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Nakhchivan: Living memory of the world architecture

By Peter Tase

The region of Ordubad in the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan is the epicenter of many world class archeological monuments, centuries old mosques designed to enthrall historians and foreign visitors, unique ancient and medieval architecture and impressively equipped with breathtaking fortresses that bring fresh perspectives on the further study of world history. Ordubad has a mountainous landscape where archeology, blue prints of Silk Road trade route and religious art offer an inspiring outlook focused on the major contributions that the nation of Azerbaijan has made towards the world history and strengthened the culture of the Eurasian landmass, over many centuries.  Nakhchivan is also the birthplace of Haji Mahammad Nagi, a renowned architect of Azerbaijan.

One of the archeological monuments located in the region of Ordubad is Gulum – Gulum.  It was discovered on the southwestern slope of a nearby mountain in the village of Nasirvaz.  During the archeological investigations there were found the defense walls built of big stones and the remnants of many buildings in the settlement. Its defense walls were constructed with big rock pieces on the outside and inside they were filled with little stone fragments.  In some places the length of the magnificent fortress walls reaches 35 meters.  Meanwhile the width of the wall is different; it has a thickness between 1.2 – 1.5 meters.  Inside the settlement area there are found remnants of houses constructed in a square shape.  A great number of these houses have been destroyed from mountain tapping. The investigations demonstrate that the place was inhabited for a long time until the XV century, a time in which it was turned into a garden field.  This archeological site is currently named as Agha’s Garden [1] and a few centuries ago, all sorts of indigenous fruit trees had been planted in this historic landmark.  Based on the construction characteristics the settlement may be related to the First Millennium B.C.

Ordubad is home of Gulum – Gulum Sacred Place, a sanctuary to the south of Nasirvaz (the same village above). This sacred place was built of square shaped mountainous stones.  Entrance is from the south and the size is 4.5 by 3.1 meters, thickness of walls is 90 cm.  The ceramic products discovered around this ancient location are from the Middle Ages.  According to the legend of Gulum-Gulum: Nasirvaz Village was located on the slopes of the same mountain and the legend continues: a bride heard every day in the village the sound of the mountain saying galim-gulum (allowed to come and see).  When mentioning the word “smile” everywhere flowers were blossoming and would bring happiness to everyone.  One day the same bride was sick and she answered to the call of the mountain: “May I Come and smile?” The mountain responded angrily: “yes, come over”.  At this moment the mountain destroys and taps the village.  The building of Gulum-Gulum Sacred Place goes back in between XIII and XIV centuries.  It is an important destination for all those who are visiting Ordubad region and are passionate to study history and would like to expand their knowledge about a vibrant civilization that has ruled this part of the world and has lived in one of the most important villages of Nakhchivan.

Another location with a tremendous potential of developing archeological research projects is Araz region.  It is home of Gulustan, a settlement nearby the Gulustan Tomb, situated on the left banks of Araz Region. The structures in the settlement have been completely destroyed.  At the present visitors will find the remnants of walls that are built by mortar in some places; one of them has a length of 48 meters and a width of 45 meters.  During the recent investigations, scholars have found glazed and unglazed ceramic items burned in pink color.  The glazed earthen wares are typical of the latest period of middle Ages.  According to distinguished international archeologists this site was established in the early XI century and has a valuable historic significance for Azerbaijan.

Over the Araz river can be observed the Gulustan Bridge or the Ziya-Ul Mulk Bridge, a historical masterpiece that is testimony of the architecture heritage of Nakhchivan and long lasting public works. Gulustan Bridge was built of hewed stones at a place where Araz River becomes whirling, hitting against the slope of a mountain, near Julfa.  The construction of this bridge shows the role of an ancient city whose ruins demonstrate that it had a reputation as the centerpiece of the Silk Way caravans.  The bridge was very strong; it had a very beautiful appearance with two higher and larger spans.  The width of one of them was 28 inches and the other was 24 inches. On both sides of the higher bridge there was a door of stone.  One of the spans was used as a caravansary.  Bridge construction techniques applied in this object are admired by today’s engineers who have studied the shape and construction technique applied in this ancient object.  At the present, only five support columns remain from that bridge; four of them are in bad condition.  They are the remnants of stone laying façade which had fallen down.  The steps that were part of the bridge have four lines of round shaped spaces as part of a bank support while facing the water. Very likely, they are the hollows installed inside the laying of wood tiers which are seen in other support remnants.  On the side of the bridge facing the river there is a place of a big door divided into three parts with thin and high items.  In the second support looking towards the river there are founded traces of three partitions.  Gulustan Bridge is a monument that was described in the works of Sharafaddin Ali Yazdin, a historian of Middle Ages.  The main construction materials of the bridge are: lime solution and the reddish sandstone.  In surrounding sections of the construction site, are seen square angled bricks.  It must be noted that Amir Teymur passed through this bridge in 1386 when he was coming to Nakhchivan from Marand and Zar Valleys.  The remnants of the bridge are called by the local population as the bridge of Alexander.  Hamdullah Gazvini, a 14th century historian has noted in his work “Nuzhat  Algulub” (Entertainment of Hearts) that the bridge was built by Ziya –Ul  Mulk Nakhchivani, however there has not been found a reliable information about this architect.

Ziyarat Sacred Place, another destination of great worshiping significance, is a sanctuary in Nursu village in Shahbuz region. Earlier there was a sanctuary building.  At the present, the building of this sacred place was restored with burned bricks.  The entrance is from the Northern direction.  There is a grave buried inside, as a result of the Muslim tradition.  Carpets are laid inside and pictures of holy worshipers were hung.  The sacred place may be related to the XVIII-XIX centuries.

In the territory of Kangarli region, western slope of Chalkhandagh, was discovered the Gunorta Stone, Gunortaj.  It is a natural monument of 1,500 meters in height; it is called as Gunortaji, by the local population.  Gunorta Stone is covered by a shadow up to gunorta (afternoon) and exactly in the afternoon the shadow disappears.  The inhabitants of the villages: Chalkhangala, Tazakand, Khinjab and Sust, have used this stone as a clock, when they would do agricultural works, time of milking the cow and other chores. The word “Gunortaj” reminds us the land of Basat who had pulled out the eyes of Tapagoz, a hero of the “Kitabi-Dede-Gorgud” epos.  According to local experts it is the highest point that is reached when the sun rises.

Haji Huseyngulu Mosque is an historical architectural monument in Ganza Village, Ordubad region built in the center of the Village. Its size is 23 by 14 meters.  It was built by Haji Huseyngulu, an influential leader. When he died, was buried in front of the southern walls of the mosque.  There are not any epigraphic documents or inscriptions on the grave but the mosque has some writings.  Later on when the mosque was restored, also there was placed a head stone and a chest stone on his grave. The words of  “Haji Huseyngulu, 16 century” were written in Arabic on the head stone.  Being one of the oldest mosque monuments in the province of Nakhchivan, inside of it there is a big wall.  According to local sources at the beginning of the XX century there was built an additional and joined with the males’ hall in the west part of the former mosque.  The old section of the mosque sits on three big columns and walls are built of stones.  Inter columns and the part between the columns and walls was connected in a form of arches.  The thickness of the walls is 1 meter.  Five walls recesses have been installed inside of the mosque.  A balcony is in front of the entrance.  The façade of it consists of 12 spans.  Near the mosque there is a guest house.  When the mosque was restored, on the limited walls there were written religious phrases in bright color.  During restoration a very wonderful minaret has been erected in the south west direction.  On the minaret an inscription states: “the minaret of the mosque was built by Haji Israfil Sadigli in 2000.  Architects Karbalayi Sayid, Karbalayi Gurban.” Mourning parties and religious parties during Maharram and Mamadan months are held here.  The cemetery area to the south of the mosque also one time belonged to Haji Huseyngulu which was presented for this purpose.  At the base of the grave inscriptions in the cemetery one can see that Haji Huseyngulu lived in the XV century and the mosque also had been built at the same time.

The Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan is the birthplace of Haji Mahammad Nagi, one of the founders of Architecture school of Azerbaijan.  Thanks to the inscription in Dasta mosque in Ordubad region his name was included in scientific publications.  According to the first inscription of the mosque it is clear that it was built by Haji in 1019 (1610-1611) by the order of Abdulkhan Javad oglu, and according to the second inscription it was built by Fakhr Ul – Haji Mahammad Nagi. It must be noted that the II inscription includes the bridge named as Haji Nagi Bridge by local people while remembering the Vanandchay floating from Tub Bazaar (topasar) pasture in the east of Dasta village which was built by Haji Mahammad Nagi.  Haji Mahammad Nagi who lived in the second half of the XVI century and early XVII century was engaged in valuable projects including construction of mosques and bridges; all these prove that he was an architect of many disciplines and a great innovator well beyond his life time.

Hachaparag settlement is another archeological monument established on the slope of a hill, to the right of Nakhchivan-Ashabi Kahf main roadway.  The houses in the settlement are square shaped; built of mortar and plastered with mud on both sides, fire-places and little recesses are installed inside the houses.  Some residences are with a few rooms.  During excavations investigations glazed and unglazed ceramic products were discovered.  North of the village there is a kehriz; it is the only water supply source.  There are two necropolises near the settlement. Based on the archeological materials and construction remnants the settlement may be related to XVIII century architecture.

Another religious landmark of Sharur region is the Heydar mosque, an architectural monument that belongs to the XX century (built in 1996) in the village of Ashaghi Aralig, Sharur region. The mosque is situated in the territory of 419 square meters.  The total area of the building is 155 square meters.  The garden of this religious place is surrounded with iron lattices decorated with the botanic and geometric designs and religious symbols.  The building of the mosque was constructed in a modern style resembling Eastern architectural elements.  The building is two stories high. The ground floor was considered for men praying and the second floor for woman.  Men use the southern door said to be the main façade but women use the door in the western façade. The mosque is of right-angled from both inside and outside. The thickness of the walls is 50 cm. the building was completed with the right-angled dome added to the rectilinear ceiling and two symmetric minaret figures arranged on the roof of the building.  The words Heydar Mosque” were written with green glazed tiles in the dome and an inscription of a Koran phrase was placed over the main door entrance.  Its walls were painted with a red brick color from outside giving it a monumental appearance, the sides of walls, doors and windows are painted with white color.  Nakhchivan remains to be an attractive destination for social scientists, architects historians and global leaders of culture and archeology.  The historic and religious sites mentioned in here are only a few many sites that become even more attractive as time flies over the snow capped mountains, ancient fortresses atop of ridges and spiraling rivers with fresh water in Azerbaijan.

Notes:

[1] “Agha” means a wealthy gentleman with a high social status.

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Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a contributor, freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Affairs, Paraguayan Studies, Middle East Studies and Latin American Affairs, located in the United States. Educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government; Tase is the author of “Simultaneous Dictionary in Five Languages: Guarani, English, Italian, Albanian and Spanish” and “El Dr. FEDERICO FRANCO y Su Mandato Presidencial en la Historia del Paraguay.” He’s a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News. His personal website is www.petertase.com

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