If you’re still not convinced to make Azerbaijan your next holiday destination, take a look at the city of Sheki and you might just change your mind. Most foreign travelers visit the country mainly for the capital city of Baku, which is being developed as the Dubai of the Caucasus region. Many are yet to discover the many other blissful and historic Azeri cities, including Sheki (aka Sheka, Shaki or Shakki).
Located on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains 700 meters above sea level, Sheki is characterized by old brick houses, shaded streets, rich pastures, green fields, oak tree forests, willow trees, lush mountains, and spring water canals. Below are three unique features that make this small city unlike any other in the planet.
One, not many cities in the world can trace their origins back to the Bronze Age. Archeological proofs reveal that ancient Shaki was widely inhabited since the later part of the Bronze Age.
However, the city’s modern history was not glorious at all. In the 7th century, Arabs invaded the city, converted it into an emirate and began what would be a 200-year rule. In the 9th century, the city was returned to Christianity and the ruling Albanian kings.
Through the centuries, the Shirvanshahs, Mongols and Safavids took turns in invading and capturing Shaki, and in 1895, the Russians who took over, ending the Shaki khanate dynasty that began in 1743.
Two, not many cities in the world can boast of a singular, magnificent structure as its leading tourist attraction. Shaki is the proud home of the Palace of the Shaki khans. “If there will be no other building in Azerbaijan,” said the Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, “it will be enough to show Khan Palace to the world.”
The famous palace is the summer residence of the khanate rulers. It was built by Hussein khan in 1762 without using a single nail. The two-storied palace is ornately decorated on its exterior and interior with stained-glass windows, wooden latticework, tile panels, tile mosaics, and mirrors as well as breathtaking frescoes and a few paintings.
It is not difficult to see why this structure is the most important building in the city and one of the most popular in the entire country.
Apart from the palace, two other notable historic attractions are Juma Mosque and the caravansarai. The Juma Mosque is quite distinct for its geometric designs and a 40-meter-high spire. The caravanserai, on the other hand, is a building that was constructed specifically to provide rest for passing caravans as they travel through the Silk Road.
Finally, not many cities in the world maintain a growing silk industry. Sheki has long been known as one of the silk centers of Azerbaijani. A huge silk factory was built here by the Soviets. It was then the biggest silk factory in all of the Soviet Union. The plant still stands today. Other local produce are grapes, tobacco, grain, nuts, cattle, and milk.
Convinced yet? The next time you are visiting Azerbaijan, take a bus (7 hours), taxi (6hours) or the subway going to the picturesque ancient city of Sheki.