Ancient Nakhchivan City, at the heart of Momuna Khatun Tomb

By Peter Tase

The Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan was established on February 9th, 1924, while governing a territory of 5,988 square kilometers. According to many international scholars, Nakhchivan has produced more ancient history than any other region of Azerbaijan; it has contributed and given to the World Civilization many historical places such as: Alishar Settlement in Sharur Region, Bazakli Fortress in the Village of Garabaghlar, Kangarli Region; Ashabi-Kahf, a religious sanctuary, cave, located between the mountains of Ilandagh and Nahajir; Old Nakhchivan Necropolis full of rare tableware located underground with polychrome decorations; Old Sharur Archeological Monument that has been mentioned for the first time in the works of Strabon, while making a reference to the events of 2nd millennium BC and later mentioned by M. Khorenli and M. Kalankaytuklu; Gafar Sacred Place in Julfa region; and many other unknown but extremely important sites not only for the history of Azerbaijan but above all are a valuable treasure towards shedding more light in support of one of the ancient civilizations in the world. Nakhchivan is home of scientists, visionary government leaders such as Heydar Aliyev and Vasif Talibov; well respected architects; geographers; architects and well versed writers, they all have greatly contributed for the cultural, urban and economic growth of the Caspian Region and beyond.

Moreover, in 1920 the population of Nakhchivan has fought very hard to preserve the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan from the invading armed forces of Armenia. In 1929-1930, the Soviet Union leaders in the Kremlin decided to hand in parts of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to the neighboring Republic of Armenia; as a result Nakhchivan as of currently has a territory of only 5,500 square kilometers. Despite of all these tragic historic events, one-sided and unlawful decisions made by one of the two superpowers at that time, Nakhchivan was given the status of Autonomous Republic under the Azerbaijan Constitution that was adopted in 1995. This region continues to flourish economically and surprise the world stage with its compelling ancient and medieval history treasures, castles, religious architecture that has influenced many other urban centers in the nearby cross roads of Eurasia. Nakhchivan is also home of the Classical and Middle Age Nakhchivan City, an ancient complex of walls that have a thickness of 13 meters, nearby the place where the tomb of Momuna Khatun was discovered. It belongs to the Classical Age of Nakhchivan city, due to many excavations there were discovered a few buildings that were raised in the XVII century. Nearby the tomb of Momuna Khatun there were found bottom up supply pots in a very bad shape. Currently only one big pot is displayed at the Nakhchivan State History Museum. In the later years, were found important architecture monuments from the Middle Ages, at the same location.

The famous geographer Claudius Ptolemy was the first to call the city as “Naringala”, according to Ptolemy: Nakhchivan city was described as a fortress which had around of its walls a large number of military enforcements. The pottery, bowls, graves and many other discoveries in the big fortress section (there were two sections only), show the beginning of a civilization era dating back in the Classical Period. The walls of the fortress that still exist today belong to the Middle Ages and are built with mortar of stone and were strengthened with a half circular shape towers. The ancient buildings were mostly constructed along the fortress walls, they consisted of square shaped rooms nearby one another. The roofs of these rooms were used by the fighters during war time. Due to these features Naringala Fortress has been compared to the other fortresses in other regions of Nakhchivan that were constructed in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some of the historic places that have similarities are: Oghlangala, Chalkhangala, Gazanchigala. On the other hand the underground water channel passed under the fortress in order to provide with water resources the armed forces at war and peace time.

Based on the recent observations, Nakhchivan was developed initially as a center of handicraft and culture; it is the cradle of the historic developments of Azerbaijan and contains some of the most important fortresses throughout the Caspian region. Nakhchivan became a very important regional administrative center during the IX-XII centuries. In the X-XI centuries, was the capital of Nakhchivan Shah Rule, and during the XII century it was the capital of the Eldaniz State. Additionally in the later periods Nakhchivan preserved its strategic role as an administrative center. By the early years of mid XVIII century the city became a center of the khanate of Nakhchivan. In 1983, A. I. Novruzlu a distinguished scholar and archeologist began to carry out a much more detailed investigation on the grounds of the Middle Ages City of Nakhchivan. In his investigation that took place during 1983-1991, there were retrieved many valuable objects that embody a rich cultural, advanced and a wealthy life, and three cultural layers were found, dating back in the IX-XVII centuries. The items consist mostly as production stock, construction residues, glazed and unglazed ceramics. The investigations carried out in the area where Nakhchivan State University is located today, have proved that both in the ancient periods and Middle Ages this area was a fundamental part of the city. Towards the elevated parts of the city one could find the fortress walls of the Aliabad fortress that was constructed with durable walls that could defend the armies from heavy gunfire. During war time the towers were used as much as the walls, this way the troops would be sparsely located and less vulnerable.

In the Aliabad fortress were founded: unglazed pottery products that dated on the II millennium BC., as well as artifacts from the medieval times, since this historic structure has played an important role during the Middle Ages period. Experts have discovered, a large number of seeds such as: grain, peach, apricot, cherry, pear, apple; these remnants are a material of great importance in identifying the agricultural products of the Middle Ages in Nakhchivan, as an historic and integral part of Azerbaijan society and historiography.

The ceramics encountered in Nakhchivan city have very similar characteristics with the other castles of Transcaucasia, Middle Ages and Middle East, indeed a large scale of economic cultural relations were taking place between Nakhchivan and the neighboring regions, the ceramic plates that surfaced in these areas, are a proven fact. In the small fortress section of Nakhchivan there was found a plaque with a Chinese inscription. The Naringala Fortress of Nakhchivan City existed as a defense fortification up until mid XVII century. However during the Safavi-Ottoman wars the fortress was greatly destroyed and later it was impossible to bring it at the earliest physical conditions. Afterwards the military importance of this structure slowly evaporated, however it was used by the local people as residential quarters for relatively some time. This region of Azerbaijan continues to shelter and preserve important monuments, rare worshiping sites, museums, fortresses and has embraced peace loving people who deserve a more significant space in the world’s history.

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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

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