Azerbaijan’s heritage: 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO – Azerbaijan

UNESCO - Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is famous for various places of interest, the most important of which is UNESCO heritage. World Organization has been working for over 25 years in territory of republic, expanding and covering different spheres of its activity. At the moment there are sites in the country that are already protected, and there are those that claim to be included in the protection list. All of them are especially popular among tourists and are important for the state.

Natural and Cultural Heritage Sites of Azerbaijan

The list of the World Organization includes not only landmarks, but also holidays, national art, the peculiarities of carpet making and cooking some dishes, playing musical instruments and horseback riding. Tourists are told about these intangible cultural UNESCO sites by guides and locals and can get acquainted with them on certain days or at some events.

Below is a list of attractions of Azerbaijan, which are protected by UNESCO. They include:

  1. Icheri-sheher . It is a fortress city located in the old part of Baku and is a historical-architectural reserve, which has been protected by the UNESCO World Organization since 2000. The area of this territory is 221,000 square meters. People lived there back in the Bronze Age, and trade and crafts were actively developed here during the early Middle Ages. The architecture of the fortress is characterized by elements of different cultures that influenced its centuries-long history. The main attractions of Icheri-sheher are Shirvanshahs’ Palace Complex and Maiden’s Tower. Tourists also see other historical monuments: baths, mosques, museums and caravanserais, as well as embassies, hotels, restaurants, commercial units and residences, where today live approximately 1300 families. The quarter is surrounded by ancient walls, considered the oldest site in Baku.
  2. Gobustan . It is a state reserve, famous for its cultural landscape and rock paintings, of which there are more than 6,000. They show that this type of art existed 4,000 years ago. They were found on a rocky plateau, not far from the settlement of primitive people. These petroglyphs were carved on stone blocks and cave walls. They are considered works of art and testify about the life, customs, outlook, culture and traditions of the Azerbaijani people in the Stone Age. The site covers an area of 537 hectares and includes tombstones, remnants of prehistoric cromlech and grottos in which humans lived in the Neolithic era. Gobustan was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007.
  3. Yukhary Tower . This is the historical center of Sheki, which occupies an area of 283 hectares. It is located near the slopes of the mountains and is divided into northern and southern parts by the river Gurjana. Yukhary Tower is an architectural ensemble of houses covered with pointed roofs, as well as the Khan’s Palace, craftsmen’s shops, baths, mosques, caravanserais, the main street and merchant mansions, demonstrating the wealth of the settlement. It appeared due to its advantageous location. From time immemorial, the silk cocoons were traded here. Buildings were erected following the example of Russian, Safavid and Kadjar features in the 18th century. In March 1968, the complex was declared an architectural reserve, and it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2019.It took 18 years from its nomination to inclusion in the list of this organization.
  4. Aggel National Park . It was created in 2003 on the basis of the reserve of the same name. About 99% of the territory is occupied by wetlands, which are included in the list of protected objects of UNESCO. They are of global significance and are also called the bird paradise or the migratory Caspian Way. This reserve is known for a huge number of birds. There are 140 species of birds on its territory and 89 of them choose the park as a place for nesting. They come here from England and India, Africa and the shores of the Mediterranean. Many of them are considered rare and of great interest to ornithologists. Among them are the white-tailed eagle, marbled teal, pink flamingo, curly pelican and sultan hen.
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Today Azerbaijan has several attractions that are candidates for inclusion in the list of the World Organization. The most famous of these are considered to be:

  1. Ateshgah . It is a temple of fire, which is located on the Absheron Peninsula, in the village of Surakhani. It was built between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in a place where there is an outlet of natural gas. Fire was worshipped here by Sikhs, Hindus and Zoroastrians. The altar was built according to ancient traditions and the structure is shaped like a hexagon with an entrance portal and a crenellated wall. Every year more than 15,000 people visit it. Ateshgah has been a candidate for the UNESCO list since 1998.
  2. Girkan National Park . It was founded in 2004 and occupies an area of 40358 hectares. A subtropical climate prevails here, and most of the territory is covered by forests, among which endemic and relict plant species are found. In general, the flora of the park is quite rich and includes 1900 species. Many of them are included in the Red Book of Azerbaijan and are of international importance. In order to protect and conserve them, the country’s government has filed documents for the inclusion of the protected area in the UNESCO World Organization.
  3. Binagadi Kirov Lake . It is known for being the largest burial of representatives of flora and fauna of the Quaternary period. About 190 thousand years ago (late Pleistocene) in the pond 20 species of birds and animals died. The found animals are exhibited at the Museum of Natural History named after G. Zardabi. G. Zardabi. In 1982 the Council of Ministers of the ASSR declared it a natural monument, and in September 1998 the lake was included in the list of candidates for inclusion in the UNESCO.
  4. Mud volcanoes . At present there are about 300 active mud volcanoes in the country, which are associated in origin with oil deposits. They stand out among the terrain and are located at heights of up to 400 m. They are declared natural monuments, protected by the government and environmental committees. The most famous of them can be seen near the town of Gobustan, they have the status of a State Reserve. The volcanoes have been on the UNESCO list since 1998.
  5. Ordubad . It is a city where the ancient layout, ancient monuments and buildings have been preserved. The first settlement appeared in the area in the 5th century, but it was first mentioned only 2 centuries later. For a long time Ordubad belonged to the Shah of Iran, who fought against the Ottoman Khan, and it was also part of such states as the Safavids, Ak Koyunlu and Kara Koyunlu. Each of the rulers left their mark on the architecture. In order to preserve these monuments, the historical part has been included in the UNESCO nomination list.
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Azerbaijan’s heritage: 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Now, while there is no opportunity to travel, it is time to learn more about the history and culture of neighboring countries. Today we will talk about the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan – we hope that very soon we will all have the opportunity to see them with our own eyes.

The Palace of Sheki Khans and the historical center of Sheki

Sheki city, located at the foot of the Greater Caucasus Mountains on both sides of the Gurjan River, is 5 hours drive from Baku. The palace complex, located here, was a summer residence of the Sheki Khans. This architectural monument of the Hanateb empire was built in 1762 by Khan Hussein in the upper part of the town on the territory of the castle, which is surrounded by plane-trees.

The city of Sheki itself was an important point on the Great Silk Road, a historically established trade route that connected the East and the West. By the 19th century, thanks to its strategically advantageous location in northwestern Azerbaijan, the city had become an international center of silk production. While the old, northern part is built in the mountains, the southern surroundings go down to the river valley.

The ancient art of shebeke, for which Azerbaijani artisans are famous, can be seen everywhere here, especially on the windows of the Sheki Palace. Stained glass windows in wooden structures are assembled without nails and glue – it is an amazing craftsmanship that has turned the Khan’s palace into a work of art, because there are 5,000 elements of shebeke assembled together.

You can see a 3D panorama of the palace here.

Palace of Sheki Khans inside the Palace of Sheki Khans inside the Historic Center of Sheki

Sheki Old City (Icherisheher), Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs

Icherisheher is located in the center of Azerbaijan’s capital and was the first site in the country to be added to the World Heritage List in 2000. This is where the history of Baku begins. It existed as a small settlement in ancient times – artifacts dating back to the VI-I centuries BC were discovered here during excavations. After that, the economic and cultural development of the city continued under the influence of different rulers – until the 11th century the territory was under the rule of the Arab Caliphate, then the Shirvanshah dynasty moved its residence here.

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The palace of the Shirvanshahs began to be built presumably in the 12th century and is located in the highest part of the Old City. The palace complex also includes a tomb, a divankhane, a mosque, an eastern portal, the mausoleum of Seyyid Yahya Bakouvi and the Murad Gate. The main palace is built of light stone and beautifully reflects the warmth of the sun, which in Baku is more than enough. The upper windows are decorated with carved lattices. The palace has about fifty different purposes, but only 27 rooms of the ground floor have been preserved in their original form.

Maiden Tower rises in the coastal part of Icherisheher and is one of the main symbols of Baku. This unique construction in the east has no analogues, and it is also interesting that historians have never come to a consensus about its purpose. It is not surprising that on this ground have appeared many legends, which are gladly told by local guides. The most widespread version is that the tower was built in the pre-Islamic period and served as a funerary structure. Now the Maiden’s Tower is a museum, and there is an observation deck on top of it.

You can take a virtual tour of the Old City right now. Scroll down and click “Select 3D Tour”.

Icheri Sheher Station and View of the City Maiden Tower Rotunda Pavilion Divan Shirvanshahs Palace

Rock carvings of Gobustan

60 km south of Baku, in the territory of Absheron and Karadagh regions is one of the most amazing sights preserved since ancient times. Here, in 30’s of last century, more than 6 thousand rock paintings were accidentally discovered. The paintings depict flora and fauna of the area and graphically show 40 thousand years of rock art history.

It is interesting that some of the female characters can be found with tattoos, which is very unusual for the Central Asian area. You can also see scenes of hunting, harvesting, ritual dances and battles – everything that was characteristic of people from the Mesolithic to the Medieval era. In some of the rock art subjects, there are boats, indicating that people were already out at sea back then. There is even an inscription in Latin that was left by Roman legionaries during their numerous campaigns.

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You can take a virtual tour of the Gobustan reserve here.

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