Zagatala

The world’s most aromatic tobacco is said to be growing here. The home of roses, Zaqatala is known for its plane-trees. The 750-year-old plane-trees in its central park are a historic symbol of the town. Hazel-nut gardens are all over the place.

Hazel-nuts

Hazel-nuts, considered to be the main source of income here, are the biggest asset. There are gardens covering 9,000 hectares. The local nut factory produces 3,000 shelled nuts every year. Anywhere you go you can see signs saying “collection of hazel-nuts”. The nuts collected by such stations are exported, can hardly be found in the local market and are very expensive.

The roads leading from Shaki and Gakh to Zaqatala are suggestive of the impressions lying ahead. The beautiful journey has attracted travelers since the early 20th century. The Zaqatala roundabout was an important link on the well-known Tbilisi-Nukha-Shamakhi-Baku trade route. The construction of the Zaqatala road started in 1867. In 1909, travelers wrote a lot about the 68-milestone Nukha-Zaqatala road lined on both sides with hazel-nuts, walnuts and fruit-trees, and even more beautiful Zaqatala-Laqodexi road. Zaqatala was an administrative center which started developing in the mid-19th century and received the status of a town in 1850.

Note

The distance from Baku to Zaqatala is 450 km. Zaqatala is located in the north-west of Azerbaijan on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus range, on the Yevlakh-Balakan highway in the Qanix-Ayrichay valley. Placed 535 m above sea level, the town was set up on the banks of the Tala river. It is crossed by seven rivers: Qanix (Alazan), Tala, Katex, Muxax, Bakmaz, etc. The highest point is the Quton summit (3648 m). It borders on Dagestan in the north and on Georgia in the south. Its mountainous and plain territory covers 1348 sq. km. The climate in the plain is mild, while in the mountains cold and humid. Half of the district is covered with mountain forests. The climate is conducive to establishing mountain resorts here.

Mineral springs

These are mostly sulfurous water springs. The Qosabulaq in Maqov, Bugdaliq in Aliabad, the sulfurous Kukurdlu spring in Sabuncu village, the Bitdili iodine water spring in Yuxari Cardaxlar, the Isitma spring in Mamrux, Hamam in Qimir, the Qandax artesian spring, just to name a few.

ZagatalaZaqatala State Nature Reserve

It was established on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus in Zaqatala and Balakan Districts in 1929. It is the first reserve in the Caucasus intended to protect the local flora and fauna. It is 600-3600 meters above sea level, while alpine meadows start from an altitude of 2400 meters. Covering 24,000 hectares, it has over 800 plant, 32 mammal and 90 migrant bird species. Twelve plant species are included on the Red Book. With numerous fortresses and waterfalls, the reserve has ideal conditions for eco-tourism. When walking or riding a horse along tourist routes, one can take pictures and film animals and birds. There are tents for people to spend a night or two here. Hunting of pheasants, waterfowl, boars, hares, etc. is possible. One can also sledge in the Qas village in winter. There are several domestic tourism routes in Zaqatala, enabling proper familiarization with the district.

Lazzat-Car-Shamilyovka

This is the most popular tourist route. Its destination, described by local people Shamilyovka, is the Shamil fortress. This defensive fortress, located on a mountain top in a thick forest, can only be reached on foot or on horseback. It takes 3-4 hours to reach it on horseback and a full day on foot. The fortress was one of Sheikh Shamil’s shelters during his fight against Russian occupation.

Car village

Located only 11 km from the center, this village was Zaqatala’s main historical center. Subsequently the district center was moved to the present Zaqatala District. It is situated at the foot of the Great Caucasus range and has a Muslim Avar population. The village has many historical monuments, including the bust of Sheikh Shamil. The 18th century Car mosque was a religious and political center. Some Car and Balakan community leaders, fighting against the Russian and Persian occupation, were based here. The Car and Tala villages are older than the town. 300 years ago they were part of the Ilisu sultanate and fought against Nadir Shah in the first half of the 18th century. In 1735, Nadir Shah imposed extremely high taxes on the recalcitrant people, thus provoking an uprising. He then sent a punitive unit to the region, ruined the place but never managed to subdue the villagers.

Cingoz fortress (18th century)

It is also called the Chingiz fortress located in the middle of a hazel-nut garden outside Car resident Ibrahim’s house. Unlike other places, there are many historical monuments outside private homes in the Zaqatala-Balakan region. The rectangular fortress is attributed to times when firearms were not invented yet. The Arab inscription on the 20-25-meter defensive wall of the fortress indicates the 18th century. Starting from the late 16th century, the frequent changes of Ottoman and Safavid rules were prompting people to stage numerous rebellions. The 1578 Qanix battle between the Ottomans and the Safavids took place on the Qanix river. After this historic event, which ended in the Ottoman victory, Ottoman Turks established control over the region. Some religious rituals in the Balakan-Zaqatala region, especially the gatherings conducted in honor of the prophet, have a lot in common. Poems by Yunus Emre are still recited on this occasion.

ZagatalaLazzat

This is the name of Zaqatala’s most popular recreation center. Its name is self-explanatory (enjoyment in Azeri). Located 4 km from the district center in the Car village, it was established on the Zilban river and has existed since 1986. Fresh air, wonderful views and the rapid river make the place very special. It is extremely enjoyable to have a meal in the shade of a centennial tree and watch the surroundings. Hunting of mountain goats is an option. Dishes of the Azerbaijani, Dagestani and Georgian cuisine are widely cooked here. All are delicious, but there is one you can’t miss.

Lazzat dovrasi

First a chicken is boiled with an onion. Afterwards, the chicken meat is grazed from bones, the onion chopped, a spoon of a garlic and the Lazzat cherry plum sauce poured over it with 2-3 spoons of vegetable oil, and mixed up. Lazzat is a specific sauce made of different plants, peppers and spices from the surrounding forests and mountains. Its ingredients are kept secret. Then local cooks make the Surhullu, place everything on a broad plate and mix it up. The final product is spicy and somewhat sour pasta with chicken. There are many enjoyable places in Zaqatala, one of which is in the Makov village.

Trout center

It has operated since 1978 and is also called “a fishing recreation center”. Trout are cultivated here. The fish lives only in fresh waters, is very tasty and expensive. Growing in special pools, trout is subsequently sent to different markets. The center is located in a green park with a plethora of trees and roses. A hotel with luxury suites has been built here.

Place-name

There are different legends about the etymology of Zaqatala. Local people say it means the Zaki tala (plain). A man called Zakariyya is said to have cleared the forest and built himself a house here. The place was therefore called Zakari tala, Zakirtala and eventually Zaqatala. The name of Zaqatala is a changed version of Sakatala, i.e. Sac plain. In the early 7th century B.C., the Sac tribes reached Middle Asia through Kimmer-Skit mountains and settled down in Albania. Their territory stretched from the right bank of the Kura to the foot of the Caucasus mountains. The name consists of two bases: zaqa and tala. Zaqa is derived from the word Saka, or Sacs. Therefore, Zaqatala is not Zakir’s, but Sac plain.

ZagatalaHistory

There are historical and archeological monuments in Zaqatala confirming that the area has been inhabited for three millennia. Archeologists have discovered the Yalovlu hill located in the Alazan river valley and attributed to the 3rd-1st centuries B.C. Muganli village farmers have also discovered hatchets in the form of horse teeth, earthenware pots and child graves in the field. Zaqatala was located in the west of the Caucasian Albania, which adopted Christianity as its official religion in the first years Anno Domini. Therefore, the district has numerous Christian architectural monuments from that period. Many Christian temples are scattered on a mountain area between Zaqatala and Gakh on the slopes of the trapezoidal Armatay mountain.

Historical monuments

There are numerous fortresses, defense boundaries, sepulchers, temples, houses, workshops, mosques and minarets from early Anno Domini and about 100 state-protected monuments in the district. Also, there are more than 10 Alban temples in Zaqatala villages attributed to the 5-6th centuries.

Alban house

These ancient Alban monuments located in Mamrux, Pasan, Muxax villages and looking the same were studied by scientists in 1974-84. The temples are believed to have been built in honor of the holy three – Mitra, Ahuramazda andvə Anahida, who symbolized faith in the Sky, Sun and Moon. Prior to Islam, the local population worshipped the Moon, the Sun and Christianity.

Pasan village

It is a remote and small village commanding wonderful views. Those unfamiliar with the local forests may spend hours looking for the Alban house to the accompaniment of birds singing. It has one cell. This historical monument is believed to have been an Albanian fortress or chapel in the 5-7th centuries.

Mamrux village

This picturesque mountain village in the forest 23 km east of Zaqatala is inhabited by Sakhurs. Most Sakhurs are fair-haired, tall and white-faced people. There is a saying about their hospitability: “There is no home without a samovar and guests.” Whatever house you go to, you will be treated to a meal. One of Zaqatala’s most ancient villages, Mamrux has an 18th century bridge, a mosque and a 5th century Alban house. The Mamrux temple is said to have been built in honor of Selene, a goddess of the Moon.

Muxax village

It is located 12 km from Zaqatala on the right bank of the Muxax river. It has a population of 8,000 Azerbaijanis mainly engaged in farming, tobacco-growing, cultivation of hazel-nuts, vegetables, fishing and cattle-breeding. It is one of the “anti-stress” villages. Its best-known historical monument is an Alban house deep in the woods and a 19th century Cuma mosque.

ZagatalaMosques

Zaqatala has the highest number of mosques in Azerbaijan’s north-east – 40. Most have no minarets. Many mosques were knocked down in the communist time. Village mosques are built in the national architectural style. The central mosque commissioned in 1998-2002 was built in the Ottoman Turkish style by Adem Elmas from Turkey’s Giresun region. The 19th century Cuma mosque in Asagi Tala used to be the biggest in the Caucasus. Covering 20 hectares, the mosque can accommodate 2500 people at a time. The money for the construction of the mosque was donated by well-known philanthropist Hajı Zeynalabdin Tagiyev.

Yuxari Cardaxlar village

It is 14 km north-east of Zaqatala. In the north, it borders on the Greater Caucasus, while in the south on the Muxax village. Yuxari Cardaxlar-Muxax is one of Zaqatala’s popular travel routes. There is a medieval Suayi fortress here, also called the Tower. It used to be a watchman’s station. The village was part of a caravan route and is said to have been used as a lighthouse. The place is worth visiting because of its beauty, panoramic views, monuments and hospitality. The village’s Avar population is mainly into farming, tobacco-growing, cultivation of hazel-nuts, gardening and cattle-breeding. Every house has a nuts garden. Visitors are always treated to hazel-nuts and given a handful to take home. There are good conditions for eco-tourism. The Bitdili river is said to have trout, while the forest is full of fruit and berries. The flowers, birds and water springs make the place ideal for picnics. The local must-see is a historical monument on a mountain top – a monument-like Pari Fortress made of stone.

Pari fortress (4-6th centuries)

Despite its name, it is a Zoroastrian temple. It is a strategic military site. Since the roads to the fortress are completely destroyed, it is inaccessible. Villagers say that one can only approach it by going up the hill for 45 mountains. It is impossible to enter it. The fortress is shrouded in numerous legends. Here is one by Iosif Gallakhov from a 1889 book “Caucasus names and descriptions”:

Legend

Conqueror of the whole world, Tamerlane once reached Azerbaijan. After facing stiff resistance, he mobilized his best commanders to subdue these lands. News about a beautiful and brave girl, who was one of those fighting against the occupiers, reached Tamerlane. In one of the fierce battles, the girl, called Pari, killed one of Tamerlane’s most trusted commanders with a sword. Infuriated by the news, Tamerlane ordered Pari to lay down arms and to marry him. Angered even more by Pari’s answer that “surrendering to an enemy is worse than dying”, Tamerlane ordered his commanders to be even more ruthless. Many people were killed, while Pari gradually reached the fortress but was already completely exhausted. Realizing that defeat was inevitable, she threw herself down from the fortress. After days of searching, Tamerlane’s soldiers discovered her body in the river. Tamerlane ordered to keep it in a tent for one night, while on the following day he left the place with his troops. It is said that when offered to attack the Caucasus again afterwards, he replied: “Even women fight there like men” and never set foot here again.

Qaladuzu park

A recreation park was set up in Qaladuzu in 1947. This is the highest location in Zaqatala. Covering 13 hectares, the park has 27 tree types. It is a popular recreation site with carrousels, monuments, tea-houses and restaurants. After Zaqatala became part of Russia in 1803, a cemetery of Russian officers serving here was established in Qaladuzu. There is also a big church and a fortress here.

ZagatalaZaqatala fortress

Russia, which has repeatedly attempted to seize the region in the early 19th century, suffered heavy human loss here. In 1804, ruthless and invincible Russian General Gulyakov was killed here. It was here that the wave of uprisings which engulfed all of the Russian empire in those days started. To prevent the rebellions, the Czar ordered to build a fortress to station troops in Zaqatala. The construction of the strategic fortress commenced in 1804 and finished in 1830. It covers an area of nine hectares, has three access gates and around 30 different buildings. It used to house a garrison equipped with cannons, headquarters and a treasury. The fortress was crucial in suppressing village uprisings and was one of Russia’s biggest fortifications in the South Caucasus. It was large enough to enable training, living and recreation of thousands of soldiers and officers. The Russians also built a church nearby. The fortress is now seen as a symbol of Russia’s policy of grab in the Caucasus. Mountain peoples revolting against it first attempted to seize the fortress. The Czarist regime imposed heavy taxes on the local population, causing it to stage rebellions in 1830, 1863 and 1864. Every rebellion led to some destruction of the fortress. In 1905, sailors from the Russian ship Potyomkin revolting against the oppression were exiled to the fortress. I would think this is a great place for an exile. Years later a film, Unbeaten Battalion, was shot here after the said developments. The fortress has recently been refurbished and still houses a unit of the interior troops. However, there are plans to convert the place into a tourist destination.

Population

Zaqatala is home to 22 ethnic minorities who follow their traditions, language and religion. There are Turks, Avars, Sakhurs, Lezgins, Meskhetian Turks, Ingiloys, etc. The Ingiloys make up the majority. According to the 1859-1871 record, of 11,000 Ingiloys 8,000 are Muslim, while the rest are Christian.

Ingiloys

They live in Gakh, Zaqatala and Balakan. The Ingiloys are Albania’s Turkic ethnicity speaking Georgian and Turkish languages. According to history sources, there were Gel tribes in the Alban state on ancient Azerbaijani territory. Ptolemy described the area inhabited by the Ingiloys as Gelda. The Gels are considered to be the ancestors of the present Ingiloys. In the 9th century, this region was home to the Lek, Gel, Lpin, Djibq and other tribes, who are seen as ancestors of the Turks, Ingiloys, Avars and Sakhurs inhabiting the north-west of the Caucasian Albania. The Georgian occupation of the 12th century forced most of these tribes to seek shelter in barely passable mountain crossings. Those subdued by Georgia were assimilated. Due to the growing power of the Georgian church, the Gels were heavily influenced by Georgian culture and gradually adopted the Georgian language. This Christian part is called the Ingiloys. A 19th century traveler wrote that although the Ingiloys have adopted the Georgian language and traditions, their lifestyle resembles that of the Tatars. In the 1860s, protests were staged against Czarist attempts to impose Christianity in the Alazan river valley, climaxing in an open rebellion in 1863. Subsequently, fed up with Czarist persecution, 40 activists from the Aliabad village moved to Osmanli. The Ingiloy migrants settled down in the Dagestan village of Adana province. Some of the Ingiloys living there now are Muslim, others Christian.

ZagatalaGels

Playing an important part in the ethnogeny of Azerbaijani people, Gels were ancient Alban residents. They are called Ingilo in Georgian and Yengiloy (new Gel) in Turkish, and inhabit some villages of Gakh, Zaqatala and Balakan. Most Yengiloys living in Balakan and Zaqatala are Muslims, while those in Gakh are Christian. The Ingiloys were not studied until the 19th century. Following Russia’s occupation of Balakan-Zaqatala region of Azerbaijan, information about them could only be found in Russian military reports after the 1830s, as they are described as Georgians converted to Islam. History sources suggest that Gels lived within Albanian boundaries starting from the 4th century B.C. Those living in present-day Georgia were assimilated by the Georgians in the 14th century, while those inhabiting Balakan-Zaqatala-Gakh were not because these territories were part of the Aggoyunlu and Garagoyunlu Turkic Muslim states in the 15th century. Despite falling under Georgian influence in the 17th century, the Yengiloys were returned to Azerbaijan after Shah Abbas’s march to the region and reverted to Islam. Hence the Turkish name of Yengiloy, i.e. new Gels. However, starting from 1850, some Yengiloys were heavily influenced by the Georgian church and adopted Christianity. The Avars call them Gelou, while the Sakhurs – Gelavu. The word Saingilo, meaning the Yengiloys’ motherland, emerged in the 18th century.

Aliabad village

Located 18 km from the district center, the village, established on an area of 6,000 hectares adjacent to the Zaqatala-Balakan highway, is home to 9,000 Ingiloys. Located on the Silk Way, the Askibazar market was one of the biggest in the East. Fairs are still organized here every week.

Mosul village

There are same-named cities in Iraq and Turkey. Zaqatala’s Mosul village is inhabited by Ingiloys. Local weddings are very interesting as the whole village joins in. There is no need for invitations. A tent is put up and tables laid with food. Men and women sit together, eat and dance. Local weddings resemble dance contests as people display the best of their dancing skill.

Shalakho

This is a men’s dance widespread at Caucasus weddings. Its history is quite interesting. In the past, gypsies would travel to villages and have a bear and a monkey with them to entertain local people. The gypsies played the tambourine to a monotonous melody, while the bear and money would jump, turn somersaults and dance. One gypsy would have a bundle of brushwood behind his back and often use the word Shala (brushwood) in the song. Hence the name Shalakho. The Shalakho dance is performed by 2-3 people at a time, but no-one’s dance is like another’s. This is mainly seen as a content of dancing skill.

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