There is a famous song about the white apple of Guba. It is a yellowish, red and tasty apple with a soft peel. Large apple gardens have been laid out everywhere in the city and in all courtyards. Several species of apple with different flavors, tastes, colours and sizes are growing here. The apple season starts in September and October, and at this time, Guba resembles an apple paradise. Guba residents export most of the harvest to the Russian market.
Guba is located on the bank of the Qulyachay River on the northeastern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Ridge 616 meters above the sea level. Guba, which is located at the 168th kilometer of the Baku-Darband highway, started to turn into a city in the 17th century. There are about 100 various rivers flowing in the area and water is clean and drinkable in most of them: Qudyalchay, Agchay, Qarachay, Valvala and so on. Apart from the apple, Guba, which used to be a khanate and is now the tourist centre of the northern zone, has other symbols as well. It is possible to see them one by one during a short excursion in the district.
Guba baklava and bukma are sold at baklava workshops located in almost all the streets of the city and mostly in private courtyards. It is possible to watch baklava and bukma being cooked here. Although it resembles the Shaki halvah and Baku baklava, it tastes differently. Stuffing from milled walnuts mixed with sugar is made first. After that, soft flour is made from rice and water. It is necessary to prepare 40-50 noodles for baklava. The noodles are cooked and placed on each other. Stuffing is added between the layers. Red paint is spread on the top layer, and it is cut in the form of a rhombus. Walnuts are placed in the middle of each rhombus. The tray is covered and placed in an oven. After it is ready, they add a mixture of water, sugar and various spices. After absorbing the mixture for several hours, baklava becomes soft and is ready to be served.
Bukma is also made from the same ingredients. But it has a different shape. One piece of baklava noodles is folded, filled with walnuts and cooked. This is called bukma. Thus, the first encounter with the city begins from sweets. Locals believe that it is necessary to eat sweets in order to have a sweet conversation.
Guba is mentioned in ancient Albanian and Arab sources, as well as in works by European geographers. Arabs recorded that the first mosque built by Prophet Muhammad near the city of Mecca was called Kuba. The 11th century Arab historian, Ibn Haqvey, recorded that the ruler of Azerbaijan, Anushiravan, had built a castle called Bab-Firuzqubad. It is believed that this name implies Guba. Among the Azerbaijani cities mentioned in the Geography dictionary by the 12th century Arab scientist Hamawi, there was a city called Kubba. The place-name Guba is probably linked to the name of Iranian Shah Gubad who built a castle there in the 6th century. The famous literary critic, Firudin bay Kocarli (1863-1920), says that the name Guba derives from the dome (qubba) of Nadir Shah. It is reported that the name Guba was first used as Qubba in the 10th century. Scientists who deny that this name is a derivative of the Arabic word Qubba link this place-name to the name of a Turkic tribe called Guba, saying that it was a tribe of Turkic origin.
The Azerbaijani geographer and traveller, Haci Zeynalabdin Shirvani, recorded:
“Gubba is a city in Shirvan. It is believed that it is a very heartwarming place. It takes three days to reach Shamakhy from there. It has a pleasant climate. In ancient times, an Arab tribe moved to Guba and set up a settlement there. Fatali Khan, the father of Sixali Khan, and his ancestors were rulers of Guba.”
The results of various archaeological excavations in the Guba region show that the history of the region dates back to the 4th century. As a developed centre of trade and craftsmanship in the late 17th century, Guba was founded as a city by Huseynali Khan in 1735 and gradually became the capital of the Guba khanate. Although some beautiful buildings of the khanate have survived, the residency of the Guba khans and even their graves disappeared in the course of time. Speaking about Guba’s historical persons, the first people who spring to mind are Fatali Khan and A. Bakixanov.
Fatali Khan (1736-1789)
The Guba khanate became more important under the rule of Fatali Khan (1758-1789). Trying to unite all the lands of northern Azerbaijan under his rule and thus repel invasions, Fatali Khan, unlike other khans, urged neighbouring small feudal khanates to unite. From this point of view, his thoughts were progressive. Although Fatali Khan united the Darband, Baku, Shamakhy, Salyan and Ganja khanates in 1759-1771, he failed to create a united Azerbaijan. After his death, the Guba khanate lost its importance and power. In 1806, the Guba khanate was incorporated into Russia and became Guba district. In 1840, it was incorporated into Darband and in 1860, into Baku province.
Abbasqulu aga Bakixanov (1794-1847)
The first military translator and well-known Azerbaijani historian and writer, Abbasqulu aga Bakixanov, was an officer and military diplomat of the Russian army in the early 19th century and lived in the village of Amsar. In 1819, Bakixanov went to Tbilisi at the invitation of General Yermolov and worked as a translator from oriental languages at the Caucasus Main Military Department for 26 years. Travelling in the Middle East, Abbasqulu aga Bakixanov died of cholera during the Hajj in 1847. The most famous of his five historical works was Gulistani Iram. In this work, which he wrote in Persian in 1841 and translated into Russian in 1843, he comments on Azerbaijan’s history before the Gulistan Peace Treaty (1813). The tsarist government refused to authorize the publication of this work, which was written in a spirit of patriotism.
Historical and natural monuments
There are more than 140 historical-architectural monuments in Guba. Seventy of them are natural monuments. Locals call these monuments, which appeared as a result of natural calamities, natural wonders. Most of the 60 archaeological monuments located in the area belong to the 4th-17th centuries. Usually, there are not any interesting places to see in the district centre. In this sense, Guba is an exception. Walking around the capital of the khanate, you can closely see some of the famous monuments of historical importance and architectural beauty.
Tagli bridge (19th century)
It is also called the Qudyalchay bridge. It is the only surviving bridge of the seven bridges that existed in Guba district in the 17th-19th centuries. The Qudyalchay bridge, which is the longest bridge in Guba, was built on orders from Tsar Alexander III in 1894 to strengthen Russians’ military control of the Caucasus. The Tagli bridge is used only by pedestrians today and provides a romantic view of the city.
Domed bath (19th century)
It was built from red bricks. The building, which has a rectangular shape, is also called the Hollow Bath. It has six rooms, two doors and six windows. The bath, which was used by the local population until 1895 and is regarded as a masterpiece of oriental architecture, now only decorates the street where it is located as a historical monument. The bath was once visited by the famous French writer Alexander Dumas. About 150 years later, his great grandson visited the area where his great grandfather had travelled.
Alexander Dumas in Azerbaijan
Dumas (father), who travelled to Russia and the Caucasus in 1858-1859, also visited Azerbaijan. Impressed by what he saw during his trip, he wrote his works called “Tales of the Caucasus”, “The Ball of Snow” and “Sultanetta”. In the Azerbaijan chapter of his book “Tales of the Caucasus”, which was published in French, Russian and English, the writer shares his impressions of Guba scenery, lifestyle and people, as well as Qudyalchay and Sahdag.
Sakina Xanim mosque (19th century)
Its greatest particularity is that it has a woman’s name. The mosque was built by Sakina Xanim to immortalize the memory of her husband, Abbasqulu aga Bakixanov. The mosque, which was built from burnt bricks in 1847-1854, has a rectangular shape and one room and is 27 meters high. The mosque is located in the city centre.
Friday mosque (19th century)
It is also called Came. The Friday mosque, which has an interesting architectural style, was built with financial aid from Qazi Ismayil Afandi in 1802. This mosque is one of the most ancient religious centres not just in Guba, but in northeastern Azerbaijan. The mosque and its madrasah operated until 1924. The mosque was closed in the Soviet period and its madrasah and minaret were knocked down in 1933. After Azerbaijan regained its independence, the 50-meter high minaret was rebuilt here with the help of Turkey’s department of religious affairs.
Guba’s ethnic composition
Guba is a multi-ethnic district. It is populated by Turks, Lezgins, Tats, Jews and other ethnic groups, and they maintain their languages, traditions and culture.
It is a Jewish settlement. Locals call the settlement Qirmizi Kand. It is located outside the city on the right bank of the Qudyalchay on the road leading to Gusar District. It was previously called Kulqat, and there is an interesting story about the current name of this place. The settlement populated by Jews in Guba was first called Zidlovskaya Sloboda and was renamed Yevreyskaya Sloboda in the 1860-1870s. After the arrival of Bolsheviks in 1920, it was renamed Qirmizi Qasaba.
It is populated mainly by Jews. They call themselves cugurs. The mountain Jews speak Ivrid, a language which is close to Persian. There are 13 synagogues in the settlement. In 1938-1939, Qirmizi Qasaba was populated by 12,000-13,000 Jews. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the population immigrated to Israel and the United States, but did not abandon the settlement completely. Currently, their number is about 4,000-5,000.
The mountain Jews living in Guba are indebted to Huseynali Khan and Fatali Khan for settling them here. They arrived here at the time of Nadir Shah (1736-1747). The Jews he brought with him when he invaded Guba first settled between the villages of Qaladuz and Kupcal. The Jews visited Huseynali Khan’s palace to ask him to guarantee their security, and after getting his consent, they were allocated a plot of land in the upper part of modern Qirmizi Qasaba. In order to protect the Jews from night-time attacks and sudden raids, Fatali Khan moved them to the territory of the present-day settlement in 1765. Products and means of transport were brought here from the palace and the Jew settled in the new territory within six days. Their synagogue now stands in the place where they once welcomed Fatali Khan with bread and salt.
Qirmizi Qasaba resembles Las Vegas. Locals are keen on various shows and are engaged mainly in trade. Beautiful and luxurious villas are located in the richest streets of Guba. Don’t be surprised if you see 15 or 16 year old teenagers driving luxury cars here. Just like everywhere in the world, the Jews of Guba are also doing well.
They live a very simple life in villages located off the beaten track in the mountainous part of Guba. In terms of religious affiliation, they are divided into three groups: Muslims, Christians and Jews. This religious difference leads to significant differences in their language. In total, there are about 20,000 Tats here. The most ancient source that uses the word Tat is the 8th century Orkhon-Yenisey monuments and the Dada Qorqud ballade (1,300).
M. Qashgari gives the following interpretation of the word Tat in the second volume of his work “Divan”:
“Tat is the name of all those who speaks in Persian to Turks and of Uighur infidels (non-Muslims). I heard about this in their own country. This word is used not just for Persians, but also for Chinese and Uighurs. This word is interpreted in this way. Tat was used quite often in ancient Turkic sources. The Turks have historically called foreign peoples and tribes and those who came to Turkic lands from foreign land ‘Tats’.”
This beautiful Tat village in the mountains is known for its folklore. The Zarqava tune played on a pipe by Ibrahim, a craftsman who makes wind instruments, is very well-known. The villagers are very hospitable. They won’t let their guests go without treating them to “Tat cigirtma”. While listening to the music of the piper, Uncle Ibrahim, I paid attention to the bread that was being cooked in the oven. The oven bread made at homes here is different from bread sold in shops. Guba oven bread is relatively soft and has patterns drawn on it with eggs. After finishing his tune, Uncle Ibrahim caught and cut a hen outside and brought it to the kitchen so that the ladies could cook a cigirtma.
Chicken is cleaned and cut into whole pieces. It is scalded in boiling water. Then 4 or 5 finely sliced onions are roasted in another pot on churn oil and the chicken is placed in the pot. The chicken is roasted in a few minutes. Then, they put one teaspoonful of grape vinegar in a glass of water, mix it with mashed tomatoes and add it to the dish. As the food starts to boil, they break four or five eggs above it. Before serving it, they slice coriander and sprinkle it on the dish. They eat it, putting it inside oven bread and dipping it into water.
With its tough-moderate climate, Guba is famed for its natural geographical and fascinating beauty. Various tourist routes have been organized in various directions in the centre of the northern tourist zone. By taking excursions to the five most important places, you can collect full information about Guba.
- 1. Guba-Qirmizi Qasaba-Uzun Mesa (15 km)
- 2. Guba-Tangaalti (33 km)
- 3. Guba-Xaltan-Istisu (80 km)
- 4. Guba-Qacras-Minara (25 km)
- 5. Guba-Xinaliq-Atashgah (65 km)
Guba-Qirmizi Qasaba-”Long Forest” (15 km)
Uzun Mesa (Long Forest) is the last stop in the shortest excursion. The forest is called long because it stretches out full length. There is a village and a recreation centre under the same name in the territory. This place, which is one of the most famous spots in the north and in Guba, has been operating since 1999. It is owned by a Scottish businessman. It is open in winter as well. But in winter, you need to reserve a room before visiting here to ensure that the room is heated up and food is prepared. Otherwise, it will be impossible to stay here overnight as the temperatures are as low as 10-14 degrees. Due to its perfect nature and weather, Uzun Mesa is worth visiting in all seasons.
Guba-Tangaalti (33 km)
There is a village called Tangaalti in this area which is well-liked and visited by everyone. It means a “place between mountains”. The Valvalchay River flows between two mountains on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. White, black and pink marble is extracted in these mountains. This gorge, which is 400-600 meters deep, is a rare natural monument of white, black and pink marble. The road between two mountains, steep rocks along the road, the river flowing through green areas and the forest make the view of this village fascinating. Although the Qacaq Mayil cave attracted our attention on the steep rock, only professional climbers can reach there. The Decembrist writer, Bestuzhev-Marlinkiy who visited this area in 1834, praised the attractive view of the Tanga gorge in his novel “Molla Nur”.
Aleksandr Bestuzhev-Marlinskiy (1797-1837)
He called Azerbaijan “paradise on Earth”, saying “Don’t look elsewhere, it is here in Azerbaijan”. In his works “Caucasus Novels”, “Molla Nur” and “The Road to Guba”, he told about the nature and life of Guba.
It is the first and smallest waterfall on the Tanga circle located along the road. There are no waterfalls in the area. The most famous waterfall is several kilometers away from the Tanga circle.
In order to see it, you definitely have to visit the village of Afurca which is situated 42 km from the district centre. The Afruca waterfall is 70 high and flows from a high rock situated near the village. A narrow 3-4-meter wide gangway leading underneath the waterfall causes a rush of adrenalin. As you pass through the place with a ceiling made from a mountain rock, you are overwhelmed by panic. The taste and flavor of tea from plants picked in surrounding mountains and forests and made at a tea house on the road leading to the tea house helps travelers relax.
The northern road that leads to the villages of Qonaqkand, Xaltan and Qarxun, as well as to the Babadag shrine (3,629 meters) passed through this area.
Guba-Xaltan village-Istisu (80 km)
You need one day for this excursion. Therefore, we got up at seven o’clock in the morning and hit the road in our jeep. It is better to avoid using other means of transport. Scenery, views, green areas, abandoned village ruins and an old cemetery replaced each other along the road. Guba residents say that many people lived in these villages until the early 20th century. However, the lack of electricity, water, gas and roads prompted villagers to move to cities. In the 19th century, these mountains were home to the leader of a rebel movement and one of the most famous rebels of the northern zone, Qacaq Mayil.
He fought injustice in the 19th and 20th centuries. Putting up strong resistance to the Red Army, the enemy of the regime, Qacaq Mayil, was shot from behind in 1924.
The village, which is Guba’s last population centre in this direction, has few families. There are more than 30 springs in the woods near Xaltan, in the valley of the Carxacu River 780 meters above the sea level. The hot water that flows out at temperatures of 40-50 and 36-38 degrees is very good for treating cardiovascular diseases, joints, nerves, osteochondrosis, skin diseases, vestibular apparatus, chronic intoxication, toxic polyneuritis, encephalitis, cerebral atherosclerosis, liver inflammation, pancreatic gland, kidney stones, biliary tracts, gastrointestinal, haemorrhoids, spinal column, gullet and other systems of the organism. The area also has thermal and cold waters containing nitrogen and sulfur.
Istisu – natural baths
Although the baths are located just 10 km from the village, it was possible to get there in two or three hours, because there is no road as such there. Along the road, we could not see a single soul, animals or birds. Silence is deafening in this place where there is not even a telephone line. After a tiring journey of several hours, the view you can see is fascinating. This place looked like a tent camp. Those who come here from neighboring districts live here in isolation from civilization for 40 days. Hot water has been coming out of the rocks for hundreds of years at a height of 1,500-1,800 meters. Failing to withstand the chemical composition of the water, the rocks melt and form natural baths. Hence, the name. There are two large natural baths in the area. One is for women and the other one for men. It is believed that there too many such natural baths in the area. But they are located much higher in a more dangerous place. There are also deposits of natural gas here.
Pirakakil Baba shrine
One of the bath procedures takes place at the shrine. Women who ask Pirakakil Baba to give them a child make a wish and pass through a narrow tunnel at a length of 15-20 meters here. The wishes of those who manage to pass through the channel come true. Some people get stuck in this narrow passage full of snakes, lizards and other insects. In this case, people around pull that person out.
Sites of worship
According to pre-Islamic beliefs, areas with sources of natural medicinal mineral waters have been regarded as miraculous places since time immemorial. They have always been regarded as places where you should pray to God and where all wounds heal. At certain times, people visit these shrines and pray in order to make their dreams come true, and this rule has not changed for centuries. Guba is a district that has most shrines. The mission of every shrine is different as is understood from legends surrounding it. In the village of Pirvahid, there are seven shrines. One of them is called Pir Banovsa. This place is visited by unmarried girls during the Novruz holiday and they make a wish to marry by the next holiday. It is believed that young people come here from surrounding villages during the holiday, watch the girls who visit the shrine and try to choose one of them.
Guba-Qacras-Minara (25 km)
It is the most popular recreational zone in Guba. Qacras means “come and sit down”. This name is also interpreted “as a place without sunlight”. Since Qacras is situated in the northern part of the district, it is called kuzey as well. In this spacious place, trees are so closely lined up that sunlight does not reach the ground and it is very cold in summer. In winter, the trees become naked from head to toe and drown in snow.
Qimil is a mountain village located near the Qacras recreational zone in front of the woods. Historically, it has been regarded as a carpet-weaving centre of Guba. In the Soviet period, carpet-weaving went into decline due to the spread of the collective and state farm system, the lack of export and failure to value hard work. Despite that, carpet-weaving still continues in some homes. Carpets are woven mainly for dowries in homes. As the interest in this business has been growing in recent years, carpet-weaving started to develop again in mountain villages.
The Cici, Aggul and Pirabadil carpets woven in Guba are Azerbaijan’s best carpets. The Qollu Cici carpet woven in 1712 is now kept at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Azerbaijani carpets are divided into seven carpet-weaving schools for their geographical position, patterns, compositions, colours and technical characteristics. While weavers analyze carpets, the carpets seem to talk as every loop has its own name and meaning and every carpet has its own content. Although carpets are woven in most homes in the village of Qimil, potential buyers should not rush, because carpets should be ordered in advance here. Therefore, those who intend to buy a carpet in Guba should visit carpet centres working in the district.
The last stop of this route is located in the area where the territory of Qacras ends. The length of this natural monument, which formed at the beginning of the Qrizdahna road as the Qudyalchay River pierces a rock, is 30-35 meters, while its width of 4-5 and height is 3-4 meters. It is believed that it formed in the 4th century as a result of tectonic movements and erosion of the river. Minara also acts as a natural bridge at a height of 10-15 meters. There is a niche between the rocks, which is called a fridge. It is really so cold here that local restaurateurs have installed a door at the entrance to the cave and locked it, using it as a fridge. We recommend that you try Shah pilaf in the menu of the Minara restaurant. It is the king of all pilafs and it takes no more no less than four hours to cook it.
Shah pilaf (for 12 persons)
- 1 kg of rice
- 1 chicken
- 200 g of yellow raisins
- 200 g of dried apricots
- 200 g of black raisins
- 2 kg of butter
- 200 g of chestnuts
- 60 narrow thin flat pieces of bread
Rice is placed in water with salt. To this end, water is boiled in a pot. The chicken is dipped into the water a little bit. Then it is divided into small bits. The dried apricots and raisins are washed and kept ready. The chestnuts are boiled and peeled. Butter is spread on the bottom of a deep copper or cast-iron pot. The thin flat bread is placed on the bottom of the pot with butter. Then they are stuck on the walls of the pot. After the interior of the pot is totally covered with buttered flat bread, the rice and other ingredients are mixed and placed inside the pot. After that, the rest of the bread is used to cover the pot. All of the melted butter is carefully placed in the pot. Such a large amount of butter is necessary for keeping the rice granular and for cooking and softening the flat bread. After that, the pot is closed tightly and placed in an oven at a temperature of 150 degrees. It is cooked for four hours. As you take it out of the pot when it is ready, it looks like a nice cake. It is sliced as a real cake. The rice and other ingredients fall on the dish from each slice. There is not a single trace of so much butter left. It is very delicious. After eating it, you can hit the road again. Up next is another important excursion.
Guba-Xinaliq-Atashgah (65 km)
In fact, everything, or to be more precise, the Xinaliq adventure begins from the road here. The roads of the village have always been dangerous. In fact, it was hardly possible to cover the distance in four hours, and one false move on the narrow mountain road where only one car could fit would push you into an abyss – into the Qudyalchay River. In 2006, the roads were widened and covered with asphalt here. Although this has made driving easier in summer, in winter the area is covered with a 0.5-meter layer of snow, which makes driving more difficult. What is more, avalanches are more common here. Sometimes even rocks roll down from above. Therefore, from September to May, it is recommended to use private cars that run from Guba to Xinaliq. Village drivers are constantly ready for any emergency since the danger of avalanches still exists although the mountain roads have been covered with asphalt. Despite everything, a trip to Xinaliq is a great pleasure. The mountains and scenery along the road are captivating, and you get out of breath as you go higher.
The village, which has been included on the UNESCO list of world historical monuments, resembles a museum in the open air. This village, which is called “an island in the mountains”, is 65 km from the district centre. Houses built from river stones climb the mountain and resemble a multi-storey building. In his essay entitled “Memories of Xinaliq Village”, Rasul Rza likened the local houses to eagle nests placed on each other. Since Xinaliq has been declared a reserve, it is illegal to build new houses here.
Geography and climate
Located on a high summit in the Caucasus Mountains, Xinaliq resembles an amphitheatre. It is surrounded by Mounts Qizil Qaya, Sahdag, Tufandag and Xinaliq. It is located on top of a cone-shaped mountain at a height of 2,300 meters on the left bank of the Qudyalchay in northwestern Azerbaijan. It is so high that only grass and some natural plants grow here. At such a height, only sweet cabbage and carrots grow. Cold weather starts in autumn in the mountains. The winter is very cold and snowy. The temperatures fall to 30 degrees below zero in winter.
Tourism in Xinaliq
There are no hotels or canteens in Xinaliq. Only locals offer tourists a bed for the night. They are very hospitable. Since Xinaliq residents live in cold mountain conditions, they are very simple and economical. Those who are keen on ecotourism can stay in tents overnight. It is possible to get to Sah Yaylagi and Mount Qizil Qaya (3,700 meters) from the village through the Xinaliq pass by a mountain road. Passing through Sah Yaylagi, it is possible to get on horseback to the Lezgin village of Laza, located on the bank of the Gusar River at a distance of 30 km. Xinaliq residents can also arrange for tourists wrestling and horse riding contests and horseback trips to the Sah Nabat pastures where bazaars are organized.
There are currently 380 houses here. The roof of one house is the courtyard of another houses located above. Since the mountains are steep, houses are located too close to each other. There are small gardens in the courtyards. All the houses are 200-300 years old. The village has older buildings and ruins. The village has not lost its architectural style. As you approach the village from the river, you can enjoy a nice view of the surrounding area. You feel like a bird here. The interior of all the houses, built from river stones, is the same, and there is a specific smell inside. Houses are totally covered with colored, flowery and patterned carpets. The walls are covered by handmade rugs. Various patterns on linen and white cloths are sawn with colored thread.
Rugs are one of the most ancient types of folklore. They are also called takalduz. It is usually described as the arrangement of hand-made patterns on a cloth. The art of arranging colored thread on a cloth has always existed in the West and the East. There are different types of this art in Azerbaijan. The first samples of this art in Azerbaijan were created back in the Sassanid period.
Supports are installed in the middle of the houses. There is no furniture, but instead, there are plenty of blankets, pillows, mattresses and mutakkas. Even tables are not used here. It is customary to sit on the floor.
The Xinaliq people, who have maintained their ancient customs and traditions, hold their weddings and other ceremonies as they did in the past. The Xinaliq people have rich traditions related to rain, agriculture, some domestic animals, weddings, funerals and observation of heavenly bodies. Their customs and traditions, which form part of their lifestyle, are based on the elements and their interpretation. Woolen shawls woven in Xinaliq, where weaving has historically been widespread, used to be famous in Guba district and were used in surrounding villages for weaving clothes. Coats woven from woolen shawls used to serve as national costume for wealthy villagers. Wool is used for making textile clothing, especially colored socks. These socks resemble mini-carpets. It is impossible to spend the winter without these socks. The main business of Xinaliq residents is to pick and dry plants and grasses which they use in their cuisine and sell to visitors.
A tribal-communal system existed here until the middle of the 20th century. There were four tribes with different administrative systems here. Each of them had its own cemetery, quarter, mosque and shrine. The quarter sometimes played the role of an administrative unit. Each quarter had its own elders, graveyards and shrines. Some quarters were named after older tribes that settled there in the past.
Honey and roast meat
Since the road is too long and difficult, villagers visit the city once or twice a year, usually in summer, do their shopping and go back home. Beginning from the last week of August, the honey season starts in Xinaliq. Local honey is delicious. Although it burns your throat, it is terribly moreish, and they say that honey treats 70 diseases. The season of goat meat, which has a special taste, begins from early autumn. Since sheep and goat breeding is common, it affects their cuisine as well. This is also proved by roast mutton and goat meat prepared for winter.
It used to be popular in Azerbaijani villages. Although it is no longer common, it is still used as irreplaceable fuel in some places. It immediately catches the eye in Xinaliq. One of the most characteristic sights of Xinaliq is that all courtyards have walls that resemble bricks and are made from dry and wet briquettes. This is the main type of fuel used by Xinaliq residents. Animal excrements are put together, mixed with hay and kneaded. Then they are placed in special casts and pressed. Finally, they are taken out of the cast one by one and dried in the open air. They have round or rectangular shapes. The manure briquette is arranged so that it serves as a fence and partly protects houses from the wind. It is burnt one by one in long winter months. It requires zero financing and is regarded as the highest quality type of fuel.
Local residents, who have maintained their customs, traditions and national costume, stand out for their external appearance as well. The tough climate of the area has affected local residents’ skin. The skin cracks from cold and is coarse, while their cheeks always look red. Xinaliq people are of medium height and fit-looking and have chestnut-colored hair and brown or blue eyes. They are very brave and brisk.
In his work “Geographica”, the ancient Greek scientist Strabo recorded that Caucasian Albania was inhabited by 26 Albanian tribes who spoke their own languages.
Strabo (64 BC – 24 AD)
Strabo is a prominent Greek geographer and historian who gave the first detailed description of antique Azerbaijan. He wrote his work “Geographica”, which consists of 17 chapters, after the Roman military chiefs Lucullus, Pompey and Antony invaded the Caucasus. Historical-geographical information about the Caucasus, including the ancient Azerbaijani states of Albania and Atropatena, are contained in the 11th book of “Geographica”. Information about the ancestors of the Xinaliq people, who have lived in the Caucasus for thousands of years, have maintained their customs and traditions and belong the Sahdag ethnic group, is also contained in the works of the ancient Greek historian Pliny.
Pliny the Elder (23-79)
Gaius Plinius Secundus is the most famous antique author who wrote about Albania and Albanians in the first century BC. He was a Roman writer, scientist and statesman. Only his work of 37 chapters has survived to date. In his work “Natural History”, he provides interesting information about the capital of Albania, the nature of the country and the lifestyle of the Albanians. The Xinaliq people say that they are related to the Utis, one of the most ancient Turkic tribes who belonged to Caucasian Albania and lived in the village of Nic in Gabala. There is a short road leading to Gabala from here. Until the middle of the past century, villagers used this mountain road to go shopping in Gabala.
The Xinaliq people have a completely independent language that does not belong to any language family. Nobody but the locals speaks and understands this language.
The first information about the Xinaliq language is contained in European sources and in works by Roderich von Erckert. In his book “Languages of Caucasian Origin”, which he published in German in Vienna in 1895, he described the grammar and phraseology of the Xinaliq language.
A special branch of the Soviet Institute of Linguistics opened in Xinaliq in the 20th century in order to research the Xinaliq language. The linguists who worked in the village of Xinaliq compiled a 72-letter alphabet based on Latin script for this language.
The name Xinaliq has been used since the 1950s-1960s. The Xinaliq people called their village “Ketsh”, themselves “Kettid” and their language “Ketsh mitsl”. Ketsh means “the holy land of Kets”.
Archaeologists note that the word Xinaliq is derived from local hennaed rocks or the name of a Hun tribe.
The haircuts that were popular among ancient Huns and Turkic warriors are still in fashion here. It is impossible to see such a haircut in other parts of Azerbaijan. This is a haircut which is still used in Siberia and Mongolia and which we see mainly in historical films. Boys’ hair is shaven from everywhere. The hair on top is grown and plaited. The plait remains until their teens. When they join the army, the plait is cut off and is not grown afterwards. Since it is very unusual for men to walk around with such a haircut, the issue is totally closed.
Although there is no accurate figure, antique Greek historians give most information about the Ket tribes living in this area in the first century BC. The biggest source of information, which confirmed the antiquity of Xinaliq, is eight graveyards that cover an area which is several times larger than the village. Most of the graves are dug three or four layers on top of each other. The wide and long gravestones have inscriptions written in ancient alphabets on them.
In order to protect Xinaliq from nomadic tribes, defensive fortifications and fortresses were built here in the 10th century. There was a fire temple on the main tower of the fortress. Village elders say that the priest of this temple was a person called Piracomard Baba. They claim that there was an eternal fire here. The holy fire temple still stands at the site of the tower.
It is regarded as an area related to Noah’s storm. They claim that his ship anchored here as the area is at a great height and is very smooth. During a storm, Noah stopped his ship here and ordered people to get off.
The village, which is situated at the foothills of Mount Ketsh, was destroyed by a strong earthquake, while survivors settled at the foothills of Mount Dam Dam and planted henna. Since then, the village has been called Xinaliq. The Xinaliq people, whose way of life has not undergone significant changes since time immemorial, regard themselves as descendants of Prophet Noah. In their view, during Noah’s storm, their village was situated in the Ketsh Mountains. During the subsequent earthquake, not a single house survived there and most of the population died. Those who survived forded the river, climbed a small hill and founded Xinaliq. Locals believe that after the storm, Noah’s sons – Shem and Ham – moved to other places, while only Japheth remained there with his sons and founded the people of the Caucasus. Indeed, shells and fossilized fish bones found in the village located at a height of 2,300 meters testify to a storm and flood that once happened here.
Xinaliq people converted directly from fire worship to Islam. It is a place where religious beliefs are common. Abu Muslim started to propagate Islam in Xinaliq in the 12th century. There are about 10 mosques here. Locals call the 12th century Friday mosque Abu Muslim Mosque.
Located in the highest spot in the centre of the village, the Friday mosque is regarded as the grandfather of local mosques. It is one of the first mosques in the South Caucasus. At the entrance to the mosque, runic inscriptions are engraved on two different stones installed at a height of two meters on the right.
A plaque on its wall says that it was built in 1388.
The Tower was built in the older part of the village at the site of a Zoroastrian fire temple in the 7th century AD. It is a shrine that Muslims visit only on religious holidays.
Xinaliq is surrounded by caves, shrines, temples and fire temples from all sides. There is a shrine in almost every street. You can see a grave in all shrines. Evliyas were buried here. The walls of almost all shrines depict Prophet Abraham sacrificing his son Ishmael for God. The most famous shrine in the village is called Xidir Nabi. Each shrine is a remedy for one illness. Since Xidir Nabi is visited by those who have a tooth ache, it is also called a tooth ache shrine. There are natural small round river stones here. It is believed that when you rub it on your tooth, the pain goes away.
Another famous shrine is called 40 Abdal. It used to be a temple where 40 dervishes took refuge and prayed. On a rock that is 2 km above Xinaliq, there is a cave with a spring regarded as holy. Water is delivered from there to courtyards and the central square of the village by a faience pipeline. All the village population gathers here during great holidays and festivities.
Atashgah, which is located 5 km away from Xinaliq at a height of 2,600 meters, is in fact a volcano. This mountainous region is rich in natural gas reserves. Locals say that there are several volcanoes in the surrounding area. Smooth pieces of rock and shells piled up on the burning fire and make this place look like a fallen tower. Those who come here for a picnic do not pray, but only cook meat, lie in the meadow and bask in the sun. It is possible to reach Atashgah from Xinaliq in half an hour on horseback and in two or three hours on foot.
There is a legend about Atashgah. They say that a herder came here with his flock on a cold day and decided to make a bonfire to warm himself. When he put together everything he could find, the place caught fire and the herder kneeled down with fear and prayed to God. Since then, the fire has never gone out and the place has become a temple. When you come here, you realize why this country is called “The Land of Fire”. Water and land are burning everywhere in this country.
What is Atashgah?
It is a general name that followers of the Zoroastrian religion gave to the prayer houses, hearths and temples of fire worshippers. Fire temples are quite common in northern Azerbaijan. Most of them are now used for different purposes.
It is located in front of the Xinaliq. Xinaliq residents regard it as a holy mountain. Normally, the peak of the mountain is foggy and windy. Legend has it that the ruins of an ancient village are located on that mountain. The village was destroyed by an earthquake about 1,000 years ago, and its population moved out. Locals say that there is a shrine called Pira-Mixix on Tufandag.
The Greater Caucasus is the name of a mountain ridge in the north of the country. In Azerbaijan, there are seven mountains higher than 4,000 meters. They are all situated in the Guba-Gusar zone. The 4,062.8-meter peak in Tufandag is named after the martyred journalist and the national hero of Azerbaijan, Cingiz Mustafayev. Sometimes tourist trips are arranged to the peak. Those who like mountain adventures can contact the Air and Extreme Sports Federation of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to arrange all types of mountain programs and obtain all kinds of correct information.