays and men for Fridays. After the establishment of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan, the bath was partly knocked down. Its ruins are now protected as a historical monument.
Friday mosque (1324)
The mosque, which is located in the centre of Barda, was built in 1324. It has two minarets. In Soviet times, it was used as a fertilizer warehouse, a school and an archive building. It has been open for prayers since 1990.
According to information from some sources, Barda Fortress was built in 1322 by a fosterling of the Ajami school, Ahmad ibn Ayyub al-Hafiz of Nakhichevan. The height of the fortress is 13 meters. Many travellers have described the fortress in their notes. The fortress was destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Azerbaijan and was restored later. It was last repaired in 1958. It is one of the two tower sepulchers built in Barda in the 14th century. It has a round shape. The sepulcher, built from burnt bricks, started to be researched in the 19th century. It has overland and underground parts. On the fortress, there is a pattern in which the word Allah is written more than 200 times. The inscription on the monument says: “Amali Ahmad ibn Ayyub al-Hafiz an-Nakhichevani”. This shows that architects from Nakhichevan were invited to other cities to build important buildings in the 14th century. The sepulcher is an extremely valuable piece of art which proves that the traditions of the Nakhichevan architecture school were continued. Although it is not known who the monument was built for since its inscription was destroyed, it is believed that it was built for someone from the Elkhanid dynasty. It is known as Nushaba Fortress among the people.
Who is Nushaba?
She was the ruler of Barda in ancient times. In his work “Isgandarnameh”, Nizami Ganjavi extensively spoke about Alexander the Great’s visit to Barda and his meeting with Nushaba.
Legend has it that Nushaba was a woman who did not have a man and enjoyed herself. In her palace, she had thousands of beautiful girls working for her and 30,000 slaves. When Alexander set foot in this land, he was astonished and decided to meet its ruler. He put on a messenger’s outfit and headed for the palace. When Nushaba received the messenger, she realized from his bow, behaviour and jewels that it was Alexander himself and asked him why he was pretending to be a messenger. But once Alexander denied that, Nushaba showed him a silk dress with his picture on it and forced Alexander to acknowledge it. After that, Nushaba quietly spoke to him and asked him not to harm her country. After that, the woman ordered that food be served. Instead of food, she puts dishes full of jewels, gold and silver on the table. On seeing that Alexander was surprised, Nushaba replied:
If you can’t eat this, why are you spilling the blood of innocent people because of this? If you don’t worship stones, then go back and stay at home.
Astonished by the woman’s wisdom and bravery, Alexander had a meal with her after this lesson, gave Nushaba presents and left her country in peace. Keeping his word, he did not invade Barda.
The ruins of an ancient bridge, which are believed to be left over from those times, span the Tartar River. It is true that there is no river left there now. It is believed that Alexander’s troops had been deployed in the valley of this river. After that, the river changed its current and flew in a different direction.
Akhsadan sepulcher (14th century)
It is located 50 meters east of the Nushaba sepulcher. Stylistically, it is similar to the Barda sepulcher. It was built in the 14th century by architect Ahmad ibn Ayyub al-Hafiz Nakhichevani. Locals say that Shirvanshah Akhsitan (1149-1204) was buried here. Only the underground part of the sepulcher has survived while its inscriptions have been knocked down. In the first years of the socialist regime, the sepulcher was totally knocked down in 1920 and its bricks and tombstones from a nearby cemetery were used to build a house which is known as the old hotel in Barda.
Imamzada (14th century)
The Imamzada mosque is located in the district centre. Two of its four minarets are 12 meters high and two – 15 meters. It was built from burnt bricks. Imamzada remained closed until 1974, but was opened to the public again in 1980. The history of the shrine is very interesting:
Due to the presence of the grave of Imam Ja’far Sadiq’s granddaughter Ismayil, caravans passed through Barda as it was located on the historic Silk Road. In the 12th century, a well-known merchant called Ibrahim saw people gathering around a grave. He wondered why that grave had been sanctified. In response, he found out that it was the grave of Princess Ismayil, the offspring of the holy imam. On hearing this, the merchant Ibrahim decided to build a mausoleum with a dome made from river-bed stones over the grave. Since then, the sepulcher and the shrine have been called the Ibrahim mosque.
In fact, the grave inside the shrine belongs to the granddaughter of Imam Ja’far Sadiq, Ismayil. Princess Ismayil who lived in the 8th-9th centuries fled her enemies and took refuge in Barda. She lived and died here. B. Dorn, who visited Barda in 1861, noticed a very strange mosque. He recorded later:
“There is also ancient Ibrahim Imamzada the history of which is not known. The refurbishment of the building cost its owner 3,000 roubles in silver.”
The following report was published in the 1886 Caucasus calendar:
“A mosque was built on top of Imamzada in the city of Barda in the district of Javanshir in the Yelizavetpol region in 1868.”
A plaque mounted on the wall of the Imamzada mosque has an inscription in Russian written in Arabic script:
“Zdes pokoitsya Mamed bek Djavanshir (1874-1900)”
It is believed that Muhammad bay Javanshir is a person who executed the vizier of the Qarabag khan and poet Molla Panah Vaqif after Iranian Shah Aga Muhammad was killed in Shusha.
The monument was reconstructed by the prominent architect Karbalayi Safikhan Qarabaghi in 1868. Even though believers died in other places, they were buried in the cemetery surrounding the Imamzada mosque in the city of Barda according to their wills. There are two important historical monuments around Imamzada: the Ibrahim mosque (18th century) and the Bahman Mirza sepulcher.
Bahman Mirza sepulcher (1880)
It is located 25 meters northeast of Imamzada. Bahman Mirza Qajar Bahauddovla (1811-1884) is a historian, a grandson of Fatali Shah and a son of Abbas Mirza. He was the ruler of several provinces. He was educated in the palace and worked as an Iranian vizier for 13 years. His brother fell from grace in the eyes of Aga Muhammad Shah Qajar. After their relations were disrupted, he left Iran first for Tbilisi and then for Barda and Shusha. He was buried here according to his will.
Qarabag cuisine includes classical Azerbaijani tastes. Meat, rice and dough dishes change from season to season, while some dishes are cooked in a different way.
BardaMilk pilaf a la Qarabag
Milk pilaf is considered to be the most famous dish of Barda cuisine. A small lamb is cut into pieces and dressed with salt and pepper for big families. It is dressed with a small amount of thyme and stored for one hour. Then, a copper pot is slightly heated and the lamb is carefully placed in it. The rice is filtered in boiling water. A bunch of dill is cut and mixed with each glass of rice. Then it is added to the lamb and filled into the pot. A small amount of butter and eggs are added after that. It is covered and left to brew for two hours. After that, the pilaf is placed in dishes and dressed with melted butter and served with buffalo sour clotted milk. The cooked eggs taken out of the pot look like a hedgehog. The rice, eggs and meat are all served in different dishes. It is customary to mix eggs and dill rice with sour clotted milk. It is regarded as the king of Barda cuisine.
After the lamb is killed, it is totally skinned. The meat is cut into 100-150 g pieces. It is mixed with salt, pepper, thyme and parsley. Then it is placed back in its skin and sealed. A hole is made in the ground. The lamb is placed in the hole and covered up. A bonfire is made on top. The pilaf is cooked on the bonfire. The lamb cooks as the rice is filtered. It is served with garlic and sour clotted milk.
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