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Azerbaijan’s Khan’s Palace now UNESCO’s World Heritage

By Adele Delegendre

Azerbaijan’s Palace of Shaki Khans was one of historical landmarks marked by UNESCO in its notable World Heritage List. Located in the northwestern part of the country, in the town of Shaki (also previously known as Nukha), the palace served as a summer residence for the Shaki Khans, feudal leaders ruling small khanates which existed in medieval times.

The Khan’s Palace was built in 1797 by Muhammed Hasan Khan. The summer residence, which is now a museum, is renowned for the lavish decoration of its exterior and interior. Large portions of the residence’s facade, including the entire southern elevations of the central halls on both floors, are covered by a mosaic of colored glass set in a wooden latticework (shebeke) that was assembled without nails or glue. 

https://twitter.com/UNESCO/status/1147800220614451200

The landmark was reportedly nominated by Azerbaijan to be included in the World Heritage List back in 1998, and during its meeting in Baku on July 7, 2019, the World Heritage Committee finally inscribed it as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with it, the Committee also inscribed five other cultural sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The official site of UNESCO lists the new sites, as following:

Historic Centre of Sheki with the Khan’s Palace (Azerbaijan) — The historic city of Sheki is located at the foot of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and divided in two by the Gurjana River. While the older northern part is built on the mountain, its southern part extends into the river valley. Its historic centre, rebuilt after the destruction of an earlier town by mudflows in the 18th century, is characterized by a traditional architectural ensemble of houses with high gabled roofs. Located along important historic trade routes, the city’s architecture is influenced by Safavid, Qadjar and Russian building traditions. The Khan Palace, in the northeast of the city, and a number of merchant houses, reflect the wealth generated by silkworm breeding and the trade in silk cocoons from the late 18th to the 19th centuries.

Royal Building of Mafra—Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden and Hunting Park (Tapada) (Portugal) — Located 30 km northwest of Lisbon, the site was conceived by King João V in 1711 as a tangible representation of his conception of the monarchy and the State. This imposing quadrangular building houses the king’s and queen’s palaces, the royal chapel, shaped like a Roman baroque basilica, a Franciscan monastery and a library containing 36,000 volumes. The complex is completed by the Cerco garden, with its geometric layout, and the royal hunting park (Tapada). The Royal Mafra Building is one of the most remarkable works undertaken by King João V, which illustrates the power and reach of the Portuguese Empire. João V adopted Roman and Italian baroque architectural and artistic models and commissioned works of art that make Mafra an exceptional example of Italian Baroque.

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (Portugal) — The site, a cultural landscape located on the slopes of Mount Espinho, overlooking the city of Braga in the north of Portugal, evokes Christian Jerusalem, recreating a sacred mount crowned with a church. The sanctuary was developed over a period of more than 600 years, primarily in a Baroque style, and illustrates a European tradition of creating Sacri Monti (sacred mountains), promoted by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. The Bom Jesus ensemble is centred on a Via Crucis that leads up the western slope of the mount. It includes a series of chapels that house sculptures evoking the Passion of Christ, as well as fountains, allegorical sculptures and formal gardens. The Via Crucis culminates at the church, which was built between 1784 and 1811. The granite buildings have whitewashed plaster façades, framed by exposed stonework. The celebrated Stairway of the Five Senses, with its walls, steps, fountains, statues and other ornamental elements, is the most emblematic Baroque work within the property.

Churches of the Pskov School of Architecture (Russian Federation) — Churches, cathedrals, monasteries, fortification towers and administrative buildings make up the site, a group of monuments located in the historic city of Pskov, on the banks of the Velikaya River in the northwest of Russia. Characteristics of these buildings, produced by the Pskov School of Architecture, include cubic volumes, domes, porches and belfries, with the oldest elements dating back to the 12th century. Churches and cathedrals are integrated into the natural environment through gardens, perimeter walls and fences. Inspired by the Byzantine and Novgorod traditions, the Pskov School of Architecture reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, and was one of the foremost schools in the country. It informed the evolution of Russian architecture over five centuries.

Risco Caido and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria Cultural Landscape (Spain) — Located in a vast mountainous area in the centre of Gran Canaria, Risco Caído comprises cliffs, ravines and volcanic formations in a landscape of rich biodiversity. The landscape includes a large number of troglodyte settlements — habitats, granaries and cisterns — whose age is proof of the presence of a pre-Hispanic culture on the island, which has evolved in isolation, from the arrival of North African Berbers, around the beginning of our era, until the first Spanish settlers in the 15th century. The troglodyte complex also includes cult cavities and two sacred temples, or almogarenes — Risco Caído and Roque Bentayga — where seasonal ceremonies were held. These temples are thought to be linked to a possible cult of the stars and “Mother Earth.”

Jodrell Bank Observatory (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) — Located in a rural area of northwest England, free from radio interference, Jodrell Bank is one of the world’s leading radio astronomy observatories. At the beginning of its use, in 1945, the site housed research on cosmic rays detected by radar echoes. This observatory, which is still in operation, includes several radio telescopes and working buildings, including engineering sheds and the Control Building. Jodrell Bank has had substantial scientific impact in fields such as the study of meteors and the moon, the discovery of quasars, quantum optics, and the tracking of spacecraft. This exceptional technological ensemble illustrates the transition from traditional optical astronomy to radio astronomy (1940s to 1960s), which led to radical changes in the understanding of the universe.

Shaki Khan’s Palace (interior)

Congratulating his fellow citizens on the occasion of Shaki Khan’s Palace being listed as World Heritage Site, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said that it was the government’s long standing policy to protect and promote Azerbaijani history and culture. He stressed that it was no coincidence that other historical landmarks including Icheri Sheher, Maiden Tower and Shirvanshahs Palace Complex, Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape as well as 13 examples of the intangible cultural heritage of Azerbaijan were included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

The First Lady and the First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva, on her part, noted the role of Azerbaijani people in promoting and preserving the “unique imprints of our national culture, traditions and heritage.”

The 43 session of the World Heritage Committee continues until 10 July.

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