Sheki, Qakh, Kotuklu and Kish
Sheki (also known as Shaki).
My favourite place from my first trip, the beautiful city of Sheki is surrounded by mountains in the ranyon of the same name and full of historical content. One of the most famous is the Shaki Caravanserai which used to house caravans as they traversed the silk road to China. It still is possible to stay and eat there these days! I had the traditional tea and jam set there.
Nearby there is another old caravanserai that is not open to the public.
The second best in my opinion (I repeat second, as some guidebooks don’t mention the first ) palace is the Khans Palace – Xan Saray . Of the two palaces it is the best known and the most impressive inside (but you are restricted from taking pictures). Take the guide (at a modest expense – it really makes a difference). The colorful Venetian glass (now made in Sheki) and the construction not relying on glue or nail is impressive. So are the mosaics some reflecting on life reminding the viewer that life is temporary and of the Khans duty to the care of his people are really impressive. Most of these are depicted in symbolism and this is where the guide comes handy.
A less known Palace and my favourite in Shaki is the Xan Evi is near an old mosque and according to Trailblazers not officially opened to the public. If you can find Hasan (Tel: 556197588) it may be possible to take a tour (and take pictures). Which is what I did although I didn’t call but was sent there by a local when I was looking for another palace (a nearby old mosque). I was glad that the local made the error Another palace among several worth seeing is the octagonal minaret). Often missing from guidebooks it is now in a local’s garden. It is possible to climb with a donation.
Poets, literature and Azerbaijan.
There is a great literary tradition or history here. And Azerbaijan claims Nizami Ganjavi one of the greatest Persian poets of many great ones. Azerbaijan’s claim is disputed by Iran.
Niazami was born in Ganja, part of modern day Azerbaijan and his statues can be found across Azerbaijan. And there is a beautifully ornate museum which regrettably I did not enter.
He (Nizami) was married three times but to each wife separately each dying as he completed an epic. Making him exclaim “why is it that for every mathnavi I must sacrifice a wife!” http://www.maslaha.org/articles/featured-article/al-nizami
His epics are considered classics and some include forbidden love (Romeo and Juliet style) or jealous rivals such as Khosrow and Shirin.
There were other notable poets living n what is now modern day Azerbaijan. One is Khaqani.
“Do you know what I benefitted from this world? Nothing
And what I gained from the days of life? Nothing
I am a candle of wisdom; but when extinguished, nothing
I am the cup of Jamshid; but when broken nothing”
I did not stay in Shaki though but in the small village of Kish 5km and between 3-5 manat from Shaki.
I stayed at Ilhama’s homestay.
Which I recommend. Prices at the time were 10 Azn without meal. 25 with.. However one must consider how many meals you will be having in Kish (or be outside). The village is small and it possible to get a nice meal for 5 AZN. When Ilhama is there the choice of food is probably likely to be better.
Kish is a good place to stay (if wanting a little bit of solitude in a nice setting) and the homestay a very good option. It is outside the Caucasian Albanian Church (and not Albania as re country but in the region). Although the Church was later used by Armenians there is a lot of evidence historically it was used by the Georgians until the 17th century. It is open and had an entrance fee of around 2 manat. It is a bit bare inside. The attraction is architecture. Orthodox Christians had been present from the 1st century when St. Elishe arrived to build a church in the village.
One of the interesting things you can observe in Kish (and elsewhere n Azerbaijan too) is that some houses has a traditional door with two knockers. One large, one small. The small was used by women and by the difference in the sound of knocking would allow women to know whether to cover themselves as Islam was (and still is the prevalent religion) and the attempt to ensure that no unrelated man saw an unrelated woman uncovered. These days it is no longer used.
Other important items for Azeris are bread (which has an elevated status) and tea.
Some sites state that when the prospective groom of a lady is introduced to her parents they make tea and if sweetened the marriage talks can progress). If not..
The actual process in any case is more sophisticated than this.
Qakh (Qax) and Kötüklü
Another beautiful village with an attractive centre and no less than three Georgian churches in the city and surrounding areas although the government only allows one to be used.
Qakh is not far from the Georgian (and Russian) borders. The nearby village (population of around 600 people) I visited -Kötüklü, although in Azerbaijan – it is ethnically majority Georgian
The locals of Qax were very friendly. I was welcomed, invited to tea and even found an honest taxi driver. In Qax I saw one old Georgian church, taken by a driver instructed by the police to take me there for free! I had asked for directions
The most impressive architect ally is the Georgian Church on a hill. I hope one day this will be allowed to be used again. Another church I saw was in Kötüklü