Ganja: the charm of a brick town

Baku, July 11, AZERTAC

Ganja has been repeatedly tested by fate, becoming the object of barbaric raids by foreign invaders or being in the epicenter of a devastating earthquake. But, contrary to all adversity, the city again and again revived in an even more beautiful appearance. And today, Ganja is among the three largest, by size of territory and population, cities of Azerbaijan, being one of the industrial, scientific and cultural centers of the country. Along with its economic significance, Ganja and its environs are famous for their rich historical and natural heritage, which makes the city the largest tourist center of Azerbaijan. Today, the birthplace of the famous poet Nizami - Ganja, continues to attract travelers from all over the world.

Ancient treasure and creative earthquake

Ganja is an ancient city in the West of Azerbaijan, which played a large role in the history of the whole country. There are different points of view about the history of Ganja. Some relate the foundation of the city to the period BC, others - to the beginning of the Middle Ages. Finally, thanks to the research conducted not so long ago, it was established that Ganja has existed for more than 4 millennia! Exhibits from the repositories of the city museum of local lore helped to make this amazing discovery. Among them are handicrafts, samples of local ancient ceramics, precious stones, which were discovered in the valley of the Ganja-chai river. All these artifacts in 2013 were sent for analysis to the famous Library of Alexandria and the Archaeological Center of Egypt. Shortly before, experts from the Smithsonian Institution of the USA tried to determine the age of the ancient settlement of Ganja.

As a result of all the research conducted by archaeologists, it was established that the first urban settlement on the territory of modern Ganja was built at least 4 thousand years ago. All these discoveries are sensational, since it was recently considered that the age of Ganja does not exceed 2500 years.

According to legend, Ganja was founded on the place where a certain Mazyad traveled through these lands discovered countless treasures - huge cauldrons filled with gold and precious stones. It is said that the city received its name in honor of this extraordinary find: translated from Persian, “Ganja” means “treasury”.

For centuries, Ganja was on the famous Silk Road, and Ganja silk, highly valued in the markets of neighboring states and the Middle East. Here, at the intersection of caravan roads, travelers stopped, exchanging not only goods, but also new cultural traditions. It is not by chance that the city became the birthplace of such progressive figures of its time as the greatest poet of the medieval East, Nizami Ganjavi, the first eastern woman - a chess player and poet Mehseti Ganjavi and others.

On September 25, 1139, an enormous earthquake occurred near Ganja, as a result of which the city was destroyed, and in its vicinity eight beautiful lakes were formed, one of which is the pearl of Azerbaijan, the amazingly beautiful Goygol lake. This lake is currently located on the territory of the National Park of the same name and is one of the most picturesque places in our country.

After the earthquake, 7 km from the destroyed city, a new one was built. And the XII-XIII centuries can rightly be considered the heyday of Ganja - the second capital of the state of Atabeks.

Modern Ganja has its own unique look. Like Baku, this city consists of two parts: more ancient, which includes small houses and narrow streets. And the new part, where you can see large buildings, architectural structures of past centuries, received a second wind after restoration, wide avenues, hotels, parks, etc.

It’s interesting that, the overwhelming majority of historic buildings here were built of burnt bricks, which is why Ganja is often called the “brick city”. In order to preserve the original appearance of the city, many modern buildings are also faced with red brick.

Talented Vizier and the Underground Hermitage

Perhaps the main Ganja historical ensemble can be called an architectural complex of the XVII century, created by the architect and vizier of Shah Abbas - Sheikh Bahauddin, which includes the Juma mosque (mosque of Shah Abbas), Chekyak-Hamam (medieval bath) and caravanserai of Shah Abbas.

Initially in 1606, during the reign and on behalf of Shah Abbas I, a mosque was built. It is often called “the Mosque of Shah Abbas”. Sheikh Bahauddin Mohammed Amil, a direct descendant of Nizami, was an excellent astronomer. He applied his knowledge in the construction of a mosque: at exactly noon, the shadow that falls on the western wall of the building disappears. This indicated to the faithful that the time of the midday prayer had come. Until now, Ganja residents are checking time by the vanishing shadow - absolute accuracy. By the way, a madrasah was functioning at the mosque for a long time, in which the famous Azerbaijani poet and scholar Mirza Shafi Vazeh taught calligraphy.

Some time after the construction of the Juma mosque, Sheikh Bahauddin, in the same 1606, built a bath next to it - Chokek Hamam, whose main purpose was to help Muslims in maintaining ritual purity. The bath was heated with wood, in the basement there were two steam boilers. Steam was fed into the rooms through ceramic pipes laid in the walls and floor of the bath, evenly circulated and heated the entire room. This unique system worked perfectly for almost 400 years until 1963. And all these years, the bath was very popular among the townspeople.

It is impossible, being in Ganja not to visit the museum of the outstanding Azerbaijani romantic poet Nizami Ganjavi Ilyas ibn Yusif (1141-1203), who was born, lived and died in this city. Hence the prefix to the name - Ganjavi. Near the museum is the poet's mausoleum, which combines elements of ancient and modern architectural techniques and is an obelisk of marble with a height of 20.9 meters. There is also an artificial lake and five fountains, symbolizing the five main poems of Nizami, known as “Khamsa”. On the territory adjacent to the mausoleum, there is a museum where you can get closer acquainted with the life and work of Nizami Ganjavi.

A native of Ganja is another prominent poetess - Mehseti Ganjavi, who lived in the late XI-early XII centuries. She was the first outstanding poetess of Azerbaijan, the first female chess player, the first famous female musician and the first female composer.

The grandiose architectural complex “The gates of Ganja”, the building of which is stylized to an ancient fortress and consists of two towers, also deserves the attention of history lovers. The complex, built in 2014, is located on both sides of the Baku-Gazakh highway at the eastern entrance to Ganja. The total length of the building is 50 m, the height of each of the towers is 22 m. In the highest place, the fortress has 7 floors, each of which houses museum halls and galleries. Both towers are interconnected by an underground tunnel with a length of 62 m, following which visitors enter the art gallery.

The exposition of the museum complex is extremely rich and interesting. In one of the towers is the museum of military history of Ganja, the ethnographic museum, art gallery, restaurant with national cuisine. Visitors can also climb to the open observation deck at the top of the tower, offering a breathtaking view of the surroundings. Passing through an underground tunnel, visitors of the complex enter the second of the towers, where they can familiarize themselves with the exposition of the museum of civilization, as well as a collection of samples of national costume.

Singer Workshop and Gourmet Pleasure

Ganja is an unusually cozy and well-kept city, the streets of which are literally immersed in greenery and flowers. There are flowerbeds everywhere, and sprawling spruces and majestic plane trees growing in numerous parks around the city give shade to the citizens on a hot day. The central city park “Khan Baghy” (“Khan's garden”) is one of the oldest parks not only in Azerbaijan, but in the whole Caucasus, especially famous for its century-old trees.

This park was founded in 1700, and in 1804 it was named “Khan Baghy” in honor of the last ruler of Ganja Javad Khan. From 1840 to 1847 the garden was called "Sardar Bagy" ("Garden of Sardar") or the Governor's garden.

Until 1850, only fruit plants grew in the park. Since 1860, ornamental plants were planted here, and the territory expanded to 6 hectares. According to official data, about 100 species of trees and bushes grew in the park.

In 2010, the park was carefully reconstructed. Today, there are numerous representatives of local and foreign flora, brought from different parts of the world, growing on a total area of 7 hectares. The park also has numerous birds and squirrels.

Another favorite walking place for guests and residents of the city is one of the central streets of Ganja, the former Sabir Street, which today bears the name of the last ruler of the Ganja khanate - Javad Khan. In 2011, the historic buildings located on the street, relating mainly to the period of the end of the XIX century, underwent a thorough restoration.

Today on the street, the total length of which is 550 meters, there are fountains, flower beds in the form of the national “buta” symbol, sculptural miniatures and compositions.

In addition, an ancient building built in 1901 was preserved on Javad Khan Street, in which from 1902 to the 1920s there was a workshop and a shop of the Singer brothers, famous manufacturers of sewing machines.

The sights of modern Ganja include the newest Heydar Aliyev Park Complex - the largest in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, which is among the five largest parks in the world. Its total area is as many as 450 hectares! The complex was created on the basis of the Heydar Aliyev Park, which was founded in 1979 in the residential area “New Ganja”.

After the works on expansion and reconstruction of the territory, the transformed park complex in 2014 opened its doors again to the delight of the residents and guests of Ganja.

At the entrance to the park, visitors are met by a grand Arc de Triomphe. The width of this building is 20 meters, length - 50 meters, and height - 38 meters. You can climb to the top of the arch by a special staircase or elevator. Upstairs there is a museum, a cafe and an observation deck, which offers a breathtaking view of the city and its surroundings.

During a trip to Ganja, by all means try the Ganja dovga, kata and, of course, the Shah's pilaf. In Ganja, the tradional soup "dovga" is prepared in a special way. For example, it does not add peas, as in other regions, but put mint, spinach, celery and egg.

Qutab in Ganja is called kata. Ganja kata happens with meat or with greens with the addition of white cheese. Her portions, as a rule, are large and nourishing, sprinkled with sumac.

Finally, Shah pilaf will serve as the signature dish of any feast. The name of this festive dish comes from its appearance, which resembles the crown of medieval oriental rulers. Unlike ordinary pilaf, shah pilaf served on the table, so to speak, "sealed." That is, rice and side dish are baked together in a cauldron, the bottom and walls of which are covered with pita bread. It turns out something like a big cake, filling for which is fragrant smoking pilaf.

Finally, for dessert, do not forget to taste the famous Ganja baklava. Walnuts, used for its filling, are completely cleaned from the husk, making the baklava a light color. An infusion of rose petals (gulab) is necessarily added to the dough, and the top of the baklava is smeared with tincture of saffron flowers and sprinkled with poppy seeds, which are also pre-scalded with boiling water and cleaned. As a result, the Ganja baklava turns out to be unusually delicate, with hints of rose and saffron in Taste, and simply melts in your mouth.

Recently, Ganja is literally changing: thanks to the restoration works, historical buildings appear before us in almost their original form. In addition, new modern architectural complexes, parks and hotels are being built. Ganja is definitely ready to meet numerous tourists who come here every year from all parts of Azerbaijan and the whole world.

Emil Eyyubov

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