The district was founded in 1930 and was known as Qasim Ismayilov from 1938 to 1992, when its original name was restored. Located 327 km from Baku, the district is at the north-eastern foot of the Lesser Caucasus and on the south-eastern edge of the Ganja-Gazakh plain. The Qazanbulaq-Naftalan plain covers a large part of the district. The altitude ranges from 250-300 to 700-850 meters. There are many springs in the Murovdag area in the district’s south. Another mountain range in the area is 196-meter Bozdag. There is a same-named mountain also in Absheron, Agdam, Shirvan, Shaki, Mingachevir and Samukh. Its name is linked to the word boz (grey). The color represents a mixture of black and white and looks like ashes. The well-known Naftalan healing oil deposit is right here.
Speaking of Naftalan…
The resort is 338 km west of Baku, in the south of Ganja and 18 km from the Goran station. With a population of only 8,000 people, Naftalan is in a remote area. It was declared health resort in 1926. The first sanatorium in Naftalan was established in 1928. There were six such resorts in the USSR. Residents of the settlement, established in 1968, make their living from the resort. Known in the East since ancient times, Naftalan oil is the only oil of its kind in the world. Poet Nizami Ganjavi spoke of the qualities of Naftalan oil in his “Khamsa”. The Naftalan oil can cure over 70 diseases. Patients take oil baths here. The oil is not used as fuel and is also known as white oil. The place-name is linked to the oil produced here: it means a place where oil can be bought and “remedy from a holy spring”.
It is believed that in older times those aware of the curative properties of the oil would fill it in wineskins and then sell it. Findings of archeological excavations of 600-700 years ago show that people visited the place to use its oil. On his way from Venice to China, 13th century traveler Marco Polo mentioned Naftalan when going to Iran, Caucasus and Central Asia:
“There is an oil source on the border with Georgia. There is so much oil that it is possible to load hundreds of ships. It is not good for eating. It is inflammable. It’s not only used for treatment of animals, as patients from many countries come here to cure illnesses.”
In the late 19th century, during the oil boom in Azerbaijan, foreign businessmen began shipping Naftalan oil to many countries. German engineer and geologist Jaeger played a great role in promoting it. In 1890, he drilled the first well and built a small refining plant. He kept his refining method secret. He sent 800 grams of Naftalan oil in an iron box to Germany to explore its composition. 600 doctors who examined it wrote extensively about its benefits. The curative oil from Naftalan is used in baths and to rub on affected areas. Those suffering from bone, joint, nerve and muscle, skin, gynecological illnesses come to Naftalan for treatment. However, such baths are not prescribed for everyone. Therefore, prior medical examination is necessary.
When visiting Naftalan it is worth stopping at Gulustan village 30 minutes from Naftalan. The grayness of Naftalan is changed with Murov’s clean air and magnificent views. The Gulustan resort and settlement are at the foothills of Murovdag near Agcakand settlement. It is a must-see and an ideal picnicking and tracking destination. The Gulustan castle is a well-known historical site.
Gulustan fortress (12-13th centuries)
It is a defense structure located on a 200-250-meter high plateau 1700 meters above the sea level. It sits on the bank of the Inca river 2 km south-east of Gulustan village. The front fortification of the fortress is on the slope, while Narinqala is at the top. According to one theory, the fortress was built in the 7-6th centuries B.C., while other sources point to the 12th century. Local people refer to it as maiden’s tower. Some believe that such fortresses were built by Oghuz tribes and that Oghuz is pronounced as qiz (maiden). The name of the village is linked to a very important event in Azerbaijani history.
The agreement between Russia and Iran was signed in Gulustan village of Goranboy (Qarabag) on 24 October 1813. The agreement put an end to the 1804-1813 Russian-Iranian war. Bakikhanov wrote in his “Gulustani-Irem” that according to the Gulustan agreement Iran left the khanates of Talish, Ganja, Qarabag, Shirvan, Baku, Guba, Derbent, the whole of Dagestan, Georgia and its bordering countries for Russia… Following that many historical events happened. Before the Socialist revolution, Azerbaijan, as was the case elsewhere in Russia, was engulfed by a movement of villagers against the czarist tyranny. One of the prominent people who contributed to that movement was a Goranboy resident…
His real name was Mammadov Mammad Ali oglu. He became a fugitive after killing a Bay (noble man) during one of the village rallies. He was arrested for his struggle against the czar and exiled to Siberia. On the way to Irkutsk he escaped from the train and, after returning to Azerbaijan, continued struggling and hiding in the forests with a large group of supporters. Qatir Mammad went down in history as a fugitive fighting against the czar’s colonial policy. He was killed in 1919. There are about 50 stories about his heroism. Monuments to him have been erected in Goranboy and Ganja.
Goranboy was at the center of ethnic conflicts in late 1980s when Soviet Union was about to fall apart. Located in the war zone, the villages of Borsunlu and Tap Qaraqoyunlu of Goranboy District happen to be on the front-line. These are the settlements witnessing regular military operations and come under fire. Located in a strategic area, Goranboy has a convenient position to control Ganja and the right side of the Kura. It is impossible to visit some historical monuments in Goranboy. These include the Abbastapa residential settlement (3rd-8th centuries), Borsunlu underground bathhouse (19th century), Borsunlu mosque (18th century), Borsunlu tombs (13-14th centuries), Qasalti burial mounds, Qizilhajili mosque (18-19th centuries), Goran settlement 2.5 km north of the Goran station (7th century B.C.), Goranboy bridges (3rd-13th centuries), etc.
According to some suggestions, the word Goran means the land of fire-worshippers, while Boy means a tribe or family. Some scholars link Goranboy to Gel-Ger tribes mentioned by Strabo’s 17-volume Geography as one of 26 tribes speaking different languages. It is said that Goran (gelan) was populated by gel – ger tribes. Other sources link the word Goranboy to the word Gor used in Dada Gorgud epos, i.e. “cemetery with many bodies buried, last resting place”. Other scholars believe that the word Goran originates from the word Guryan used in Turkic-Mongol languages, i.e. a camp, armed camp. According to 14th century historian Rashidaddin, Koran means 1000 huts lined up in a desert. The lining up in the form of Koran was intended to defend a tribe. Finally, according to another source, Goran is the name of a branch of the Kolani tribe of Qarabag.