Quba

Quba is one of the largest cities in Azerbaijan, located on picturesque hillsides 170 km (105 miles) to the north of Baku. In the mid 18th century, Quba was the capital of the Quba Khanate, but today, it is famous for its carpets, scenery, and delicious sweets.
The city itself is home to a number of architectural and historic monuments, like the Juma Mosque, Gilgilchay Fortress, and a number of other mosques and mausoleums. Explore historical monuments with a visit to the local hamam, a bathhouse visited by Alexandre Dumas when he was traveling through the region, and a beautiful brick bridge, built in 1894, one of the few to survive to this day.
Many people come to Quba as part of a trip to other parts around the city. Red Town is the world’s last surviving shtetl, a settlement of Mountain Jews with their own language and culture. Khinalug is the highest village in Azerbaijan, 2,350 m (7,710 ft) above sea level. Khinalug was isolated from the rest of the world for most of its history, leading to unique stone buildings and a language spoken nowhere else.
Quba is also popular just as a place to go to enjoy the beautiful nature of Azerbaijan. Winter brings tourists to the nearby Shahdag Ski Resort, a world-class ski resort with excellent ski runs in the winter. In the summer, people from all around Azerbaijan escape the heat by picnicking in the cool shade of the mountains, where there are plenty of forests and running rivers to make for a scenic trip.
Quba carpets also make for an interesting trip. These carpets feature intricate designs that take inspiration from nature and geometric patterns, plus a variety of vivid colors. Each village had signature patterns, though many have been lost to time. However, more recently, carpet workshops have been opening in Quba with the aim of bringing back the art of carpet weaving and reviving the skills and knowledge needed to keep this ancient art alive.

MAUSOLEUMS OF AGBIL

The settlement of Agbil of Quba region is the place where three medieval mausoleums of the 16 century were found. Two of them are traditional rectangular structures. The third mausoleum is completely different due to its original architecture. As a matter of fact this small square building from burnt bricks placed in an octagonal stone pillar. From the outside the mausoleum looks like an octahedron with a high dome and wide portal entrance, and from the inside it is a usual square room.

RED TOWN

Across the Kudyal River from Quba is Red Town, the largest Mountain Jewish settlement in the former Soviet Union. Red Town is the only entirely Jewish settlement outside of Israel and the United States, and is the last surviving shtetl.
Mountain Jews have been settled in the Caucasus for thousands of years, though there are many different communities and resettlements. Mountain Jews have their own version of Judaism that combines the Old Testament with other traditional practices, as well as a bit of mysticism. They also speak their own language: Judeo-Tat or Juhuri, part of the Persian family.
For a long time, there were Jewish communities in Persia, but after their settlements were destroyed by Nader Shah in the 18th century, more and more Jews started looking for new places to live. At that time, Huseyn Ali Akhan was ruling the neighboring kingdom, and agreed to take a community of Jews and resettle them across from the city of Quba. Starting in 1731, Jews from all around Azerbaijan started to move to this new city. It was named Krasnaya Sloboda, or Red Town, perhaps after the red tile roofs on the houses. Red Town grew, and became a diverse yet closed community of Mountain Jews that has managed to maintain its own culture, traditions and languages for centuries.
The convenient location of the village on the main trading road, the protection of the Quba khans, and fertile land great for farming all helped Red Town grow. Trading connections between the Jews of Red Town and the Muslims of Quba grew with the first wooden bridge built across the Kudyal River in 1851. Aside from farming, local residents also gardened and wove. Their apples were famous around the village, and their weaving was known for its quality. Later, the craftsmanship of the Red Town villagers helped Quba and the surrounding region develop its distinctive carpet style.
Three hundred years later, Red Town has not only stayed intact but has become a state monument, with protection that helps the community stay alive. The rich history and heritage of this small settlement attracts visitors from around the world. But Red Town is famous for more that its history. From a population of a little more than 3,000, there are hundreds of well-known politicians, businessmen, scientists, and notable figures living and working in Russia, Israel, USA, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Azerbaijan.
Russian entrepreneurs such as Zarah Aliev and God Nisanov, and the Soviet orthopedist Gavril Ilizarov (who invented a special device for treating skeletal deformities) were all born in Red Town. The Ilizarovs are also a well-known musical family. The writer Vladimir Agababaev, poet Yasha Mashiahov, Olympian fencer and trainer Zinaida Misheva and others also trace their heritage back to Red Town.
The famous and wealthy of Red Town don’t forget their motherland. Many return to build mansions in the place of older village houses, make donations to synagogues, help schools, and improve the infrastructure. Despite this, the future of Red Village is still uncertain. Many young people leave the village for life in bigger cities, so the main inhabitants now are women, the elderly, and young children.

KHINALUG

About an hour drive along a new road from Quba is Khinalug, the oldest village in Azerbaijan. At 2,100-2,200 m (6,900-7,220 ft) above sea level, Khinalug has developed its own culture and traditions, and even its own language. The villagers call the place Kyat, and consider themselves to be direct descendants of the biblical Noah.
Khinalug is over 5,000 years old. For centuries, this village was cut off from the rest of civilization by the tall mountains and dangerous rocky cliffs. Due to the isolation, the villagers were able to preserve their own unique language, which doesn’t belong to any other language family, as well as their traditions and customs, found nowhere else.
There are about 2,000 people living in the village, divided into 4 families. Each family has its own graveyard and its own patterns for carpets and clothing. Today, the people are Muslim, but before they converted to Islam they were Zoroastrians. There are some temples and semi-pagan traditions that have survived.
The first records of these people date back to the 1st century CE, in the writings of the historian Pliny and the famous Strabo’s Geography. The history of the village is also recorded in the 8 large graveyards, whose area is much larger than Khinalug itself. The graves, made in 3 and even 4 layers, bear inscriptions in different alphabets on their gravestones.
The villagers of Khinalug build their houses one on top of the other. In general, they resemble a multi-story house, where the roof of one house is the courtyard for the one built above it. There are 360 stone houses in the village, each of which is about 200-300 years old. The windows are covered with a polyethylene film, and the ceilings are fitted with a smoke flap, through which the villagers can also talk to each other. The floors and walls are covered with colorful and warm carpets, sometimes woven by the women who live there. These carpets not only decorate the houses, but protect from the cold winter weather.
The winters are cold and come early, and temperatures can drop to -30°C (-22°F). Bricks made of straw and manure are used as fuel in the winter. They not only burn well but also provide sufficient heat. Khinalug residents make these bricks all year long, and dry them wherever there is free space. Firewood is a luxury there, since the village is so high up that there are very few trees around.
The soil is generally rocky and barren, but locals manage to grow onions and potatoes in small plots, and cucumbers and tomatoes can be grown in planters, like houseplants. For animals, cows and goats are common, as well as poultry, but sheem are less common. Keeping sheep is difficult because then pens would need to be built to hold the sheep in the winter. The food is rather simple: vegetables, bread (called churek), milk, cheese, mountain honey, and dried goat meat (made each autumn).
The residents of Khinalug are very religious. There are a lot of holy places not far from the village, such as the graves of saints, caves, and unexplored archaeological sites. Some of them were built as early as the Middle Ages. Dedicated explorers can find the Hydyr Nebi Tomb, Sheikh Shalbuza Mosque, Abu Muslim Mosque (12th century) and the Pirdzhomyard Mosque (1388). The local culture is preserved in the Historical and Ethnographic Museum of Khinalug, where visitors can find items used in traditional life and small exhibits about the history and customs of the local villagers.
With the construction of a new paved road in 2006, local life changed a lot. Tourists started visiting, and locals got a chance to leave the village. Today, many Khinalug residents speak Azerbaijani and some even know Russian. They buy goods in Quba, and trade homespun items, food products, and host and feed tourists who want to get to know this unique village. Khinalug became a little less isolated, though it still retains its unique character. In 2007, Khinalug became a state historical, architectural and ethnographic reserve.

SHEIKH JUNEID MAUSOLEUM

In Quba province close to the border of Azerbaijan and Dagestan there is Khazra (Sacred) village. It is famous for its mausoleum of the 16th century known as Sheikh Juneid Mausoleum - direct descendant of the founder of Iranian Sefevid dynasty - sheikh Safi-ad-din Jakub. Ardebil sheikh Juneid was killed in the battle with shirvanshah Khalillula I in 1456.
His brother-in-arms buried him nearby in the village of Kulkhan (now Khazra). A hundred years after the grandson of Juneid - shah Takhmasib I - built a magnificent tomb on his grave. Its wall stand one and a half meter tall and are reveted with glazed tiles of blue and black-violet colors in staggered order. The mausoleum has a square shape. The entrances are located in each of the four walls of the mausoleum. In the center of the tomb there is a 15 m-high dome. The interior of the mausoleum amazes with its quiet majesty.
There is some evidence of the fact that the remains of sheikh Juneid were moved to Ardebil in the 16th century. Nevertheless the people regard the mausoleum as a sacred place and hundreds of pilgrims from the entire Muslim world visit it every year.

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