The History of Azerbaijan in open air
A well-known historical-ethnographic museum in the open air – Qala is located 40 km away from Baku. Dealing with the history of Apsheron peninsula, the museum was founded in 2008 on site of archaeological excavations, in an eponymous settlement. The museum provides insight into mode of life and housekeeping of Azerbaijanis in the 16-19 centuries.
Eldest dwellings - portable tents of animal skins, followed by stone and straw-clay houses with domes, ancient smithy, market, potteries, bakeries, thrashers and other interesting medieval buildings are located on a territory of the museum. One can look at it all, probe it with hand, take a photo. Even better, one can try baking a bread in an oven, weaving a rug, muddying with clay at a pottery, foddering camels, horses and donkeys relaxing peacefully in stall and livestock places.
It should be noted that scores of monuments and exhibits were brought to the Qala museum from various places of Apsheron peninsula, restored and fully reconstituted. Taken in lump, they help to realize the life of medieval residents of Azerbaijan.
Researchers revealed that first settlements in Qala appeared, as commonly cited, not in the Middle Ages but much earlier, at least, 5, 000 years ago. Note that the museum displays exhibits of high antiquity, as well as cave paintings of primitive men featuring hunting and ritualistic sacrifices. Also, there are several exhibitions on a territory of Qala museum where tourists can take a look at ancient household items, tableware, adornments and other interesting exhibits.
You’d better hire, here at the museum, a guide to help you shedding light on labyrinths of the Apsheron peninsula history.
Judging from first appearance, this is a small settlement in the environs of Baku. Note that tens of settlements of this sort are scattered all over Apsheron peninsula. Archaeological excavations revealed that this territory is renowned for its rich historical past going back to the remote past. It was no mere coincidence that in 1988 the territory of the settlement was announced the State Historical-Ethnographical Reserve (area above 200 ha) with 243 historical-architectural monuments (mosques, bath-houses, ovdans, living and back rooms, etc.).
The very name Qala means «fortress» going back to a citadel of the 14 century located on an eminence. A tower was fully destroyed; just fortification walls and adjacent medieval Juma-mosque remained intact.
Indoor premises of Juma-mosque were spanned by curved arches. Note that an entry into an underground gallery is still extant.
Buildings typical for Apsheron construction school of the 18 century are still extant in Qala, including ones of closed type with blind enclosures of large stone blocks and square footing and domelike roofs. There were several bathhouses, wells and water reservoirs for water collection. The oldest well is extant on a territory of a cemetery dated 1665.
Of great interest is an ancient cemetery in Qala with its extant unique graves in the form of ossuaries spanned by tent-like domes and large stone slabs. No inscriptions are available, so it is difficult to identify who was buried here – nobility or clergy. Also, not all tombs look toward Mecca as the Islamic tradition expects. There are tombs with stone trunks highly decorated with fillets and ligatures.
There are two ancient mausoleums at the cemetery: Mausoleum of Mohammad (1624-25) and a mausoleum of the 18 century.
Since olden times, Azerbaijan has been titled as the Country of fires, not for the sake of a witty remark. By a quirk of nature, the land of a country on the picturesque shore of the Caspian Sea abounds in underground sources of gas and oil. Bowels of Azerbaijan are overfull with natural gas which oozes out on the surface. In some places, suffice it to throw a match or any spark, and gas immediately inflames until it expires. In the ancient times Azerbaijan was a country of fire worshippers, followers of Zoroastrian cult. People believed the fire to be a manifestation of divine will, so they worshipped the fire and built altars and temples.
One of the most famous and popular places of «eternal flame» in Azerbaijan is Mt. Yanardag. To be exact, it is a hill whose slopes are on fire from natural gas sources. Meter long tongues of flame lick precipitous soil 10 meters wide scorching those nearing to it. People reserve a place on benches in the evenings to admire the enthralling sight.
It should be noted that Yanardag is located 25 km to the north from Baku, in the settlement of Mehemmedi. It is easy band cheap to reach the place by bus from Baku. Since 2007, Yanardag is a preserve and under state protection.
A museum of petroglyphs, Gobustan is a mountain setting located 60 km away from Baku in the south-east of Great Caucasian Ridge. Sites of primitive people were discovered here together with their numerous rock carvings - petroglyphs. These primitive art monuments are reflective of culture, household, world outlook, habits and traditions of ancient people. Once upon a time there was sea at the foot of the mountains nut later on it retreated leaving typical relief traces on polished rocks.
Unusual rock carvings were discovered accidentally in the 1930s, and today their number exceeds 6,000 (on 1000 rocks). Also discovered were ancient primitive dwellings - caves and sites, more than 100,000 cultural artifacts. Gobustan petroglyphs go back to various historical periods, from 10 – 18 millenniums B. C. to the Middle Ages.
The drawings make it possible to retrace the whole human evolution. Here is a hunting scene of mountain goat; a ritual dancing with spears going back to the oldest epoch of Mesolithic. Here are depictions of horse and foot hunting, battle pieces, collective work, reaping, women at fireplace. Here are scenes of the first centuries of our era – transition to a new level of social order. Depictions decrease in size and become more schematic as they draw nearer to the Middle Ages.
Petroglyphs captured depictions of animals that inhabited the region some 10, 000 years ago - gazelles, wild goats, deer, wild boars, horses, lines, etc. There are also found pictures of birds, fish, snakes, lizards and insects.
Of interest are depictions of boats with rowers testifying to the fact that ancient settlers were skillful seafarers. A famous scientist and traveler Tur Heyerdahl took a great interest in these depictions and repeatedly visited the place.
In addition of ancient pictures, there is a remarkable Latin inscription at the foot of Mt. Beyuk-dash in Gobustan. It goes back to the 1 century A.D. which testifies to the fact that Roman troops visited Baku environs.
Since1966, a territory of Gobustan has been declared a state reserve. At present, it is a genuine open-air museum which is annually attended by thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Ancient Zoroastrian temple of Ateshqah
The temple of eternal flame Ateshqah is a genuine Azerbaijani exotics renowned throughout the world. It is located 30 km away from Baku in the village of Surakhany. The area is famed for its unique natural phenomenon as burning natural gas (wallowing out, gas gets in touch with oxygen and blazes up). As for its contemporary form, the temple was built in the 17-18 centuries by a caste of Sikhs residing in Baku.
However, the history of Ateshqah goes back to the far past. There was a sanctuary of Zoroastrian fire worshippers on this territory from time immemorial (approx earlier A.D.). Zoroastrians placed a mystical emphasis on the quenchless fire and came here to worship the sanctuary.
Following the adoption of Islam, the Zoroastrian temple was destroyed. Many Zoroastrians went to India to propagate their faith in the country. However, Hindu fire worshippers began pilgrimaging to Surakhany together with trade caravans. In place of the ancient temple Indian merchants started erecting facilities. The earliest Ateshgah erection goes back to 1713. The latest one dating back to 1810 was built at the expense of merchant Kanchanagar. Meeting houses, cells and caravanserais rose around the sanctuary throughout 18 century. There are carved inscriptions on cells executed in Hindu writing.
Earlier 19 century the Ateshqah temple looked as it does today. Ateshqah is a pentagonal construction with an embattled outer wall and entry portal. In the center of the yard there is an altar-sanctuary in the form of stone arbor with several hearths around angles. There is a well in the center of the altar with quenchless gas flame.
There is a typical for Apsheron guest room – “balakhaneh” above the entry portal. A pot is located near the temple where dead bodies of Hindus are burnt on sacred fire.
In mid-19 century owing to earth movement the gas seepage on the area ceased. Pilgrims took it as visitation and began abandoning the place.
As a place of worship, Ateshqah continued to 1880. At present, the ancient Zoroastrian temple of Ateshqah is open to tourists, especially as it is decorated today with artificial lights.
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