Ismayilli District has been part of the historical Shirvan territory. The highest mountain in the district is Babadag – 3,629 meters. Famous Russian poet Lermontov visited Babadag during his trip to Azerbaijan. In 1837, Lermontov visited the village of Tircan in Ismayilli District, where he met a well-known asiq called Oruc. He wrote the epic Asiq Qarib using the epos he had heard from asiq Oruc.
Ismayilli is located 185 km from Baku. The district, located in the northern and central parts of Azerbaijan at the southern foothills of the Great Caucasus Rudge and in the Qanix-Alazan-Ayrichay valley, was established in 1931. Its highly developed mountain resort center is 500 meters above sea level. The area with 66,799 ha of forests is rich in clay deposits and mineral springs.
Three out of Azerbaijan’s nine types of climate can be found in Ismayilli District. It is located in a subtropical and partly moderate climate zone. The cultivation of vegetables and fruits are common in sunlit parts of the district. Ismayilli has great tourism potential with its climate. With its breathtaking mountain forests, mild climate, cold mineral springs and healthful uplands, the district has potential as a resort and recreational zone.
There are a lot of mineral springs in Ismayilli. Most of them are located in Bado, Haftasiyab, Dilyalli, Namazgah, Lahic, Qandob and other villages on the southern slopes of the Great Caucasus Ridge. The springs are different with the chemical composition of their water. Some are rich in hydrocarbons, others in sulphate, natrium, calcium and magnesium. In a book published in 1884 “Healing waters in Russia and abroad”, the famous mineralogist Bertmenson noted the importance of the mineral springs near the village of Lahic. Rich in various minerals, the water of these springs is of great medical importance.
There are 20 mountain rivers in Ismayilli District. The biggest ones are Goychay (113 km), Girdmanchay (88 km), Agsuchay (72 km) and Pirsaatchay (202). The rivers originate from the Great Caucasus Ridge.
Ismayilli was part of the Caucasus Albania. Hapits, descendants of ancient Albanians, are still living in the district. The Mehranis, who were descendants of Turkic Sabirs, created a kingdom in the Girdman province of Albania in the early 7th century. Javanshir (642-682 AD) was the last ruler of this last Albanian state. The Mehranis had some residences in today’s Ismayilli District. A castle bearing the name of Javanshir still stands 4 km from the village of Talistan, on the bank of the river Agchay.
A village called Ismayilli existed there before Ismayilli District was established. One can ask: who was Ismayil? Where did the residents of the village come from? Native residents of Ismayilli mostly lived in an area close to the Nazra cemetery, which dates back to the 7th and 8th centuries. From there, they gradually moved to today’s Ismayilli village. Presumably, the village was later named after a very respectable elder of that community called Ismayil.
Some historians say that the place-name comes from the word “sumeyilli” (inclined to water). If we looked at Ismayilli’s geographic structure, we would see that water is easily accessible there. Up until recently, you could access water by digging only 20 to 30 cm. There is an interesting story about the origin of this place-name.
Once upon a time, there lived a young boy and a young girl. They loved each other. One day, the girl was standing on a road, waiting for her sweetheart. A passer-by asked her: What are you doing here? She replied: I am waiting for Ismi Mail. Ismi Mail means a boy named Mail. It is said that, from that time on that area became known as Ismi-mail. Over time, the name was transformed into Ismayilli.
- There are three reserves in Ismayilli District.
- The Lahic state history and architecture reserve;
- The Basqal state history and culture reserve;
- The Ismayilli state nature reserve
- Ismayilli state nature reserve
First, a nature reserve covering 5,778 hectares of land was established in 1969. In 1981, the area was expanded to 16,700 hectares of land. The nature reserve is located on the southern fringes of the Great Caucasus Ridge. Eighty-seven per cent of the area is made up of forests. There are 40 species of mammals, 17 species of reptiles, four species of fish and 104 species of birds in the reserve. The part of the reserve which is 800 to 2,250 meters above sea level is called the Topcu valley. Another part of the reserve 600 to 650 meters above sea level is called the Alazan-Ayrichay valley. Caucasus goats and elk may be hunted in the Qalincaq area of the reserve during the hunting season. There is a stunning view of the reserve from the Qiz Qalasi (Maiden Castle) in the reserve.
Ismayilli is one of the country’s best tourism destinations because of its natural resources – mineral springs and attractive mountains – and also its closeness to the country’s capital. The following mountain-tourism destinations run through Ismayilli District:
Ismayilli – Lahic – Babadag (133 km);
Ismayilli-Lahic-Shamakhy (105 km);
Ismayilli-Qalaciq-Gabala (79 km)
Internal routes are also popular:
Ismayilli-Lahic (47 km);
Ismayilli-Basqal-Xankandi-Sulut (56 km);
Ismayilli-Talistan-Javanshir fortress (7 km);
Ismayilli-Qalaciq-Qasimxan fortress (38 km);
Ismayilli-Qalagah-Mollaisaqli (44 km).
There is great potential for the development of tourism, alpinism, mountain climbing and other sports in an area part of which makes up the Sahdag National Park.
There are five tourism routes:
1. The Maiden’s Tower-Sirinsu (Sweet Water) tourism zone;
2. The Qalaciq tourism zone;
3. The Central tourism zone;
4. The Bado-Basqal tourism zone;
5. The Lahic tourism zone.
These tourism zones in Ismayilli are worth travelling to.
Maiden’s Tower – Sirinsu tourism zone
This tourism zone includes some of the villages in dense forests along the Ismayilli-Gabala highway. The forests, which are flooded by people in summer, are good for ecotourism, hiking and picnicking.
The first village on the route is called Xanaya in the local dialect. It is located on the 7th km of the Ismayilli-Gabala highway, on the left bank of the Axox River. It is viewed as one of the oldest population centers in Ismayilli. The name is related to a shrine that existed here earlier. The first residents of the village were five people who moved in from the village of Xanagah in Guba District. Having resettled in the village, they built the Xanagah fortress in the north of the village.
A narrow road running through the village leads to the Maiden’s Tower resort center. One can see picnickers and people living in tents along the 3-km road to the Ismayilli state nature reserve. During rainy days of autumn and spring, mushrooms grow here in big numbers. Villagers, particularly children, gather the mushrooms and sell them on the roadside. Mushrooms fried with onion and eggs are really tasty. Villagers also pickle mushrooms.
Axox is a branch of the Goychay-Ayrichay river. The name of the river comes from the Turkic words “ak”, “akin” and “ok”. The river has been named Axox because it flows through the mountains very fast, like an arrow. Locals have another funny story about the origin of this word. They say that Malakans, who were exiled here and did not know the territory, ate so much forest fruits and drank so much water that they had a stomach ache. Then they started scrambling around near the river, looking for a toilet and screaming “ah”, “oh”. And since then, the river has been called Ax-ox.
Maiden’s Tower (7th century)
The Maiden’s Tower, built on a high mountaintop 10 km from the district center, is the most famous and important historical monument in Ismayilli. It is located in the Ismayilli state nature reserve, 3 km from the main road, and near the village of Xanagah. The forest is so dense that the mountaintop gets almost no sunlight. Therefore, it is always dark and cold there. Only some of the towers and parts of the walls, fence and terrace have survived to date. In the past, a secret tunnel linked the Maiden’s Tower to the Javanshir Fortress, located in a neighboring village several kilometers away. According to various sources, the tower dates back to the 7th or 9th-12th centuries. It was designed as a fortification on a mountaintop surrounded by steep slopes and rocks on the right-hand side of the Axox River. The area of the tower is 1.5 ha. You can drive to the resort center also called the Maiden’s Tower. But from there on, you have to walk 1 km to get to the tower. To climb up the tower, you have to cross a fast running mountain river on foot, which is really exciting. If you want to conquer the castle, you’d better seek help from a local resident or a worker of the resort center. It is worth climbing the tower and have a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.
Qalaciq tourism zone
The Qalaciq tourism zone is located in the north-west of the district. It is rich in mineral Istisu springs. However, there is still no facility in place to use this water for recreation purposes. The area is a paradise of waterfalls. But you have to travel over impassable roads to get to the waterfalls. The largest of the waterfalls, known as the Ana (Mother) Waterfall, is 40 to 50 meters high. It comes down from a dense forest area with steep rocks. Another waterfall near the village of Qalaciq is 50 meters high. A waterfall near the village of Istisu is 25 meters high. These forests are rich in berries – blackberries, raspberries and mountain strawberries.
Pir Davud residential area
Located near the Pir Davud cemetery, this is an old residential area dating back to 13th-14th centuries. Pir Davud was a bustling population center until the early 20th century. Over time, people moved to other places. But people have always visited Pir Davud as a shrine. The area of the Pir Davud shrine, 800 to 900 meters above sea level, is full of 400 to 500-year-old and 30-35 meter-high beech trees.
Thirty kilometers from the district center, Qalaciq is the last village on this route. The place-name’s root is the word Qala. It means a small fortress. A famous episode of the movie Stepmother, the explosion of a mountain while Ismayil was collecting rosehips, was filmed here. That mountain lies right on the road leading to the village of Qalaciq. The road was under construction while the movie was being filmed in 1955, and it was a true explosion. Up until that time, the road leading to Qalaciq was impassable and long.
Qalaciq, which has a beautiful landscape and fresh air, is also known for its high quality chestnuts. It is the only village with chestnut gardens in Ismayilli Ditrict. Large chestnut trees are everywhere in the village – along the roads and in the gardens. Qalaciq also hosts a very famous historical monument located right between the districts of Guba and Gabala.
Qasimxan fortress (9th-14th centuries)
Built on rocks, the Qasimxan fortress is located in an area called Sangar, some seven to eight kilometers north of the village, near the source of the Goychay River. It is a medieval fortification. The fortress was presumably built between the 9th and 14th centuries. The fortress bears the name of Qasimxan, an uncle of Shamakhy ruler Mustafa Khan, who had it repaired in the 18th century. It is the worst damaged fortress in Ismayilli. Only a mud fence and debris of bricks have remained out of the fortress. In the past, a road near the fortress led to Dagestan. Traces of that road are still there. It is said that carts would travel over what is now a wide pathway leading to the fortress. It is a very beautiful location like everywhere in Ismayilli. You have to walk through the remaining 2-km stretch of the road to the fortress.
Central tourism zone
This route includes the well-known villages of Ivanovka and Talistan. Talistan, which is 4 km north of the district center, is one of the oldest population centers in Ismayilli. It means a settlement in the glade. There are four ancient population centers and five cemeteries on the outskirts of the village. The first archaeological excavations were carried out here in the 1960s. The population center is believed to be 2,000 years old.
Javanshir fortress (7th century)
This fortress, which is 7 km from the district center, is Ismayilli’s pride. It is located 4 km north of the village of Talistan, on the right bank of the Agcachay river. You can drive to Talistan, but have to take a horse or walk to the fortress from the village. The fortress is made up of the main part and Icqala (inner fortress). The southern walls of the main part of the fortress are 2 meters wide and over 10 meters high. The inner fortress has been built on the mountaintop. It occupies 2 hectares of land. It is a magnificent fortification built in the early medieval period. There is a deep valley here. It is said that, in the past convicts were dropped into valley from the fortress. The fortress has been named after the famous Albanian ruler and military chief Javanshir (642-681). The Mehrani dynasty, which Javanshir was a member of, created the Girdman kingdom on the territory of today’s Ismayilli. Under Javanshir, the rule of the Mehranis was spread to the whole of Albanian territory. A secret 7-km tunnel used to link the fortress to the Maiden’s Tower. The tunnel collapsed over time. Only some sections of it have remained to date. There is a waterfall on the territory of the fortress. Surrounded by a dense forest, it is an ideal location for picnicking.
The Ivanovka plateau lies 500 to 800 meters above sea level, between the Goychay and Davabatan rivers. Tidy, yellow fields of corn and ploughed black farmland stretch along the road. From afar, it looks like scorched land. But once you get closer, you realize that it is only ploughed farmland. The roads leading to the village are much cleaner and comfortable than roads in other parts of the district. Ivanovka, which is different from other villages with its folklore and traditions, is 14 km from the district center.
Kolkhoz (collective farm)
Ivanovka is the only village in Azerbaijan where the kolkhoz survived after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Collective labour is still used here. In the village of Ivanovka, which is 12 km from the district center, the former Soviet communal economic system is still in place. This kolkhoz has been named after Nikitin, its legendary chairman who headed the collective farm for many years. Agricultural produce from the Ivanovka kolkhoz is in great demand in the Azerbaijani capital. The ecologically clean products made in the village are sold at the Ivanovka shop in Baku’s Torqovaya street. This is the only food shop in Baku with long queues, where goods are sold out upon arrival. Honey, vegetables, milk and dairy products are available here. The most popular products of the village are Ivanovka wine, cream and sunflower oil.
There are vast grape gardens in the village. Several sorts of black grapes grown in Ivanovka are sent to various wineries for processing. Ivanovka wines made of domestically grown grapes are very popular. Villagers also make wine at home, using unsophisticated methods. Visitors can buy wine in the village.
Ivanovka was formerly called Naftaran. It was renamed after Col Ivanov, who supervised the resettlement of Malakans.
Who are Malakans?
This is a religious sect. In Russian, the word Molokan was used to describe people who were “fed with words as pure as milk”. They were exiled by the czar for “rejecting the oath, the church, religious ceremonies and the supreme leadership”. In the 18th century, the ancestors of Malakans were exiled to an area close to the Molochnyye Vody River in Astrakhan because of their religious beliefs. Members of the sect were named Malakans after living near that river for many years. According to another theory, these people call themselves Malakans because, unlike Orthodox Russians, they use only milk (moloko in Russian) during the fasting period. Whatever the place-name means, Malakans were exiled to Azerbaijan in the first half of the 19th century as part of the czar’s Russification policy.
According to their beliefs, elderly men must grow beards. Therefore, every male Malakan grows a beard after reaching the age of 40. They believe that a man must have a beard before he dies. Old Malakans with long and white beards wearing long, linen shirts with three buttons resemble elders in Russian tales. Malakans do not have a church. They usually pray at home. Mass rituals are held in early hours on Sundays.
An artificial lake in the very center of the village is a venue for strolls by locals and visitors. It is said that the park surrounding the lake is also the place where young men come to choose their future wives.
Ivanovka’s night life and discotheque make the village more attractive to tourists. It has the status of the most entertaining village in Ismayilli District. Disco nights are held here at the weekends in all seasons of the year. Tourists from nearby resort centers also frequent the discotheque. Disco nights and other indoor and outdoor events are held in the village club.
Three-wheel motorbikes are still the most popular means of transport in Ivanovka. The villagers find the bikes very useful in their daily work. Tours of the village on the bikes are one of the most exciting forms of entertainment for guests.
These are old, classic, standard one-storey Russian houses made of wood. The roofs, doors, fences and windows are made of carved wood. The houses have been built in lines. There are wide roads between the lines. The streets are also wide. There are wooden benches outside each house. Maize and sunflowers are grown in the yards. The houses are rented out for a night or a month, as there is no hotel in the village.
The Russian stoves are a must in each house in Ivanovka. In winter, these stoves are used for heating houses and also for cooking. The stoves have been designed in a way that they can also be used as a bed.
Shaped like a brick, a loaf of Ivanovka bread weighs 2 to 3 kg. It takes days several days to bake the bread, the dough of which is made of natural yeast. The Ivanovka residents have a motto:
“Khleb vsemu qolova”
They say this is not by chance. Bread is very important. The villagers meet their guests with salt and bread. The famine during the Second World War made people respect bread more.
One of the most important holidays in Ivanovka is the 9 May Victory Day. The village used to have many veterans. But their number dwindles every passing year. On 9 May, the veterans and their family members wear their parade costumes, put on their medals and come together near the monument to the 1941-1945 war. All other festivals in Ivanovka are religious in nature.
Ivanovka’s cuisine is not very rich. One of the most delicious dishes is piroshki, which are cooked in a stove. Small in size, piroshki are made of dough with yeast. They are really tasty. Another dish, called lapsha, is a must in wedding parties and funerals in the village.
What is lapsha?
It is a kind of noodles. Thin layers of dough are cut into very small pieces and are dipped and boiled in chicken flavoured water. Chicken is sliced into very small pieces and added to the meal before being serviced. Local grape wine or vodka is served in all ceremonies in keeping with the Russian traditions.
Bado-Basqal tourism zone
Bado is the first stop on the route. Its sulphuric mineral water has medicinal effects. Located on a roadside, it is the most popular stop for travellers, especially in summer. The Seven Springs area, which is a little farther, is also viewed as heaven for tourists. Seven springs located close to each other in an area of high mountains and forest are good for people fleeing the scorching heat. The Bado-Basqal tourism zone is rich in historical monuments. It takes several days to visit all the monuments, because there is no tourism infrastructure, no roads around the monuments. Let us have a look at the monuments that can be reached on foot or on horses.
Khan fortress (12th-13th centuries)
What has remained out of the fortress is only a stone wall several meters high. Inside the fortress, there used to be a summer residence for Shirvan rulers.
It is located on a relatively high ground with a beautiful landscape near the village of Sulut, on the right bank of the Haram River. Locals call the fortress Qirxqiz or Qirxotaq. It has over 40 rooms. It is said that Shirvan khans used to keep a girl in each room. The fortress was called Haram, as it was used as a harem. You can drive to the village, from where on you have to walk or ride by horse.
The fortress has been named after a mountain 1,810 meters above sea level. The fortress, which used to be of military and strategic significance, was a residence and a shelter for the Shirvanshahs. There are many legends about the history of the fortress. One legend says that the fortress was connected with Alexander the Great. Mustafa Khan, a ruler of Shamakhy, used the Fit fortress as a shelter during the fight against Tsitsianov, the commander of the occupying Russian army in early 19th century. A defence line has been built near the fortress. You have to walk or ride by force through the steep slope from the Haramchay River to get to the fortress. There is a medieval bathroom, small squares and a large fence outside the fortress.
Basqal village (56 km)
Basqal, which in a way resembles the Old Town in Baku, is amazingly tidy. The village was the administrative center of the district until 1933. There is a piece of national music, Basqali, dedicated to the village. Parts of the movie “On Faraway Shores” were filmed here. Although the village is a reserve, modern buildings have been constructed here in recent years, damaging the historical architecture of the village.
Basqal is very different with its narrow streets paved with cobblestones, and also with its unique houses built with pebbles. The most interesting feature of the houses is that they all look to the kiblah. Unlike buildings in other parts of the district, the houses in Basqal had indoor bathrooms even in the 18th century. The streets are clean and tidy. There are yards outside houses built in lines. These are two-storey houses. The first floor is used as a living space after the owners become old. It is also used for agricultural needs.
The houses are capable of withstanding earthquakes. There are wooden layers between every five or six tiers of pebble on the walls. This is what experts call “seismic belts”.
There are five large residential quarters in Basqal. The larger ones are Qosabulaq and the Damirci Bazaar. The oldest of the quarters is Kalakuca. There is a red wormwood glade called Mullah’s Place on the top of the hill.
There are 500-year-old graves in the Duzan cemetery. Many of the gravestones contain information about the identity of the dead, their profession, the date of death, etc.
There is a large square in the center of the settlement. This square used to be Basqal’s cultural and commercial center for many years. There is a beautiful view of Mount Sayad, Mount Fit and the surrounding forests from the bazaar square. The only historical bath of the settlement dates back to the 17th century. Basqal was a stop on the old Silk Road. Goods were in abundance on the Basqal square, where caravans used to stop for trade. A 16th-century plane tree in the quarter is so huge that a hollow in its trunk was used as a tea house and as a barber’s shop.
Haci Badal mosque (19th century)
There is the Seyyid Umulbanu tomb (1488) inside the mosque, which is located in the Damirci Bazaar residential quarter. The mosque, built by Haci Badal Mashadi aga oglu, was used as a storehouse between 1924 and 1990.
Al-Faqir Sheikh Safai ibn Sheikh Mahammad mosque (17th century)
The Kalakuca Mosque is one of the old historical monuments of the area. It was built by Al-Faqir Sheikh Safai ibn Sheikh Mahammad in 457 by the Muslim lunar calendar. Two of its minarets were demolished and inscriptions on the stones removed during the Soviet period. The building was used as a culture house until it was damaged by fire in 1975. The mosque lost its original appearance after all that it had to endure.
Kuraband (12th century)
This is what Basqal’s sewage system is called. The system has been designed in a way that waste waters flow down through pipes carefully covered by cobblestones. Like in the village of Lahic, residents here still do not know where the waste waters flow to through the underground network of pipes.
Basqal is a pure Turkic word. The late academician Ziya Bunyadov believed that Basqal was a combination of two words – bas and qal. It means “storm a fortress”, “build a fortress”, or “erect a fortress”. Basqal residents speak with an accent close to the Tabriz dialect. Their speech is colourful with the specific pronunciation of the sounds “g”, “j” and “ch”.
Research carried out in Basqal in the 1980s revealed its 2,000-year history. Historians say that Basqal existed in the 4th century AD. The south-east of Basqal was an old population center rich in ancient and medieval monuments. Basqal was part of the Albanian state, which existed BC. It gained political, economic and strategic importance because of its suitable geographic location. A number of fortresses and fortifications were built in Basqal in the medieval period to protect it from numerous foreign military attacks. Archaeologist A. R. Fituni wrote in an article entitled “The history of Shirvan’s last capital”:
“During the Iranian Shah Aga Mohammad’s attack on Georgia, Mugan, Talish and Shirvan in 1795, Shirvan’s khan Mustafa retreated to the nearby fortress on Mount Fit together with his close relatives. They built a silk processing and shawl weaving workshop in a beautiful location called Basqal, which was not very far.”
In the Middle Ages, Shirvan was an important center of textile manufacturing. Sheki learnt silk production from Basqal. Up until recently, almost every house in Basqal had silk weaving machines. Silk production, dyeing and weaving skills have been handed down from generation to generation and evolved. The most popular product made of silk was the kalagayi.
Kalagayis were woven in every house in Basqal until the 1960s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the market was flooded by foreign products, including head covers and scarves. Thus, the demand for kalagayis fell. Currently, there is a small kalagayi factory in Basqal. It now makes other models of silk kalagayis as well.
The kalagayi is a fine and pleasantly soft traditional head cover. Kalagayis were one of the most important items of clothing for both poor and rich Azeri ladies. There were special kalagayis for young and old ladies, and also for different ceremonies. During weddings, the bride would wear a red kalagayi. In funerals, all women wore black kalagayis. On a normal day, milky, brown or white kalagayis were used.
Historically, Azerbaijan has been known as a center of silk production. Therefore, silk has been widely used in traditional clothing.
Starting from the first half of the 19th century, silk products made in Basqal became known in foreign markets. For the first time in 1862, Azerbaijan participated in an international exhibition held in London. A weaver from Basqal, Nasir Abdulaziz oglu, won a silver medal and a diploma for the fine kalagayi and cloth he displayed at the exhibition.
How is it made?
It is a long process. It takes seven to 10 days to make a kalagayi. First, cloth is woven of silk. The cloth is measured and cut into pieces. Water is boiled in large iron containers called tiyan. Natural dye is poured into the water. The dye is made of the trunk of a tree called caraz. The silk cloth is boiled in the water. Plant roots were also used before, Silk cloths are boiled in died water to keep their colour. Indeed, a kalagayi can become old and frayed, but its colour never fades.
After the dyeing procedure has been completed, the cloth is dried up and ironed. Then the decoration process starts. There are special moulds for that. Different patters and decorations are used. Each decoration has its name and meaning. The most frequently used decoration element is the buta.
What is a buta?
It is a kind of decoration resembling a bud or an almond. The buta, a widely used decoration element in the Azerbaijani art of decoration, is believed to date back to the period of fire worshipping. Experts speak endlessly about the shape and structure of the buta. M. N. Lebedev-Kostromsev, who visited Basqal in the 19th century, gave a description of kalagayi workrooms. He said that the weavers were faithful to their art despite the difficult working conditions.
“We traveled to the town of Basqal from the provincial center, Shamakhy, on a horse that was smaller than Russian horses but was slim and fast. It seemed to us that the owner of the horse, a middle aged and dark skinned man whom locals called carvadar, had taught a language to the animal. The horse listened to its owner attentively and overcame obstacles, hills and a fast-running mountain river with courage. We got to the town of Basqal in the evening. The balconies and yards of the houses were well-lit by oil lamps. We were fascinated by a melodic voice. Carvadar Mashadi Azim explained to me that the voice was coming from the minaret of a mosque. It was the evening call to prayer.” The Kafkaz newspaper, 1882, No 310.
It is the most popular forest and mountain resort center located on a mountaintop 2 km from Basqal. Amir is a male name. It also means an army commander. The place-name (Amraki) means Mount Amir. A mountain, a forest, a hotel-restaurant and a spring in that area are also called Amraki.
This tree, which grows in these forests, produces no fruit. But one of the most delicious dishes of local cuisine is made of the leaves of the Pip tree. The fresh leaves are collected in spring, in mid-April when trees start to blossom, and are used in cooking dolma. The fresh leaves are marinated for about 10 days. The dolma made of Pip leaves is a must in Basqal. If you do not get the chance to taste it in Basqal, you can buy marinated Pip leaves, which are available everywhere in Basqal, and make your own dolma at home.
Mutton and tail meat are minced. A glass of round rice, chopped onion, pepper and dried mint are added to the mince and mixed well. Then fillings of the mixture are wrapped in Pip leaves. Each dolma should be as big as an almond. Then some water is added to it and cooked. Served with yogurt, dolma is really delicious. All restaurants and cafes near Basqal have the Pip dolma for dinner. No dolma is left for supper.
Lahic tourism zone
Small villages are scattered over mountain slopes all along the road to Lahic. The landscape of the valley is extremely beautiful. A narrow and curly pathway leads to the village of Qandob.
One of the villages on the road, Qandob means sweet water. It has 216 houses. Located on a river, the village is covered in fruit trees. It is surrounded by a green forest. Sharp-edged stones are visible among the trees. The village is known for its cucumbers and French beans. The cucumbers are short, organic, green, fragrant and juicy. The aroma of the cucumber spreads around when you cut it or bite it. While travelling through the village, you can see cucumbers in metal plates outside almost each house. They are for sale. Locals say that this is the best cucumber for pickling.
French beans are the most popular vegetables in Ismayilli. They grow in summer and autumn. Fresh beans are cooked and also pickled for winter. They even joke that you can find nothing but French beans in every kitchen in Ismayilli during summer.
Suspension bridge and Girdmanchay
It is a bridge that everyone stops to see and walk on. The thing is that the Girdmanchay, which is flowing fast through the valley, is very dangerous. In spring and autumn, the river bursts its banks, making a lot of noise. Every time it rains, the river bursts its banks, destroying everything in its way. No bridge can withstand the power of the river, and the only way out is a suspension bridge. This iron suspension bridge was built high on the river after the river destroyed hundreds of regular bridges. It is very good for thrill-seekers.
It used to be a stop for caravans. Merchants stopped here to pray, eat and have a rest, as it was the most spacious area on the mountain pathway. Namazgah is known for its mineral water. Herbs from the surrounding mountains and forest are collected, dried and sold here very cheap. You can find everything here – oregano, wormwood, mint, chamomile and violets. These herbs are used for medicinal purposes, for the treatment of stomachache, headache, blood pressure and cough. Locals know which herb is good for a particular disease. Pure Lahic honey can be found here. A kilo of the honey costs at least 25 manats. Pilgrims to Babadag also stop here to have a rest and pray.
Babadag (3,629 m)
Babadag is located in the south-east of the Great Caucasus Ridge, on the border between the Guba and Ismayilli districts. Another route to Babadag starts in Guba and goes through the villages of Qonaqkand and Qarxun. It is a more difficult and dangerous route. Therefore, many people prefer the Lahic route to get to Babadag, one of the country’s highest peaks. The northern and southern slopes of the mountain are barren. The Qarachay, Valvala and Girdman rivers originate here. There are three natural lakes located side by side near Babadag, which is covered with snow throughout the year, 3,400-3,500 meters above sea level.
Hazrat Baba shrine
The roads to Babadag, one of the country’s most revered places of worship, are open for only 45 days throughout the year. The vehicles of pilgrims form a long convoy along the valley in July and August. Travelling in Kamaz lorries and Soviet-made buses, everybody is anxious to see the Baba (grandfather).
Nana (grandmother), one of the companions of the Prophet Adam, has been buried at the foothills of the mountain, and Baba has disappeared on the mountaintop. Closer to the peak, there is the Valley of Devil and the Musa spring, which is similar to the Zamzam spring. Pilgrims first visit Nana’s grave, and then follow the dangerous route up to the mountain. Then they stone the devil, drink water from the Musa spring and finally climb up the peak, where they pray for Baba and make a wish.
After a long and tiring journey, pilgrims get to the last stop on the mountainside, called the “Aman house”. They rest and make a wish here before climbing further up. It is a seven-hour walk from this point to the peak. But you can also hire a horse and ride to the peak in an hour and a half. Those who are afraid of riding a horse, and who wish to make the pilgrimage on foot set off in the evening despite all the possible dangers. No-one travels alone. They walk in groups. Everybody prays for his fellow pilgrims. They get to the shrine at night, spend the night there and pray. At a point 3,629 meters above sea level, they watch the sun rising from among fog. Then they start slowly walking down. After the pilgrimage, they sacrifice animals at Namazgah and hand the flesh out to people. They also eat meal made of the meat. There is a feeling of satisfaction, joy and hope in the face of each person back from the pilgrimage. They say a person has to make seven pilgrimages to Babadag during his lifetime to ensure that one of his wishes is fulfilled. Most of the pilgrims are women. Infertile women strongly believe that Babadag can make miracles. Not everybody gets the opportunity to make the pilgrimage. It is believed that people with “evil” hearts and desires cannot make it to the shrine, as Baba does not accept them. They may be young and energetic, but they still cannot climb up the mountain. Conversely, people of goodwill get their wishes no matter how old or ill they may be.
It is a village 180 km north-west of Baku, and 37 km east of the district center. Lahic is located on a slope of the Great Caucasus Ridge, on the left bank of Girdmanchay 1,100-1,200 meters above sea level. There are the Qovdag (2,437 m) and Niyaldag (2,322 m) ranges nearby. The Lahic pass is at the crossroads of great Niyaldag range. It is 1,700 meters high and is narrow and difficult to pass. The roads are open to traffic throughout the year although they can be dangerous. Lahic, which is located behind seven mountains, has one particularity typical of all Eastern towns. Historically, there have been seven residential quarters surrounded by seven mountains, seven springs, seven mosques and seven baths in Lahic.
Mammad Amin Rasulzada
Here’s an interesting fact. After the Red Army invasion of Baku, the leader of the Azerbaijan People’s Republic, Mammad Amin Rasulzada, fled to Lahic to seek refuge from persecution by the Bolsheviks for three months. He lived in a house owned by uncle Arab. The book “The Siyavush of our Century”, which Rasulzada wrote in July 1920, ended with these words:
“…You will either be a gazi or a martyr.”
It is said that Lahic residents treated Rasulzada with great respect despite the Red (Bolshevik) terror.
One of the beauties and attributes of Lahic is Mount Niyaldag. It is made up of nine hills resembling camel humps. This range of hills looks like a camel caravan. You can ride along the river valleys outside the village on horses and see some historical and natural monuments.
The fortress was built in the 7th century, when Lahic was the capital of the state of Girdman. Located 37 km east of the district center, on the left bank of the Girdman Rriver, it was one of the impregnable fortresses in ancient Albania.
The ruins of the ancient town of Sadun and the traces of an old Girdman town are still there. Lahic, which is believed to be 2,000 years old, was built by Mehran, the founder of the Mehrani dynasty, in late 6th and early 7th centuries. The Mehranis were the last rulers of Albania. Lahic was first the political center of the last Albanian state of Girdman, and then the political and administrative of the state of Laziyan. It was also a summer residence for Javanshir, the last ruler of Albania.
Javanshir was the last king of Albania, and also the last representative of the Mehrani dynasty. He ruled the country for 44 years. Javanshir left the army of the Sassanids, who were on the wane at the time, and aligned with the Arabs. He met the caliph Mu’awiyah I in Sham in 664 and agreed to be his vassal.
It is said that Lahic was founded by Sassanid Shah Keykhosrov I. During his rule, Iran was fighting a war with Turan. Tired of the long and exhausting war, Keykhosrov I abdicated and left Iran. He appointed his nephew as king and went to Lahic. Keykhosrov was so impressed by the beauty, climate and nature of Lahic that he decided to stay here until the end of his life. He named the area Lahic after Iran’s Lahijan region. It is even said that Keykhosrov’s grave is in the old cemetery in Lahic.
There have been several variant spellings of the name, such as Lanjan, Al-Ayjan, Al-Akhbaz, Layijan and Liran. Some people say Lahic was the name of a tribe. Others say the place-name is related to the Lahijan region in Iran’s Gilan province. There is a famous legend about the place-name.
In the distant past, there was a town in Iran called La. One day, the town was obliterated by a powerful earthquake. People started telling each other: “La hech”, which means the town of La is gone. Thus, the name Lahic emerged.
According to another theory, Lahic lies on the road to the Hazrat Baba shrine on Mount Babadag. In Arabic, la means direction. It is clear what hajj means. So Lahij means “the road to Hajj”.
In the early medieval period, various tribes settled in today’s Lahic territory. Many of them were Iranian-speaking tribes. The local language was certainly influenced by the language of the newcomers. Lahic came from Iran’s Lahijan region. They live in a very small area in Iran, but in a large territory in Northern Azerbaijan. Like other ethic groups in Azerbaijan’s mountain regions, Lahic residents have their own language. It is not Farsi, Tat or Talysh language. It is the Lahic language. Only some words in the local language are similar to Farsi words.
Lahic State History and Architecture Reserve
The reserve was established in 1980. Ninety-three buildings in 80 hectares of land are protected as historical and cultural monuments. Of these buildings, 71 are residential, while the other 22 are for various purposes. The reserve, which is part of the Sahdag National Park, is like an outdoor museum. The Lahic museum was established in 1985 in the Agolu mosque, which was built in 1914.
The mosque is located in the Agolu quarter in Lahic. It was built in 1332 by the Muslim lunar calendar. During the Soviet period, the mosque was used as a storehouse. It was restored in 1987 and turned into a museum.
In Azerbaijan, Lahic is the only village where visitors are greeted in English. A poster erected at the entrance to the village reads: “Welcome to Lahic”. This is a unique, and probably the only place where local and foreign tourists are provided with services throughout the year. At the tourism information bureau near the museum, you can get any information about houses for rent, historical and natural monuments, and tours of the town and hire a guide. There are tour opportunities in several directions within the reserve. Tours of the Lahic suburbs are worth joining. There is a beautiful view of the mountains and forest from the Pestar River and Pestar Lake 1,505 meters above sea level. There are also springs and waterfalls along the road. The closest one is 2 km away. Tours within Lahic are the most popular. What can be of interest in the village?
Council of Elders
All visitors to Lahic are met by elders – Lahic residents with white hair and beards. These are experienced, wise and pleasant people. They sit on a long bench at the entrance to the village. In a way, they provide visitors with information, answering all of their questions with pleasure.
The town is divided into two by the small river Lulo. Its larger southern part is called Lahic, and the smaller northern part is called Aragird (Aragit). It is known for its wide streets and numerous gardens. There are the Zavaro, Muradan, Agali, Badavan and Pista residential quarters here. Each quarter has its own streets, spring, mill, bath, mosque and madrasah. Lahic is surrounded by seven mountains. It has seven residential quarters, seven springs, seven mosques, 700 houses, seven madrasahs, seven mullah houses and seven baths.
To prevent erosion by rain and snow, the streets in Lahic have been fully paved with stones. All of the two-storey houses have been built from pebbles. There are wooden layers between pebbles on the walls every 60-70 cm. Attached to the windows are decorated iron grids. There are also iron beaters on the old wooden doors.
There is still no hotel in Lahic although it receives more tourists than any other village in the country. Instead, there are houses for rent. The best known house in Lahic is the one owned by Haci. This historical monument has 72 rooms. It catches your eye from afar. As the building is close to the valley, it has been partly washed away. Generally speaking, Lahic is in danger of being gradually destroyed by rains and floods.
There are springs in all the residential quarters. Everybody takes water home in copper jugs. Lahic residents boast about their sewage system, which was built in the 9th century, although nobody here really knows where the waste water flows.
There used to be many baths in Lahic. Only two of them have remained to date. One of them is the Haci Molla Huseyn bath, built in the 19th century. Heated by wood, the bath is half-dark inside. The bath serves men on even days, and women on odd days. It is almost never vacant. Some customers enjoy themselves by renting the bath entirely.
This is the place settled by people first. It was built between the 3rd and 6th centuries.
The central street here is called the Boyuk (great) or Bazar (bazaar) street. It is also known as the quarter of craftsmen. Almost all the copper craftsmen live in this quarter. Workshops and showcases are in the same place. All visitors to Lahic must tour the Bazar street, where they see the shops, craftsmen and their works. They also have an opportunity to buy things here. The souvenir shops in Baku’s Old Town get their goods from Lahic. But there is almost no difference in prices. Lahic residents are also known as good merchants.
In this old center of craftsmanship, there are still blacksmith’s shops, as well as workshops producing horseshoes, carpets, clothes and tin. In the mid-19th century, there were over 200 workshops in Lahic. There used to be 127 professions here.
Historically, making artifacts of copper has been the main source of income and the most popular profession in Lahic. And this is natural. Copper items used to be an inseparable part of everyday life. Since copper is no longer used in everyday life, souvenirs are mostly made from it. There were more than 60 coppersmiths in Lahic in the 19th century. Coppersmith skills are never forgotten and are passed down from generation to generation. This is why Lahic coppersmiths laugh at people who ask them to teach the skills to their children within a year, because they believe that a man has to grow up smelling copper in order to become a good coppersmith. Lahic was a center of copper and arms production in the 18th and 19th centuries, and copper melting sites have survived to date here. Works by local craftsmen have gained fame in Central Asia, Dagestan, Georgia, Iran, Turkey and other places. Samovars made by Lahic resident Nacafqulu in 1717-1718 were very well-known at the time.
This is a place that arouses completely different feelings. There are tandirkhanas (bakeries) in the yards. You can buy freshly baked bread from any house in Lahic at 0700 in the morning. You will always remember the nice breakfast you will have with cheese (made of sheep or goat milk) from a local shop and samovar tea. In Lahic, there is a meal which visitors want to have again upon their return to the village. This is also the meal that is advised to people planning to visit Lahic.
This is dolma, which is made of fine leaves of quince. Lamb, rice, onion, yellow ginger, pepper, salt and mint – these are chopped with an axe on a piece of wood. Then fillings of the mince are wrapped in quince leaves. This dolma is completely different from other kinds of dolmas with its shape and the way it is wrapped. The mince gets out of the leaves, and dolmas are oval in shape. It is kneaded with the palm of your hand and placed in the pan in a tidy manner. It is boiled with a lot of water for about an hour. Another thing that makes the Lahic dolma different is that it is served with water. In other words, this dolma is eaten with a spoon. Yogurt is also served with dolma. It is really delicious. You must order it when you go to Lahic.
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