Mingachevir used to be known as a desert of snakes in the past. It is believed that it was impossible to move because of snakes and scorpions here. You can cook an egg in the heat of summer here. The city, which was established at the time of socialism, was multi-ethnic. People who migrated to this area not just from Azerbaijan, but from all parts of the former Soviet Union called it a “city of workers”. The 22 factories and the three enterprises that were built close to each other here worked shifts until the collapse of the Soviet Union. When shifts ended, the city resembled a molehill.
Mingachevir, which everyone liked as a beautiful, clear, handsome and green city, is indebted to Germans for this. The Germans taken prisoner during the Great Patriotic War played a great role in the establishment of the city. The prisoners who lived here before the start of the policy of perestroika and glasnost in 1985 all returned home as soon as the borders opened. The graveyard of German prisoners of war is still here. Small metal plaques indicating prisoners’ identification numbers were installed instead of tombstones with their names and surnames here. Some administrative and dwelling buildings and streets left over from them still retain their original appearance.
The distance between Baku and Mingachevir is 293 km. It is located in the Central Aran zone, at the foot of Mount Bozdag on the bank of the Kura River. It is Azerbaijan’s fourth largest city. The biggest hydroelectric power station in the South Caucasus is located here. Mingachevir is famed for its water reservoir and rowing centre.
The name Mingachevir has been known since the 13th century. There are different legends about it. Ziya Bunyadov links this name to Mingachevir Al-Farqni who fought the caliph in 839. According to Arab historian Tabari, Prince Mingichavr who was Azerbaijan’s interim ruler under the Arab caliphate in the 9th century built a residency for himself around present-day Mingachevir and broke away from the caliphate. However, he was defeated, taken captive and jailed by the caliphate’s troops. In honour of the prince, that territory was named Mingichavr later.
The following is the most common version: “Min, gal, chevir” (Mount a horse, come here and then turn back). Legend has it that a horseman who had allegedly came from an Arab district failed to cross a jungle near the Kura and returned home. That’s to say it was impossible to stay here even for a moment because of snakes, scorpions and mosquitoes and ford the turbid, tough and deep waters of the Kura. In order to avoid great difficulties, harm and injuries, the best thing is either to mount your horses or donkeys back and go ahead or “turn back because there is no other way”.
The place name is also explained by an interesting historical plot. In the first century BC, the Pope made serious efforts to seize the rich lands of Albania and place the local population under the control of the Roman church. The Roman military chief Pompey launched an attack on the Albanian King Ori with a large army. Being in conflict with the Armenian and Roman churches, the Albanian king decided to confront the enemy here at the foot of Mount Boz and on the left bank of the Kura. As the army of Pompey tried to ford the river, the Albanian troops who laid in ambush attacked the Romans and defeated them. The words “Mangacha vur” gave this place the name of Mingachevir later.
The origin of the word Mingachevir is also linked to the Arab invasion of Albania. The Arab military chief Manuchohr, who had arrived here to quell an uprising, defected to the Elkhanids for unknown reasons, buried his daughter who was killed in a battle on the bank of the Kura and named this place Manuchohr. In the course of time, this word underwent changes and became Mingachevir.
The root of the word is also linked to the name of Minkittavr Al-Farqani, another Arab military chief who ruled this place. This place name derives from the names of the Minki and Savr tribes. Minkisavir – Minkichavir – Mingachevir. The Savirs historically lived in the Caucasus and are an ancient Turkic tribe which participated in the ethnogeny of the Azerbaijani people.
Although Mingachevir is very young, it is also very old. Despite its modern appearance, this place is regarded as an archaeological paradise. Archaeological excavations around the city showed that the area currently under water used to be a large population centre. At the same time, the remains of an ancient temple have been found here. The Greek, Roman and Sassanid coins that were discovered show that buildings belong to the 5th-6th centuries. The Albanian alphabet of 56 letters was also discovered in Mingachevir. There are many stones written with these letters. One of them, a yellow picture cut from a soft stone with an Albanian inscription engraved on top has been chosen as the historical emblem of the city.
A large piece of rock depicting two peacocks craving for a flower that is a source of life is kept at the Mingachevir history museum. Two phoenixes standing face to face with three poppy leaves (tulips) illustrate the merger of three Albanian tribes. Phoenixes were also accepted as a symbol of protection.
Two villages under this name were known until 1935. As one of them was in the ancient Arash region, it was called Arash Mingachevir, while the other one was near the railway station on the territory of Karabakh and was called Karabakh Mingachevir. It is believed that ancient Mingachevir was located at a distance of 18 km from the former Khaldan district centre, 5 km northwest of the present-day village of Mingachevir, near Qazanlidag and Qaradag, i.e. at the foot of Mount Bozdag on the right and left banks of the Kura. This is proved by jugs and barrow-like graves discovered in the area during archaeological excavations.
The age of this city, which is located on the right and left banks of the Kura River at the foot of Qazanli and Qaradag, is more than 4,500 years. The ruins of medieval Mingachevir are located south of the city and north of the present-day village of Huruushagi. It was known as a very wealthy village in the 17th century. Silk-spinning and textile tools were used here. The village had a bath and a caravanserai. In the 18th century, the Kura burst its banks and flooded the village. The territory of the present-day village of Mingachevir, which is located on the left bank, is relatively intact.
The well-known archaeologist and scientist, Rashid Goyushov, recorded that among Albania’s urban settlements, Mingachevir took a special place. In his opinion, material-cultural monuments found on the right bank of the Kura River in the territory of Qazanlidag prove that this place was inhabited in the 7th-1st centuries BC.
When Ptolemy drew the map of the ancient Albanian state in the second century BC, he named a number of ancient settlements here – Samukh – Samonis and Ocak – Osika. After Sassanid rule and the Arab occupation of Albania, it went into decline as a settlement once and for all.
The 17th century famous Turkish traveller, Evliya Celebi, recorded that a settlement called Mingachevir was located on the right bank of the Kura near Mount Bozdag. He wrote that this area had temples, baths, silk and threat-producing tools and a textile industry and that a local bridge helped maintain trade relations between Azerbaijan and Middle Eastern countries.
The remains of this ancient bridge were discovered during construction work several years ago in the Kura valley near the Sea of Mingachevir. The city was repeatedly destroyed as Kura burst its banks. In fact, it does not look that way at first sight, because the Kura is not so clear, blue-green, more transparent and pacific than anywhere else. The river that goes through the city divides it into two parts – the right bank and the left bank. Until the middle of the past century, the Kura passed through a different area. Its water was always gray, turbid and noisy. That why it was called deli Kur (Mad Kura).
The Kura River
It is the biggest river in the Caucasus. Its length if 1,515 km. It begins on Mount Kizilgedik in Turkey. Its length is 200 km in Turkey, 335 km in Georgia and 980 km in Azerbaijan. It flows into the Caspian Sea. In spring and summer, snow and rains cause the river to burst its banks, which is why districts like Salyan, Zardab and Neftchala, which are situated below the sea level, always remain under water.
This river has more than 12 names in Arabic, Persian and Russian: Kor, Kir, Kuar, Kvar, Kurush, Kurus, Kiri, Al-Kurra, Kura, etc. However, the origin of the word should be sought in the ancient language of the Albanians who are the most ancient inhabitants of Azerbaijan. The place name is explained as meaning restive, naughty, spoilt and capricious. The word Kura is related to a certain ethnic group.
Ancient Greek, Latin, Arab, Persian, Turkish, Armenian and Georgian sources call the river Kor, Kur, Kir, Al-Kur and Mtkuari. In Sumerian mythology, the God of Land Enlil landed on a mountain whose peak hit the sky for the first time, which is why its temple in Nippur was called “Mountain House” (s-kur). The word Kur means a “divine” and holy creature and high in the Sumerian, Egyptian and Greek languages. Since Azerbaijan was home to fire worshipping, the word Kur was related to fire. It also implied a holy and crazy river.
Hydroelectric Power Station
The largest hydroelectric power station on the Kura River is in Mingachevir. The sand dam that was built to this end was regarded as the highest in Europe. Its height is 76 meters and length 1,800 meters. It was built at a pace that was unprecedented in the history of the Soviet state in 1948-52. Although the Soviet Cabinet of Ministers adopted a decision in 1941 to build a hydroelectric power station in the Mingachevir water basin, this project was left incomplete after the outbreak of the Second World War. The project resumed on 31 December 1945. In 1955, the construction of the Mingachevir hydroelectric power station was completed in full. The biggest thermal power plant in the South Caucasus was built here in 1981. For this reason, Mingachevir was known as “a city of light”. It supplies power to many parts of the country, as well as South Caucasus republics.
Residents of Mingachevir who call the water reservoir a sea are proud of their beaches. The artificial sand that was delivered to the coast from other places in Soviet times prompts all people to come here in summer. In other words, city residents who are tired of summer heat go either to the sea or to the Kura River relying on their ability of swim.
Mingachevir used to be one of the biggest Olympic rowing centres in the Soviet Union. The rowing base received 45,000 tourists every year. It was one of the main bases where professional sportsmen from the Soviet Union and socialist Eastern European states trained. When foreigners came here, they engaged in petty trade as well. At the time of economic stagnation when shop counters were empty, they brought jeans, textile and knitted cloths, sunglasses and other commodities that were in short supply and sold them at a very high price. The tourist sector began to develop thanks to the excursion bureaus that opened in Mingachevir in 1972. The area became even more popular as it was situated on the seafront and river bank.
Fish and crabs
The fact that Mingachevir was a seafront city turned it into a fishing paradise. Fish caught in the Kura and the Sea of Mingachevir have always been popular. Among them, the Shahmayi fish stands out for its taste. You can try local fish at restaurants working along the coast. During the crab season, amateurs stand in a line along the bank of the Kura and catch crabs. For their size and taste, Mingachevir crabs are on the list of choice delicatessens. Apart from that, it is possible to hunt water and swamp birds and beavers here. Those who love fish, crabs and water birds should definitely know about Mingachevir.