The Palace of Shaki khans is a magnificent structure in the equally exotic country of Azerbaijan. It is a richly decorated palace that was a summer getaway of Shaki khans, who were the past leaders of the Shaki khanate or political dynasty that was established in Azerbaijan in 1743.
The former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan, has a rich and long history. Located between the Caucasus Mountains to the west and Caspian Sea to the east, the country has gone through several political shifts, the most impactful and devastating of which was when it was controlled by the Soviet Union. Many years before those forgettable years under communist rule, this Eurasian country was controlled by several feudal states called khanates, which were led by khans.
The Shaki khanate was a strong, prosperous and important feudal state during its time. However, when Persian forces threatened an attack in 1805, the ruling khan of that time, Mustafa Salim khan, sought the help of the Russians. As a result, the khanate became a Russian vassal state. Ultimately in 1819, Shaki khanate was converted into a Russian province.
The Shaki khanate was doing well before the Russians entered the picture. The khanate developed a stable economy that was based on agriculture and silkworm culture. The state was divided in eight districts that were ruled by the khan’s representatives.
Today, what remain of this once mighty khanate are the silkworm industry, the name of the city, Shaki (but for some time was called Nukha), and the exquisite summer palace.
The Shaki summer palace for the khans was constructed in 1762 by Hussein khan, a writer who also went by the name Mushtag. It remained untouched for almost two centuries. It was then restored from 1952 to 1967 by a group of highly respected local architects.
The palace is lavishly decorated inside-out, which is why it is a very popular destination. Not an inch on the palace’s façade and central halls is without any ornamentation. These areas are covered with a colored glass mosaic, gold trimmings, wooden latticework, tiny pieces of mirror, tile panels, and tile mosaics. This part of the palace alone makes for one spectacular sight.
Inside, onlookers will marvel at the frescoes depicting vases with flowers. It is believed that these walls were completed through several years and that different frescoes were created at different times during the 18th century. There are also paintings of hunting and battle scenes.
The palace has two floors and both follow the same layout. Both floors have three rectangular rooms that are separated by hallways with golden crowns. The rooms were for the members of the khan’s family, guests, clerks, and petitioners.
Outside, the palace looks majestically regal as it is donned with fountains, decorative tiles, and stained-glass windows. The external tile decorations made use of dark blue, turquoise and ochre tiles arranged in geometric patterns.
The Palace of Shaki khans is an important structure for its architecture, political significance and sheer beauty. Yet, it is just a remnant of an even grander edifice, which was the Shaki khan’s fortress. What remain today are the summer palace with all its trimmings, a pool and surrounding trees.