Shusha

cultural capital sublime nature

With its stunning setting atop a mountain in Karabakh as well as its immense literary, musical and carpet-weaving heritage, Shusha is a place where nature and culture combine perfectly.

 

With its stunning setting atop a mountain in Karabakh as well as its immense literary, musical and carpet-weaving heritage, Shusha is a place where nature and culture combine perfectly.

The city of Shusha in Karabakh is a stunning sight amid the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. But while the nature and views here are truly wonderful, there’s much more to the place than that. This is Azerbaijan’s cultural capital which is awash with literary and musical heritage, carpet-weaving traditions, and history – as the former capital of the Karabakh Khanate and the birthplace of countless prominent people.

History

Traces of Shusha’s compelling history can be seen in the various monuments dotted around the city. The most significant of these is the Shusha Fortress, which was built in the 18th century by Panah Ali Khan, the founder of the Karabakh Khanate that existed with Shusha as its capital from about 1748 until 1822, by which time it had been integrated into the Russian Empire. 

Mosques

Other key historical monuments include some beautiful old mosques. The most famous are the Yukhari (Upper) and Ashaghi (Lower) Govhar Agha Mosques, so named according to their locations in the city. Both of them were built at the end of the 19th century on designs by local architect Karbalayi Safikhan Karabakhi, who was commissioned by Govhar Agha, the daughter of Karabakh Khan Ibrahim Khalil. Both were constructed in the elegant twin-minaret style typical for mosques of the Karabakh region, and both were severely damaged during the First Karabakh War. In May 2021, construction of a futuristic new mosque began, which will tower over the city and resemble the figure 8 (Shusha was liberated on 8 November 2020).

Carpet Museum

A historic hub of Azerbaijani carpet-weaving, the large and beautifully crafted rugs in Shusha, adorned with rich colours and patterns inspired by Karabakh’s lush nature, were prized well beyond the region’s borders. Their uniqueness is highlighted by the existence here of a highly regarded Carpet Museum dedicated to the Karabakh school of carpet-weaving until the city’s occupation in 1992. The museum was located in the 18th-century house of General Samad bey Mehmandarov, who served as the Minister of Defence in the first Azerbaijani republic (1918-1920). Fortunately, most of the carpets were taken to Baku just before the occupation began, so the collection will be restored here in the near future.

Vagif Mausoleum

Literature has also played an important role in the cultural life of Shusha, and of the countless wordsmiths the city has produced, one of the most revered is Molla Panah Vagif (1717-1797). He is credited with introducing the genre of realism into Azerbaijani poetry, as well as serving as the foreign minister of the Karabakh Khanate. A mausoleum was erected in the Soviet time in memory of his outstanding literary and diplomatic achievements and this is another of the city’s top landmarks.

Prominent people

Many more prominent people in Azerbaijan’s history and culture hailed from Shusha. Khurshidbanu Natavan (1832-1897) was the daughter of the last ruler of the Karabakh Khanate (Mehdigulu Khan) who is beloved in Azerbaijan as much for her soulful poetry and art as for her philanthropy and development projects in Shusha, notably the construction of a still-functioning aqueduct that supplied the city with fresh water. Shusha’s reputation for music, meanwhile, is so great that it’s sometimes called “the conservatoire of the Caucasus.” The city has produced many outstanding musicians, including Uzeyir Hajibeyli, who is considered the founding father of Azerbaijani classical music, and the acclaimed opera tenor Murtuza Rza oghlu Mammadov (aka Bulbul, ‘Nightingale’).

Jidir Duzu

Travel to Shusha and the stunning scenery is bound to be the first thing that strikes you. And one of the best places to experience it is Jidir Duzu, a gorgeous, grassy plateau south of the city with incredible views over the Dashalti river valley and Lesser Caucasus Mountains. Given the setting and vast flat expanse, before the conflict the area was long used as a venue for cultural events, from Novruz holiday celebrations to thrilling games of Chovgan – an ancient version of polo. Since the conflict, in May 2021 it hosted the Kharibulbul Music Festival which, named after the ultra rare and culturally symbolic kharibulbul flower that grows in Shusha, assembled the best musicians from all over the country. Many more exciting events will take place here in the future.

Chetir waterfall

Located in the breathtaking Dashalti valley beneath Shusha, along the Dashalti river, is a stunning waterfall whose distinctive shape resembles an umbrella. Here, the water flows over a lushly moss-covered stone cave, creating a scene so serene that the area has always been a very popular relaxation spot for Shusha residents and visitors to the city.

Experience Azerbaijan #4Summer / Autumn 21

With its unique combination of historical monuments, cultural significance and stunning mountainous scenery, Karabakh was one of Azerbaijan’s most visited regions in the Soviet period. Unsurprisingly therefore, realising the liberated lands’ vast tourism potential has become a strategic priority, and on 5 January 2021 Shusha was declared the country’s cultural capital by President Ilham Aliyev.

Read more in Experience Azerbaijan's 4th issue.

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