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A pair of fortress gates (Gosha Gala), (Old City of Baku)
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Group tour: 09:00
Private tour: from 09:00 to 12:00
Around 150km west of booming Baku, the verdant Ismayilli region is one of Azerbaijan´s most beautiful, encompassing rich rolling farmlands, thick deciduous forests and backed to the north with spectacular mountains. For the trickle of foreign tourists who venture into this picturesque area, Ismayilli region is usually associated with just one place – the timeless mountain village of Lahij. Famed for its hand-beaten copperwork, dramatic Caucasian backdrop and linguistically unique population of Persian descent, Lahij is certainly worth a visit (see Visions´ 2008 winter edition 3.1 for more). But the region has plenty more to uncover. Central Ismayilli town is shadily pleasant and anyone who hasn´t been there for a year or two will be astounded to see the crenellated ´fortress´ wall that now parallels Heydar Aliyev St for around a kilometre. Complete with central gateway and a series of semicircular ´towers´, it´s all faced in apparently authentic grey local stone, yet only dates from 2010 and is still under construction! Construction is also afoot two kilometres east where the big new Javanshir Gala hotel is rising near the turn off for Talistan village. The hotel is named after an ancient castle whose very sparse ruins lie behind that village, making for a fun ramble.
Ismayilli is an Azerbaijani city located at the foot of the southern slope of the Lesser Caucasus, in the valley of the Alazan and Erichay rivers, 185 km from Baku. The area, where this city is located, was known from the II century BC, it was in the territory of the Gyrdyman state. In 1931, Ismayilli became the center of the Ismayilli region.
The city is located in a picturesque area, among green meadows, high mountains and fast mountain rivers. The difference in heights, the abundance of high mountains creates a unique climate. There are 8 climatic zones on the territory of the region. For protection of flora and fauna, the Ismayilli State Nature Reserve was established here on June 1, 1981.
There are several centers of tourism and mountaineering in Ismayilli. Hiking and climbing to the tops of mountains are organized here under the guidance of experienced instructors.
The most interesting landmark of Ismayilli is the ruins of the ancient fortress Javanshir, built in the 7th century. In order to admire the ancient walls near, you have to walk or ride astride 4 km from the village of Talystan (suburb of Ismayillov). The territory of the fortress is 2 hectares. The exterior and interior walls, as well as the cylindrical tower on top of the mountain, have been preserved. Once a tunnel was laid from the walls of the fortress to the Maiden Tower, but partially its vaults collapsed, but its fragments are now clearly visible.
Also preserved are several ancient mosques and medieval baths.
Since ancient times there has been a glory of Ismailly weavers and their magnificent carpets, of delicious local cheeses and painted national silk shawls.
But today we were heading southeast, 11km from Ismayilli, to the hilltop village of Ivanovka. The road sweeps up through vast fields of sunflowers, their heads demurely drooping in anticipation of the oil harvest. The northern horizon is barricaded by a hazy parade of muscularly high mountains, some still snow dappled despite the scorching summer sunshine – even at this ´lower tail´ the Great Caucasus peaks top 3600m.
As soon as you come into Ivanovka it´s clear you´re in somewhere ´different´. Many of the locals are blond haired and blue-eyed. Many homes are built in old Russian village style with timber-sided uppers and red-tile roofs. The town´s recently repainted welcome sign is in Russian, still proudly adorned with a CCCP (USSR) logo. Around its hammer-and-sickle, the classic Soviet era slogan “Proletarii Vsekh Stran, Soedinyay tyes!” means “Proletariat of all countries unite”. And it´s not just words. Unique in Azerbaijan, and pretty rare anywhere, Ivanovka retains a working Soviet era kolkhoz (collective farm). And the population is indeed a curious mixture. Increasing numbers of Azerbaijanis and Lezgians live here but the core population are ethnic Russians from several protestant Christian sects whose forefathers arrived here in order to avoid persecution in the mid-19th century. Most notable are ´Molokans´, whose nickname literally translates as ´milk drinkers´. This was originally an 18th-century term of insult over the fact that they would drink milk in Lent (when Russian Orthodox Christians were fasting).
Hazy views from Ivanovka
The term was later re-interpreted more positively as drinkers of the spiritual milk of God, so it´s no longer considered derogatory. The Molokans´ particularly puritanical creed eschews smoking, swearing and icons. Rather than churches, their religious gatherings are in unadorned prayer houses that are virtually indistinguishable from other homes. Wealth is seen in mainly spiritual terms “We are rich and happy because we love God, and God loves us because we love Him”. Though not a Molokan herself, Ivanovka´s guesthouse owner Tanya Howard has great respect for these conscientious folk:
“The streets are always empty because everyone is working from dawn till dusk. One neighbour told me: ´If the sun would shine 24 hours we´d work all 24´. It´s lucky they believe so fervently in Sunday as a day of rest or else they´d work themselves to death! ”
Ivanovka´s mixture of puritanical work ethic, Molokan honesty and Soviet collective organisation has led many Bakuvians to rate Ivanovka produce highly for its freshness and purity. The Ivanovka cooperative maintains a grocery in the capital. It recently moved (to Tolstoy 155, behind ISR Plaza) but was for years a curiously utilitarian contrast to the smart boutiques of Nizami St, its aproned babooshkas using abacuses to calculate the prices of muddy potatoes, delicious honey, fresh vegetables and wheels of white cheese pulled from unsophisticated barrels of brine.
Lahij is a well-preserved Azeri urban settlement that has not lost its historical appearance, as if stuck in the previous centuries. It is entirely a state historical and cultural reserve, which contains memoirs of the XV-XIX centuries. It is located in the Ismayilli region of Azerbaijan, on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus, and through it passes the famous tourist route “The Great Silk Road”, far beyond the borders of the country.
One of the important features of the village of the reserve is that people still live here! And they do not just live, they also thrive. Lahic is an important and famous craft center, especially famous for its copper dishes. In general, the village has more than 40 kinds of crafts, which the tourist can observe live.
Also characteristic is the characteristic quarterly development of the town. Medieval cobbled streets, squares and sewerage, numbering more than 1000 years. Houses often do not exceed the height of two floors and are laid out of a river stone interspersed with wooden rails. This architecture is due to the seismic activity of the area. Also a remarkable place worth visiting is the Historical and Local History Museum