When this district is mentioned, everyone thinks of one place: Chiraqqala. In fact, there are many things we do not know about Davachi.
Davachi is located 122 km north of Baku. The district has mainly a semi-desert and arid steppe climate and a moderate hot climate in the mountains. It is located on the northeastern slope of the Great Caucasus Mountains. In the east, the region borders on the Caspian Sea. The flat plains that begin from the sea gradually turn into hills and then forests, rocks and mountains. The total area of the woods is 21,500 ha. Davachi is known for its mineral waters and mud volcanoes. Oil has been discovered in the Zagli-Zeyva zone of the Davachi woods. It is possible to see oil wells along the road. There are two historical-archaeological reserves in the region.
The place called Keci Qayasi, which is located in the Zagli-Zeyva tourism zone, has a beautiful view. A river flows behind the steep rock, which is difficult to cross because of a thick forest. Since the area has a source of medicinal sulfur water, people come here for treatment and recreation. The area is called Keci Qayasi because it is inhabited by wild mountain goats.
Liman hunting club
The club is located on the Caspian Sea coast at a distance of 12 km from the district center. The area of 1,180 ha also has three lakes. The lakes are totally surrounded by reeds. It is possible to take a boat trip in this picturesque place. Liman actively works in autumn and winter. Throughout the year, the lake is inhabited by freshwater fish and sea fish during the spawning period. Hunting for birds begins in autumn when swans, geese, dicks and coots arrive at the lake. It is possible to learn some details of hunting from conversations with professional hunters at Liman. For example, it is necessary to go fishing early in the morning, because at this moment, fish gather on the surface of the water. The most delicious poultry is the coot. There are huts for hunters who want to stay here overnight.
Although the name Davachi is related to an animal, it is impossible to see a camel in the district nowadays. It is believed that it used to be the main station for camel caravans in the past. In ancient times, local residents kept and sold camels. Camel caravans set up camps here, sold weak and tired camels and continued their journey after recreation. Place-name
Qalaalti is located 1,000 meters above the sea level at the foothills of the Great Caucasus Mountains. Qalaalti, which opened in 1976, is one of the largest and most famous resorts in Azerbaijan. The mountain and sea air mix in this area, and there is no humidity here. It is surrounded by forests from all sides.
Treatment at the sanatorium is provided with natural waters extracted from the village of Qalaalti. This medicinal water is called Naftsu, that’s to say oil water. Naftsu has a strong smell and taste. The composition and quality of Qalaalti water is compared to water at the Ukrainian resort of Truskavets and Karlovi Vari in the Czech Republic.
Qalaalti has a urological sanatorium called Chiraqqala. This water treats mainly kidney problems and is regarded as good for those who suffer from metabolism problems, gastrointestinal and gall bladder diseases.
Qaynarca mud volcano
Qalaalti has mud volcanoes as well. The most famous one is the Qaynarca mud volcano. Qaynarca mud is ideal for the treatment of joints. At the same time, it smoothens and treats the skin. The mud is heated up to 45 degrees in greenhouses and spread all over the patient’s body. It is washed away an hour later. In this way, mud sessions continue for several days.
Qalaalti, which is located on the territory of the Chiraqqala reserve, derives its name from the fact that it is located underneath a historical castle. People who come here for holiday or treatment climb the mountain in order to see ancient Chiraqqala. The peak of the mountain provides a wonderful view of surrounding villages and valleys. It takes one day to climb and descend the castle. There are many perfect places for picnics in the mountains and in the woods. You can also try tea made from plants and grass at the tea house that is open only in summer near the castle.
Chiraqqala is the symbol of Davachi and can be seen from all parts of the district. There is no other monument like this in Azerbaijan. It is located about 20-25 km from the center on top of a steep rock. It is believed that Chiraqqala was built in the 5th-6th century and was used for defensive and reconnaissance purposes until the 18th century. Secret underground tunnels were built from the castle to the sea in the past. Chiraqqala was used to inform other castles and regions of Azerbaijan about enemy invasions. Chiraqqala received information mainly from Darband Castle through smoke. It was also one of the three large castles of the defensive line stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Great Caucasus Mountains and was used as a guard house for the Gilgilchay dam. The Gilgilchay dam and Besbarmaq Castle in Siyazan, Chiraqqala in Davachi and Darband Castle in Dagestan form a whole defensive complex that protected the northern borders of Caucasian Albania.
In the course of time, a great part of the dam collapsed. Chiraqqala, which has survived to date, was declared a state reserve in 2003.
The high mountain peak on which Chiraqqala is located is popularly known as Chiraqqaya. It seems that people gave each other information by making a bonfire on top of this mountain. Later, a big fortress was built on top of that mountain and the tradition of making bonfires on its highest tower, which survives to date, continued. For this reason, it has been called Chiraqqala since then.
Some of Davachi’s distant must-see villages are scattered around in boundless mountains and forests. One of them is located at a distance of 45 km from the district center.
Nohurlar village (45 km)
Nohurlar is an ancient village located 1,000 meters above the sea level. They say that it was built in the 16th century. Its previous name was Gomur. Then the village was renamed Nohurlar. Nohur is the name of a closed water pool here. It also means a lake. The village derives its name from nearby lakes. The area has seven beautiful mountain lakes. These are freshwater lakes that formed after a strong earthquake in the past. Locals call them miraculous mountain villages. Each of them has fresh water and different colors. It is dangerous to swim here as they are very deep and cold. Nohurlar is a tourist paradise. It is possible to try tea from plants that are good for blood pressure, kidneys, heart, head and stomach aches. According to the program to develop provinces launched by the communist leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1960s, the village population was totally resettled to the district center. Therefore, the village still has no social infrastructure. For this reason, no-one lives in the village. Villagers use this area as summer pastures and move here in summer. They prepare for winter and then leave the village after the onset of cold weather. We managed to establish contracts with the large village population. We wondered about the lifestyle in Nohurlar and visited homes. Homes in the village are built from stone and covered with wood. The interior is bleached with limestone. This creates a special smell inside the houses. Every house has two or three small rooms. Furniture is not used here. Instead, there are plenty of blankets, mattresses, pillows and mutakkas. There is no electricity in the village. Oil lamps are still being used here.
We noticed that the homes we visited offered a lot of dairy products and motal. The elder of one house was happy to share all tips about ways of making them with us.
Motal cheese has always been valued for its quality and taste. Here all guests are definitely treated to motal cheese, butter and pita. A sheepskin container (motal) is filled with white cheese and shor and tightly closed. The motal is occasionally ventilated for two months to prevent mould. Motal cheese never gets spoilt. It is possible to keep it inside the container for one year. The main secret of the sheepskin container with a capacity of 15, 20 and 25 kg is that it is airproof. Not everyone can make it because it is a very delicate job. The main secret is the skin. Good cheese requires a good skin container. In this regard, there is a very funny saying
“A wife is protected by her husband and cheese by skin” Proverb
Motal is a special container made from sheep or goat skin. An animal is totally shaved and skinned and the skin is totally separated from the flesh from with a special knife. Then, the skin is cleaned, turned upside down, salted and left to dry. The cheese is kept on the external hairy surface of the motal.
Visitors to the village are definitely treated to cream. They first milk a cow and boil the milk. After that, the milk is poured into a wide and deep vessel and left in the vessel for one day. The next day, they collect the cream from the surface of the milk. This is called qaymaq. The rest of the milk is used to make cheese. Cream is very high-calorie food and is served with honey and pita in the mornings.
In general, almost all the food made in mountain villages is high-calorie food, but none of the locals is complaining about being overweight. The villagers explain this by hard physical work.
Another must-see historical site in Davachi is situated on the Davachi-Khachmaz road.
Ruins of Sabran
There are ruins of an ancient city near the village of Sahnazarli. As a result of archaeological excavations carried out on the bank of the Sabran River in 1979-1989, the ruins of the ancient city of Sabran with an area of 450 square kilometers were discovered. The historical city, which was founded between Europe and Asia along the Caspian Sea coast, is now a museum.
Sabran is a clean city and is located near the sea. We arrived at a port on the coast there.”
Adam Oleari, a German traveller (16th century)
Sabran was built by the Sassanid Shah Khosrov Anushiravan (531-579) in the 6th century and was occupied by Arabs in the 7th century. In the 9th-10th centuries, the city turned into a political-administrative, trade, crafts and cultural center. In the 10th-12th centuries, it was one of the main political centers of the Shirvanshah state. The family graveyard and central prisons of Shirvanshah rulers were situated here. According to written sources, in Sabran, Shirvanshah Ibrahim gave a big banquet in honour of Tamerlane, who defeated the Golden Horde Khan Tokhtamysh.
The Mongol invasions and Ottoman raids dealt a serious blow to Sabran’s economy. During the decline of the Safavid state, the city became a small settlement. During the turmoil and infighting in the country in the early 18th century, Sabran went into decline and gradually turned into ruins.
“Sabran is regarded as the second city after Tabriz. The city has 70 streets and the Tokmaq Khan, Afshar Khan and Uzun Hasan mosques. The walls of the mosques are decorated with delicate ornaments of different colors. The patterns on the marble astonish even experienced architects. This place has clear air and fresh water.”
The Turkish historical and traveller, Evliya Celebi, Sabran, 1647
The ethnic composition of the city’s population was diverse. Although most of the population were Muslims, there were also Christians and Jews here. The city population was engaged in the production of ceramics. Pottery workshops have been found under the ruins of Sabran. Azerbaijan’s first sewerage system was built in Sabran in the 9th century. The covered network built from stone and bricks connected the central street to the river. In the 11th-12th centuries, spring water was supplied to the city by special pipes from a distance of 14 km. Sabran was laid out with mansions built from raw bricks. In medieval Azerbaijan, the first street was built in Sabran. Ovens in the bakers’ street are still intact. One of the largest mints in the east was located in Sabran. Various metal coins found during excavations show that copper production, jeweller’s art and weapon-making were developed in the city in the Middle Ages.
There are various opinions about the etymology of the word Sabran. Since the city had a very favourable geographical position and was situated on maritime and land trade routes, it was a stopping station for camel caravans. Shab means a night and Ran means a place. It is believed that it meant overnight stay and a night-time caravanserai. It is more convincing that the name of the city is related to the Sabir tribe of Turkic origin. It was called Sabiran, i.e. the land of Sabirs in honour of the Sabir clan of Hun origin (5th century). Then it was spelt as Sabran.
In order to familiarize ourselves more closely with Davachi, we asked our guides what other places we could see there. They replied that we should definitely visit a village which was home to some personalities who left their mark on Azerbaijan’s history. The issue is about Qazanfar Musabayov, a doctor and chairman of the presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Azerbaijan SSR, Ayna Sultanova, who was justice minister of the Azerbaijan SSR, and the composer Tofiq Quliyev.
Pirabadil is a mountain village located at a height of 2,000 meters at a distance of 20 km from Davachi. In the past, Pir Badil, the chieftain of a tribe that migrated from the Syrian city of Sham in order to promote Islam here and his family settled in this village. The place-name is linked to this name. There are many interesting places to see in Pirabadil. The area is notable for its rivers, thick forests, cold springs, large orchards and clear and arid air. The first secular Russian-Tatar school in the former Guba district and the first hospital of the northern region were also opened in this village. The Musabayovs, aristocrats of the Guba province who were originally from Pirabadil, played a great role in this. There is Qazanfar Musabayov’s home museum in the village. The building of the museum was built in 1862 and was the personal property of the Musabayovs. For its structure, it is different from other houses, because it was designed by European architects.
The village has maintained its originality with its brick houses, girls going for water with jars on their heads and its loyalty to the old lifestyle. Doors are not locked in Pirabadil. It is unacceptable to build fences around courtyards and keep the door closed to visitors here. Local elders wisely say:
“Those who come to our house are guests from God. All people are guests in this world. What is eternal is land. Everyone should realize that they are guests and respect the host and land. In that case, purity will be maintained and nature will be more generous.”
Pirabadil carpets have gained fame for their colors, elegance and fineness of patterns. The most popular motives are ram horns and flowery patterns. The nature of the region and plants and animals are reflected in the language of patterns on the Pirabadil carpet. None of these carpets, woven by local carpet-weavers, repeats another. Every homemade carpet is exclusive, because every carpet is totally a product of the person who wove it. Herat carpets are also woven in the village. They are popularly known as “Urusiyyat”. In the dialect of village women, the word Russia is pronounced as “Rusiyat” or “Urset”. These carpets have an interesting story.
In 1913, an arts exhibition was held in the capital of tsarist Russia, St Petersburg. One of Pirabadil’s famous artists, Munavvar Afandiyeva, was requested to weave a carpet that would be put up at the exhibition. Her carpet was well-liked at the exhibition and she was invited to various exhibitions and fairs. Since then, the carpet has been called “Urusiyyat”.
In fact, the composition of the Herat Pirabadil carpet is a local version of the carpet woven in the Afghan city of Herat. Despite that, Herat Pirabadil is different for its form and colors.
When you talk about carpets, you also become aware of the village lifestyle. In summer, they shave animals and collect wool. Then, they spin the wool, produce thread and dye it with plant roots picked in nearby mountains and forests. Then they weave a carpet. This is the main business for village women in long winters. Girls start to weave carpets for their dowry from childhood.
Residents of Pirabadil are hospitable. They are very kind to visitors to the village. We saw so much fuss in the place where we stayed. Anxious women hurried to do their cooking. We saw that they were making churn butter from sour clotted milk. We said hello. They invited us to try buttermilk and hot flat bread with churn butter. We learnt that Pirabadil flat bread is famous for its standard small size and thinness. It did not take us long to realize that real preparations for a dinner in our honour were underway in the village. We were very embarrassed. But we accepted the offer in order not to upset anyone and closely watched the whole process in the kitchen. One dish drew my attention during the dinner. This dish, which I had never seen anywhere before, is definitely made for all dear guests who visit Pirabadil.
Noodles made from dough are called atra. This pilaff is made from lentil, rice and noodles. The noodles are cut first and dried for some time under the open sky. The rice and lentil are dipped into cold water separately. Then they are placed in boiling water. Five minutes later, they are filtered. After being filtered, the rice, lentil and noodles are mixed and placed in a copper kettle. The dish is brewed on the stove to become more delicious. After an hour of brewing, the finished food is placed in a wide and deep dish. When they serve it, they definitely put melted churn butter in glasses next to it. Residents of Pirabadil like to eat oily pilaff.
After conversion to Islam, relations with the Muslim world expanded. In the 9th-11th centuries, the number of cities that were centers of science and culture increased. The present-day Davachi district, which was densely populated at the time, had centers of trade and craftsmanship other than Sabran. The city of Xursan had a special role among them. Xursan (Xors, Xirs) was an ancient fortress and a large historical province in Caucasian Albania. The Xursan Kingdom was a small feudal state in Azerbaijan in the early Middle Ages.
One of the settlements in this historical territory is the village of Dagbilici which stretched as far as the peak of Mount Pirambar. Since it was founded at an ancient Muslim cemetery, graves are founded everywhere. In fact, the cemetery is much larger and wider than the territory of the village. This shows that there used to be a large settlement here before. No archaeological research has been carried out here. The village has a beautiful view. Carpet-weaving is very common here. The village lives with its customs and traditions.
There is a folklore group of village residents called Xnayaxdi here. Despite the great amount of agricultural work, they maintain this ancient tradition without any material interest and stage the Xnayaxdi show. In fact, this folklore game is a dramatized version of the Xnayaxdi tradition that is common in the village and many parts of Azerbaijan.
According to tradition, the Xnayaxdi ceremony is held before a wedding. This is the last night a girl spends in her father’s house and is a kind of farewell ceremony. Only women participate in the ceremony. The girls’ friends won’t leave her alone. They sit together all night until the morning. The groom’s family traditionally sends the girl’s wedding dress, jewels, sweets, a lamp, a mirror and henna so that she prepares for the wedding. The henna is cooked and prepared. All the girls at the ceremony spread the henna on their hands. This henna remains on their hands for several hours. The girls chat, joke, dance and have fun until dawn. After than, they wash the henna away and start preparing the bride. They dress her and cover her head up so that no-one can see her. Only on the wedding night, can the groom see the girl’s face. Xnayaxdi is the last night a girl spends with her family, neighbours and friends in her father’s house.