When early European and Asian merchants were just beginning to build ancient cities and establishing trade centers along the Silk Road, Azerbaijan was already there. When ancient traders walked on unpaved, unsafe paths from Europe, Asia, Africa and back, Azerbaijan served as a safe and refreshing stopover. Azerbaijan is an ancient country that boasts of many historic cities, one of which is the city of Ganja.
Found on the Gjandzhachaj River at the foot of the Minor Caucasian Ridge, Ganja is not just an old Azeri city; it is one of the oldest, which is why it is considered the mother of all Azerbaijan cities. There are several reasons to visit this historic city; most of its attractions involve ancient sites or relics, except for the Bottle House, a house that is made entirely from glass bottles. The three leading historic attractions are the ancient fortress, Ganja Gate and early settlement.
The ancient fortress used to be a majestic structure that protected the city from invading enemies. The fortification used to run along the length of the Ganja-chai River with two 600-meter-high towers that overlooked the city. Sadly what remains today are shapeless boulders, which serve as faint reminders of what used to be a magnificent structure.
The second attraction is the Ganja Gate, or at least half of it. Built in 1063, it was an iron gate with exquisite patterns and ornaments. On one of the ornaments was written the name of the smith who created this iron masterpiece, Ibragim ibn Osman, and the date it was made. The gate served as one of the entrances into the fortress.
Finally, the most compelling location in the city and one of the most culturally significant in the country is the ancient settlement. The 250-hectares-wide area is located about 7 kilometers from the northeastern side of present-day Ganja.
Archeological digs have begun in the 1930s and so far the area has revealed so many important pieces of history and prehistory. Among these finds are brick houses, lamps, 10th-century coins, a ceramic water pipeline, pottery with Arabian inscriptions, and several items that were made of glass, copper, iron and ceramics. The most intriguing relics were clay animal figures; these are not common in old Muslim cultures.
Tourists need not go to the settlement area to see these relics since all of them are now displayed in several museums. The most important museum is the Azerbaijan History Museum in the capital city of Baku.
The settlement also revealed historical landmarks such as the Imam-zade (or Gei-imam) Mausoleum, Djuma Mosque and the Chekyak-Khamamy public bath from medieval times, to name a few.
Until today, Muslim pilgrims crowd the Imam-zade Mausoleum complex since buried here are descendants of Prophet Ali. Inside the complex are small mosques, a caravanserai, cemetery (with so many monuments bearing portraits and images), and other ancient structures. The main attraction is the bright-blue mausoleum dome. Today, the local government preserves and protects this important piece of Azeri history.
Djuma Mosque, on the other hand, is notable for its huge metal dome-roof, large gates, two towering minarets, yard, and madrasah (Arabic school). The mosque is also known to give the most accurate time of day since its western shadows disappear exactly at noon.
Finally, the medieval public bath, Chekyak-Khamamy, vividly depicts how early Ganja residents lived (and bathed). The red-brick remains reveal two domes with cooling ducts that ran through the walls. There are also steam boilers and ceramic pipes. This interesting landmark is now being protected by UNESCO.