Lankaran

Local people call the town simply Lenkor. Everything in Lenkor is very pleasant: nature, sea, cuisine, communication with people. The town has managed to preserve the manners of a khanate capital to the present day. It is the homeland of such World War I and II Generals as the Talysinskis, Samadbay Mehmandarov, Hazi Aslanov, etc. The locals are perhaps the warmest, kindest, most hospitable and sincere people in the world. Real Lankaranians are often described as “Khan Lankaranians” for their generosity, aristocracy and diligence.

Note

Lankaran is 268 km away from Baku. It represents one out of five geographical zones of the country. Its foothill area is 200 m high, while coastline is 28 m below ocean level. It is located in the Lankaran lowland. The weather is mild in winter, hot in summer, with a lot of precipitation in autumn. The biggest rivers are the Lankarancay and the Boladicay. Lankaran is rich in natural resources and mineral waters. Since humidity in the summer reaches 88 per cent, the heat becomes unbearable. It has a humid subtropical climate. Forests cover an area of 29,000 hectares.

“Ninjas”

There is extensive agricultural work here from spring to the end of autumn. The work done by men is distinguished from what is done by women. For instance, while men plough the land, women weed out and gather the produce. Women working under the oppressive heat look like Japanese Ninjas. They wear garments covering the whole body, with only eyes open.

Shawl

Historically Talysh women looked differently. Although pants, beshmets and shirts are no longer as popular, the shawl is still worn by many. Middle-aged and elderly women wear the shawl every season of the year. Large-size shawls with long fringes usually cover the back and head. The shawls are tied in a special manner. Women sometimes tie the shawl to hold their babies behind their backs or use it as a bag. This can be observed in all Talysh villages.

Village of Separadi

“Se” means three parts, while “di” is a village. The place-name as a whole translates as a village consisting of three parts or a village which is home to people from three places. Located 15 km from the center, the village is noted for its folklore. In fact, the most popular Talysh folk representatives come from this village.

Sisters

The most famous sisters from Lankaran are known throughout the country and are invited to all festivities and music festivals. No-one on the folk group comprised of the Mammadova sisters has ever received musical education. Their repertoire consists of Talysh folk songs. Once in while they get together at the home of one of the sisters and practice. The two sisters sitting at the top and at the end of the table have a drum in their hands. No other musical instruments are used. The two playing the drums set the rhythm, while the others clap and sing together. The sisters’ name are very interesting too: Gulbaci, Gulcohra, Gulbazak, Guldasta, Xanbaci and Qizbast.

An average Talysh family has many children, while boys are more welcome. This tendency can be seen in the names given to girls, such as Yetar, Kifayat, Basti and Qizbast (all meaning “enough”). Children are fed highly calorific Talysh dishes. In fact, the Talysh cuisine deserves special mention. The first thing that comes to mind when Lankaran is mentioned is Lavangi.

Lavangi

This is the name of a street in Lankaran. Those visiting the town always come here because this is where the local bus terminal is. And everyone coming to the street always buys Lavangi and bread. The Lavangi street is lined up with the tandirxanas (places with ovens made of clay in a hole in the earth). The images characteristic of traditional tandirxanas can all be witnessed here. Open from 7 a.m. until dark, tandirxanas bake bread and Lavangi. The Lavangi is considered an appetizer here. The tandirxanas always have good business. Neither the locals nor visitors ever seem to eat enough of Lavangi here.

What is Lavangi?

This is an absolutely irresistible dish of the southern cuisine, especially in Lankaran. In essence, Lavangi is the name of the chicken or fish stuffing. It can be of different types: chicken, bald-coot (wildfowl), egg-plant, fish and summer Lavangi. The last is usually cooked in hot summer months as cherry plums and different vegetables are stuffed inside fish and baked in the tandir. Lavangi is rich in vitamins, has a very special taste and is highly calorific. The most delicious fish Lavangi is made of the Black Sea roach caught only in the Caspian. If the fish has caviar, it is not discarded. It is added to Lavangi, mixed and then stuffed inside before baking. As is the case with other fish dishes, Lavangi is served with pomegranate or cherry plum juice. Lavangi also has nuts.

How to cook

The stuffing made of walnuts, onions, cherry plums and lavash (bread baked on thinly rolled dough) is prepared first. Onions can be both raw and fried. They are sliced and squeezed to get rid of the bitterness, and then fried and cooled. Lavash is plunged into hot water to make it softer. Cherry plum pastille can be used instead of lavash too. Then the onions, walnuts, pastille, salt and pepper are mixed up to form a sour-salty-spicy mixture which serves as the Lavangi stuffing. The chicken is then stuffed with this and stitched with a regular thread. If there is some Lavangi left over, it is stuffed inside chicken sticks. To make sure that the chicken is roasted well, cherry plum sauce is applied to its surface before it is placed in the tandir. Lavangi is usually served with raisin and saffron pilaf or with bread baked in tandir.

Southern cuisine

It is extremely diverse. There are 23 meat dishes, seven types of poultry, 20 farinaceous dishes and dishes made of nine fish types. Additionally, there are eight pilafs, five omelets, 28 fruit dishes, etc. Highly calorific dishes such as nut omelets are considered delicacies. The calorific value of dishes is never taken into consideration. There is a total of 21 dishes made of rice alone. Pilaf festivals have become popular in recent years. Southern people love rice. Pilafs can be made of peas, beans, dill, pumpkin, lentils, etc. It is cooked with milk, can be of doshama, fisinjan and other types depending on the season. For instance, fisinjan pilaf is traditionally cooked on the New Year. It is very labor intensive and expensive to cook. It is hard to believe that a dish may take 24 hours to cook. Its sauce, made of kilos of walnuts, onions, pomegranates, chicken and other products, is put into saucepans and then kept in a fridge. Then it is slightly heated and served with rice. It is highly calorific and difficult to digest. Sometimes the fisinjan cooked in winter can last until Nowruz. In the January-March period, Lankaranians usually treat their guests to the fisinjan pilaf. Lankaran has been noted for its most professional cooks from time immemorial, as cooking skill is often passed on from one generation to another. Even today the country’s most famous cooks come from Lankaran.

Craftsmanship

Lankaranians have always been good craftsmen. Handicrafts formed a significant part of the town economy in the 19th century. The abundance of natural raw materials, especially timber, gave an impetus to the development of certain crafts here. According to the 1877 statistics, there were 17 tailors, 22 hat-makers, nine shoemakers, 13 blacksmiths, three saddle-makers, 25 locksmiths, 26 makers of agricultural and domestic tools, two coppersmiths, five masons in Lankaran. Fishing, paddy-growing, botany, tea- and grain-growing were gradually developing as well. The crafts of designing, pottery, matting, knitting and jewelry are still quite popular. Wood carving arouses particular interest. This is a type of decorative art involving the carving of images of different motifs on wood using sharp instruments. Usually decorated are wooden household items.

Architecture

The local people’s craftsmanship is also manifested in architecture. Lankaran produces a very pleasant impression by its magnificent houses and town planning. As is the case with Ganja, Shaki and Guba, the main feature of Lankaran houses is the red brick and the red tiling of roofs. Unlike most other cities, Lankaran still adheres to its architectural traditions. Houses here are mainly two-storey. Noted for their architectural design, they lend further beauty to the town.

Local town planning traditions date back to the early 19th century. The master plan of the Lankaran fortress, approved in 1833, became a landmark event in local town-planning. The centerpiece of planning was a mosque and two markets comprising 117 shops. In the late 19th century the town was divided in four parts: Qala, Boyuk Bazar, Kichik Bazar and Sutamurdov. Lankaranians still refer to the center, the historical fortress area, as Qala (fortress). The seaside area is still called Sutamurdov. It was mainly inhabited by visitors, Russian and Turkish officials.

As compared to Shusha, Shaki and Guba, Lankaran was noted for better economy and amenities in the early 20th century. Some of the local houses have interesting architectural history.

Residency of Isa Bay (1900)

It is one of many multi-storey buildings established in Lankaran before the revolution. Built in the European style, it currently houses Lankaran State University. A native of Baku, Isa Bay fell in love with one of Khan’s daughters. Although he was a doctor and controlled a lot of wealth, he could not marry the girl because he did not own any property in Lankaran. Therefore, Isa Bay hired foreign specialists to build this property in the center and moved to Lankaran. Only after that was he allowed to marry. Isa Bay was the first certified doctor in Lankaran. He was persecuted in the years of Stalin repressions.

Khan’s house (1913)

It is the house of Mirahmad Khan. The monument was designed and built in 1913 by French and Italian architects who were hired by Mirahmad Khan, a descendant of Talysh Khans. The three-storey palace is considered to be Lankaran’s first many-storey building. It is also the first pre-revolution mansion in Azerbaijan to have electricity and central heating systems. The building’s history is quite interesting. Mirahmad Khan’s wife Tugra won the Caucasus beauty contest in 1912. After winning the title, Khan’s wife asked him to build an unseen house. The woman wanted the building to be high enough for the whole town to be seen from its top. Loving his wife very much, Khan fulfills her request. With an appearance differing from other European-style houses, the building interior was typical of Lankaran. There were different-sized bowls on the shelves fixed on the walls. At present, Khan’s house is a local history museum. In general, there are quite a few architectural and historical buildings in Lankaran.

Circular fortress (1747)

It is known as the Lankaran fortress. Located in the center, the three-storey fortress is 20 m high, while its walls are more than 1 m thick. It was built of red bricks and a mixture of eggs and limestone.

Due its strategic location, Lankaran has always been the focus of attention for Iran and Russia. In 1725, Nadir Khan Afshar ordered to have a 30-hectare area walled and turned Lankaran into a citadel. In 1747, with the aim of protecting the town, he started the construction of two similar fortresses. Despite his death, the construction of the fortresses was completed in 1786. On 31 December 1812, Czarist Russian troops called in by Khan Mir Mustafa destroyed the fortress, killing 17,000 civilians and 4,000 soldiers. After completing the occupation of the south in 1869, the Russians knocked down the walls of the town but left the fortresses intact. The circular fortress, which had served defense purposes, was turned into a dungeon and then functioned as a prison until 1970. One of its prisoners before the socialist revolution was J. Stalin, known here as Koba. The prison was shut down in the 1970s.

The local population still calls the area Gala (fortress). In fact, it was the conquest of the Lankaran fortress that eventually led to the division of Azerbaijan between Russia and Iran.

Lighthouse (1747)

The circular tower’s twin was one of the town main pillars. Located in the town’s north-east, the second fortress is known as the lighthouse. It is said to have been at the bottom of the sea fortress. Although it is a military facility, it is located on private property and protected. Access to both fortresses is said to have been through underground tunnels. Its coverage is over 16 miles. The lighthouse is 33.4 m high together with the beacon, while its walls are 2 m thick.

The first modern school after Russian occupation was opened here in 1856. One of the country’s first theaters was established here in 1850 as well. Although Khanates were abolished, the Czar left the titles of Talysh Khans intact. In 1906-1910, Khan invited well-known composer Muslim Maqomayev to teach music to his children and set up a chorus. Lankaran is also known for its strong religious traditions. In fact, the head of the Caucasus Muslims’ clerical office comes from Lankaran, which is treated quite naturally. There are many mosques, tombs and shrines in Lankaran, and the best known of them is in the Sixakaran village.

Tomb of Sheikh Zahid (15th century)

The shrine in the local cemetery is known as the holy place of Sheikh Zahid. The great grandfather of Shah Ismail Khatai, Sheikh Zahid is buried here. Sheikh Zahid ibn Sheikh Rovsan Amir (1215-1300) was a well-known Oriental scholar, philosopher and a sect leader in the 13th century. His father Rovsan Amir was from Iran’s Gilan province who moved to the Siyavar village of Lankaran. Sheikh Zahid was born in this village. He received primary education from a Tabriz native Seyid Camaladdin in the Pensar village of Lankaran. Zahid means an abstinent and pious person. After the death of his teacher Camaladdin, Sheikh Zahid lived for 20 years and was engaged in farming. He was also a sect leader, which is why the village is called Shikhakaran (Sheikh’s houses).

History

Greek historian Herodotus wrote of a Dubil village near Masalli. Geographer Strabo wrote about the greenery of the Boladi, Majul, Bustar and Talyshkaran villages. Lankaran is first mentioned by doctor Ramazan ibn Sheikhali in his 1409 Arab-language book “Farrukhnameyi-jamali” and in a 1594 Farsi translation of it by Mohubali ibn Ahmadi. A representative of a the 16th century joint English-Moscow trade company, Lawrence Chapman, recalled visiting the town of Laygon on the Caspian coast in 1568-1569. A Lankon village is mentioned in a report by Ambassador Stefan Kakash and his secretary Tektander, who were commissioned by German Emperor Rudolf Habsburg for Shah Abbas I. German traveler Adam O’Leary, who visited Azerbaijan in the 17th century, referred to this place as Lankarkunan. Russian traveler and diplomat Brekhov said he had traveled from Gizilagach to Langaran together with Shah Abbas I in 1614. Another Russian traveler and diplomat A. Sukhanov in 1638 and Dutch seaman Ian Streis in 1670 mentioned Lankaran in their reports submitted to different museums and embassies, and in private diaries.

In the middle ages, the town was ruled by the Seljuk, Hulaki, Teymur, Aggoyunlu and in the 16th century by the Safavid dynasties. Lankaran (Talysh) was one of the Khanates formed in Azerbaijan after the killing of Nadir Shah in 1747.

Talysh Khanate

The capital of the Khanate, which covered the south-eastern part of Azerbaijan, was Lankaran. The founder of the dynasty of Talysh Khans was Seyd Abbas, who belonged to the Safavids. The Talyshinskis, known as one of Azerbaijan’s most aristocratic families, were descendants of Prophet Muhammad. Seyid Abbas, who came to Lankaran during the turmoil in Iran in 1736, got close to local feudalists, recognized the rule of Nadir Shah and even sent his son Camaladdin to serve him. In response, Nadir Shah recognized Seyid Abbas as a descendant of the Talysh. In 1747, after Seyid Abbas’s death, his son Camaladdin, known as Gara Khan, took his place.

Gara Khan

He organized an army to protect the Khanate from the Iranian threat and moved the capital from Astara to Lankaran. He then confiscated the lands of feudalists who disobeyed the center. Gara Khan carried out major improvements in Lankaran. Trade and culture started developing fast under his reign, while Lankaran turned into an important seaport. He hired people from outside Lankaran to build the walls of the fortress, Khan’s palace, a mosque, a bathhouse, a market, a caravansary. Gara Khan mainly preferred to deal with Russia. On 12 March 1796, Karbalai Asadulla submitted a letter from Mir Mustafa Khan to Catherine the Great requesting that the Talysh Khanate be admitted to Russia. The request was very beneficial for Russia, which wanted to establish control over the Caspian region. On 26 December 1802, according to the Georgiyevsk agreement, the Talysh Khan was taken into supreme command of Russia. On 1 January 1813, Russian troops entered Lankaran, while in 1826 the Talysh Khanate was abolished.

Written by Said Ali ibn Kazim Bey in 1869, “Javahirnameyi-Lankaran” says there was a Ballabur fortress in Lankaran in the 9th century. Those fond of historical excursions should visit the Ballabur village.

Ballabur fortress

Located 9 km south-west of the center, it sits in thick forests on a mountain top. The area is noted for its iron-trees. There are still traces of the brick fortress in the forest. One can reach it in half an hour. It is believed that the fortress was built by the Iranian ruler Shapur for a commander named Balabur in the 6th century. It was built of brick and stone on the bank of a Lankaranchay tributary.

What does Ballabur mean?

A place of oak-trees and thorns; a tall fortress; the Boza or Bazz fortress, i.e. the firebird or the falcon fortress – it is not known for sure which of these options is correct. According to a legend, the name relates to the Talysh governor Hilal Babur. Golden and copper coins belonging to the Byzantine period were discovered in the fortress, which points to the existence of trade relations with the Byzantine empire in the 9-11th centuries.

“The Ballabur fortress is located on a mountain top. There are rooms in a tower made up of three circles in the highest part of the fortress. There is an image of a ram made of limestone on the walls of the first circle. The second circle’s wall bear the images of a bow, arrows, a sword and a dagger. The walls of the highest circle bear the figures of birds and flowers made of gypsum. There are also additional rooms there: they are built of dark red and light red bricks. Discoveries at the fortress include medieval earthenware, Byzantine copper and golden money.”

Archeologist Isa Azimbayov, “Antiquities of Lankaran”, 1926

Some researchers maintain that the Bazz fortress is located near the Lankaran, Ardebil or Savalan (Iran) mountains or in the vicinity on the Talysh mountains on the Caspian coast. Scientist Ziya Bunyadov provided evidence that the Bazz fortress is located in Garadag province of Iranian Azerbaijan, in the valley of the Qirxsu river, the right tributary of the River Araz. Thus, the Ballabur fortress, which served as a shelter for the Khurramites during the Arab invasion, was one of the main support centers for the Babak movement.

Sigon cemetery

It is located near the fortress, on the territory of the village. It is attributed to the late bronze and early iron ages. Sigon means stone. Gravestones are so big that the place is often called the cemetery of giants. The culture of gravestones has not been completely studied. Sigon is also believed to be a “place of ghosts”.

Fortress of girls

It is in the vicinity of the Yuxari Nuvadi village. During the period of the Khurramites in the 9th century, the families of statesmen, mainly women, were kept in the fortress for security reasons. According to the village elders, to feed the girls gathered in the fortress people formed a queue from the Sapnakaran village, 5 km away, and passed food for the girls through each other. Remains of clay and earthenware dishes have survived to the present day.

Place-name

Its explanations are provided in the Persian and Talysh languages. The names Langarkunan, Langaran, Lankgaran, Lanqaran, Lyanqaran, used before the 15th century, are believed to be the original base of the word Lankaran. Langarkunan in Persian means a place where ships drop their anchors. The reason behind this name is that ships from different parts of the world bound for Iran for trade, travel, education, sightseeing and diplomatic affairs, as well as those coming from Iran, would make a stop here. Langkaran in Persian means a place where people are always late. The history behind this name is that people coming here would always be late due to incessant rains.

Lankon means reed houses in Talysh. The word has been used to symbolize nest-like homes. Local houses, fences and walls in those days and even in the early 20th century were covered with reed. The name is also encountered in reports kept at the German Embassy in Hamburg. The German version of the word Lankon, a village located near Lankaran, was used in 1603. As the present Lankaran grew, the village became part of the town.

Tourism

The travel and excursions bureau established here in 1980 organized trips to seven districts and 15 destinations. Lankaran has been divided in three tourism zones.

Seaside area

It is located on the Caspian seaside. There are restaurants and hotels in the forests along the coastline, which is also noted for its healing black sand. One of the most popular types of recreation here is to come to the seaside and have some tea. In Lankaran, the Caspian Sea smells good. Fishing nets running into the sea from many directions and the railway track passing along the seaside create a special aura on the boulevard. The Vel village is also part of the seaside area. In Talysh Vel means fern, which grows extensively here. The proposed establishment of a seaport in the Vel village promises to become a popular travel destination.

Haftoni zone

Haftoni means seven springs in Talysh. There are good conditions for the development of eco-tourism here. Lankaran’s best-known mineral waters are Istisu and Ibadi.

Sanatoria

Lankaran’s Istisu sanatorium was opened in 1980. It is located in the forests at the foot of the Talysh mountains 12 km from Lankaran. The curative qualities of local waters are supplemented by quiet forests and natural beauty. The sanatorium provides treatment for locomotors apparatus, diseases of the nervous system. It is open from May through August.

Ibadi spring

The Ibadi water spring is located in a small mountain settlement called Lac. Waters of different temperatures run down the slopes of Ibadi and Sumax mountains. It is situated in the west of Lankaran, on the way to Lerik and 17 km from the center. The hydrogen spring is said to have appeared following a volcano. Its water is potable and is believed to be good for stomach, gall bladder, osteochondrosis, etc. The legend goes that someone named Ibadulla was suffering from a serious disease, settled down here and recuperated. Since then the spring has been called Ibadi.

Narimanabad zone

The Narimanabad settlement and the Sari island, which are part of the Qizilagac natural park, is located 17 north of the district center.

Port-Ilyich

This is a former name of the Narimanabad settlement. Until 1922, it was called Pereval (Crossing). Subsequently it was named Port-Ilyich after the founder of the Soviet state V. I. Lenin. Narimanabad is also referred to as a “settlement of fishermen”, because this is the main occupation here. Those looking to buy fish always come here. It is noted for the best, fresh, most delicious and widest assortment of fish dishes. Those visiting the island are treated to a fish dinner.

Fish

Fish holds a special place in eastern cuisine. If there is no “r” in the name of a month, it is not considered the fishing season. Fish change depending on the season from September to April. Different fish dishes are cooked. Fried fish, fish cooked in tandir (oven in a hole in the earth), fish roasted on a pan, caviar, boiled fish, omul (for Lavangi), fish kebab, smoked (salty) fish – just to name a few. Fish is fried in oil, in tandir, on charcoals. There are fish soups or fish roasted with vegetables and greens. The fish cooked with vegetables, called Sildag, typical of Talysh cuisine, is rich in vitamins and highly nutritious. Sometimes it is stuffed with cherry-plums, onions, greens, tomatoes and pepper plant, wrapped in a fig leaf or newspaper, moistened and then placed on charcoals. Fish cooked in this way is not greasy. This saves the value of vitamins of both the fish itself and the vegetables inside. Lankaran is also home to sturgeons, which are considered Caspian delicacy. Although illegal sale of it has been banned, poachers still catch and sell this expensive fish.

Sari island

After being connected with the town of Liman in 1956 by a road, it became a peninsula. Its transparent waters and dry sand make it a nice beach. Its sand is yellow, hence the name of the island. The island is also said to have been named after a Sara. In Talysh it is called Sari. The words “Sa” and “Ru” are understood as a red river or mouth of a river. Its meaning has not been fully studied.

Qizilagac natural park

Although a group of Russian scientist suggested establishing a natural park here in 1913, the plans were upset due to the start of World War I. It was set up in the south-west of the Caspian on an area of 88,400 hectares in 1929. It was established for the wintering, reproduction and protection of migrant birds, waterfowl and wild bird species. Most of the birds included on the Azerbaijan Red Book are protected in the natural park. The park is of tremendous importance for the reproduction of migrant birds. Birds from Siberia, Kazakhstan, south of the Urals, north of Europe fly here in great numbers for wintering. There are 270 bird species here. Thus, birds are an important component of the local cuisine.

The place is also referred to as the “House of birds”. The hunting season starts in autumn and winter. A total of 73 per cent of the natural park is made up of water. Motorboats can quickly take one to the Big Qizilagac and Small Qizilagac. Qizilagac is the name of a plant. This broad-leaved plant grows in forests and near water sources. The name of the place comes from the abundance of the plant.

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