Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan: A Journey In The Land Of Shah Ismayil – OpEd
By Peter Tase
The Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan exemplifies a series of important aspects in the cultural assets, archeological monuments and historical peculiarities of the Republic of Azerbaijan, during the XI-XVIII centuries.
The wealth of Nakhchivan’s cultural monuments established during the XI – XVII Centuries is a testimony of the great political, commercial and cultural influence that this Caucasian territory, as a whole, has garnered and exerted during the medieval history of Azerbaijan. Some of these landmark monuments are: Kharabashahar; Khinjab Cemetery; Astabad Necropolis; Aza Bridge; Ganza Cemetery; Kharaba Caravansary.
The medieval settlement of Kharabashahar was established in the XII Century and continued to be a prominent commercial center through the XVII Century. It is located nearby Garachug Village, in the Region of Babek and it covers a territory of approximately 40 acres.
In the early 1960s, Azerbaijani and international archeologists have discovered in this historical settlement a series of unique remnants of brick walls, metal agricultural items (horseshoes, knifes and other agricultural tools). Moreover they have found remnants of craftsmen, smith house, home residues and economic items, coins of Elkhani, decorative instruments, glazed and unglazed clay pots, colored glass, and remnants of animal skin, tree logs, bones and fabric residues. The unearthed clay pieces are very similar to medieval ceramics and artifacts that were found in Iran and in the Near East, and belong to the same period.
Another emblematic late medieval cultural site is the Khinjab Cemetery, an archeological monument atop the hill and behind Khinjab Village, located in the Region of Kangarli. Although the archeological features above ground and graves have been partially lost the head stones of most graves are present until today. On the centuries old head stones tourists will find inscriptions in Arabic. On some graves there are square shaped stone masses and a significant number of grave stone pieces. In 2006, during a number of investigations and research, there was discovered a very rare grave tomb, named by the local people as the “attack stone.” On this landmark there are observed some inscriptions written in Arabic and a few other unique descriptions. Today at the cemetery, visitors will appreciate various pieces of glazed and unglazed pottery and plates. Based on the archeological and cultural artifacts and chest stones located on most of the graves; the Khinjab Cemetery dates back in the XVI Century. Sections of this cemetery have also been used during the XX Century.
Another cemetery that dates back to the Middle Ages (12-17 centuries) is the Astabad Necropolis, located near Astabad, Nakhchivan City. The human skeletons, buried on a meticulous Muslim tradition, have been discovered on this necropolis. On some graves there were observed stone carvings, monuments and ram carvings on some of the stone plates. The majority of the grave stones have fallen down and destroyed, however on some of them inscriptions in Arabic graphics are observed. Immediately after the construction of the Araz water reservoir, this historic site has been covered by water.
The architectural monument of Aza Bridge is located over the Gilanchay River in Aza Village, in the Region of Ordubad. The bridge connects the villages of Aza and Darkandi. It has a width of 3.5 meters and 46 pagan meters in length and has five arches. It is constructed with reddish color local mountainous stones.
Wave Cutters are implanted on four of the bridge spans, in order to smooth the activity of the many trade caravans that were moving from east to west through the Silk Road. The Aza Bridge was constructed over the period of Shah Ismayil (1587-1629), the Safavid leader in a territory that was crucial to the trade caravans that connected the distant markets of India and China with the Black Sea countries and throughout European territories. It is necessary to emphasize that all of the trade caravans promoted the local products of Nakhchivan in the popular markets of Europe, local products including: dry fruits, handicraft products, silk garments; all of these were exported towards Western Europe. The Region of Ordubad is among the world’s top region in the production of silk costumes and clothing.
History has been merciless with this part of Azerbaijan, as a result of destructive historic events and several natural disasters; the bridge has been destroyed and restored a few times. In 1977 the flood waters destroyed parts of this bridge and the cultural monument was entirely reconstructed.
It is impressive to see that today’s Nakhchivani people use this bridge to transport goods and commodities from Nakhchivan City and from Ordubad Region travel to the Aza village. This bridge was originally built during the XVII Century.
The Region of Ordubad is home of the Ganza Cemetery, this archeological monument in the center of Ganza, features most of the graves with head stones that have remain above soil since medieval times.
The cemetery consists of Muslim graves that are directed from East to West. Around a few graves there are square shaped stones that are lying and on some others there are small oval shapes. Head stones of some graves were hewed and prepared from green color stones that are a characteristic from the Ordubad region.
Tourists will appreciate the stone plaques that are square shaped and have been completed with an arch shaped ending. On these head stones there are inscriptions written in Arabic. The inscriptions are from the 16th-17th centuries. According to the local people this area of the cemetery belonged to Haji Huseyngulu and he had donated this land parcel for the village cemetery. During the repeated investigations there were found glazed and unglazed ceramic products from the Middle Ages. As a result scholars have found traces that confirm the organization of XV Century funeral ceremonies to be conducted in this cemetery.
The Region of Kangarly is well known for its Kharaba Caravansary, an archeological monument located nearby the Village of Khok, its territory extends up to two acres. There have been found a large number of burned bricks which shows that once upon a time these materials were used for construction works. At the present visitors will find construction places with square shaped holes and little hills of bricks. According to the construction residues and remnants it is evident that these caravansary buildings have consisted of square shaped constructions built close to one another. Moreover, the over ground materials consist of mainly glazed and unglazed pink color ceramic pieces; which are a prominent feature of the Late Middle Ages. It is well determined that, based on the archeological materials found, these remnants of the Kharaba Caravansary are related and have inherited an extensive commercial movement during the XIV – XVIII Centuries.
All of these cultural and archeological monuments of Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan, have played an important role to strengthen and preserve the past cultural characteristics that continue to be evident and exert influence in the present environment of the Azerbaijani society.