Sheki is a city in northwestern Azerbaijan, in the rayon of the same name.
Sheki is situated in northern Azerbaijan on the southern part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, 325 km (202 mi) from Baku. The population is 63,000.
According to the Azerbaijani historians, the name of the town goes back to the ethnonym of the Sakas, who reached the territory of modern day Azerbaijan in the 7th century B.C. and populated it for several centuries. In the medieval sources, the name of the town is found in various forms such as Sheke, Sheki, Shaka, Shakki, Shakne, Shaken, Shakkan, Shekin.
Geography and climate
Sheki is surrounded by snowy peaks of the Greater Caucasus, in some places reaching 3000–3600 m. Sheki's climate includes a range of cyclones and anticyclones, air masses and local winds. The average annual temperature in Sheki is 12 °C. In June and August, average temperature varies between 20 and 25 °C.
The mountain forests around the area prevent the city from floods and overheating of the area during summer. The main rivers of the city are the Kish and Gurjhana. During the Soviet rule of Azerbaijan, many ascended to Sheki to bathe in its prestigious mineral springs.
There are traces of large-scale settlements in Sheki dating back to more than 2700 years ago. The Sakas were an Iranian people that wandered from the north side of the Black Sea through Derbend passage and to the South Caucasus and from there to Asia Minor in the 7th century B.C. They occupied a good deal of the fertile lands in South Caucasus in an area called Sakasena. The city of Sheki was one of the areas occupied by the Sakas. The original settlement dates back to the late Bronze Age.
Sheki was one of the biggest cities of the Albanian states in the 1st century. The main temple of the ancient Albanians was located there. The kingdom of Sheki was divided into 11 administrative provinces. Sheki was one of the important political and economic cities before the Arab invasion. But as a result of the invasion, Sheki was annexed to the third emirate. An independent principality was established in times of a weakened Arabian caliphate. The city was also ruled by Georgian Kingdom, Atabegs of Azerbaijan and Khwarezmid Empire before Mongol invasion.
After the collapse of the Hulagu Khan's rule in the first half of the 14th century, Sheki gained independence under the rule of Sidi Ahmed Orlat. Shah Tahmasp put an end to the independence of Sheki in 1551 and annexed it to Safavid Empire with brief periods of Ottoman rule in 1578–1603 and 1724-1735. Sheki Khanate was established in 1743, and was one of the strongest feudal states among the Caucasian khanates. During existence of Sheki khanate, the local population of the city was engaged in silkworm breeding, craft and trade. As a result of a flood in the river Kish, the city of Sheki was partially ruined and the population was resettled in the present day city. The Sheki khanate became a vassal of the Russian Empire in accordance with the second Treaty of Kurakchay of 1805.
The area was fully annexed by Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and the khanate was abolished in 1819 and the Sheki province was established in its place. Sheki province was merged with provinces of Shemakha, Baku, Susha, Lankaran, Derbent and Kuban in 1840 and Caspian Oblast was created. At same time Sheki was renamed as Nuha. The oblast was dissolved in 1846 and it was raion center of Shemakha Governorate. After the earthquake in Shemakha in 1859, the governorate was renamed as Baku Governorate. In 19 February 1868, raion of Nuha was passed to newly created Yelizavetpol Governorate with one of Susha. After founding of USSR, it was center of Nuha raion. Its one was abolished in 4 January 1963 and was bounded to one of Vartashen. Nuha one was founded again in 1965 and finally city and raion regained traditional name in 1968.
During its history, the town saw devastation many times and because of that, the oldest historic and architectural monuments currently preserved are dated to only the 16th-19th centuries. For many centuries, Sheki has been famous for being the center of silkworm-breeding. Originally located on the left bank of the river Kish, the town sat lower down the hill, however Sheki was moved to its present location after a devastating flood in 1772 and became the capital of Sheki Khanate. As the new location was near the village of Nukha, the city also became known as Nukha, until 1968 when it reverted to the name Sheki.
Sheki possesses a small silk industry and relies on its agricultural sector, which produces tobacco, grapes, cattle, nuts, cereals and milk. The main production facilities of Sheki are the silk factory, gas-power plant, brick factory, wine factory, sausage factory, conserve factory, and a dairy plant with its integrated big scale Pedigree Dairy Farm.
The city is particularly fruitful for tourism, both Azerbaijanis and foreigners spend vacations in the province. In 2010, Sheki was visited by 15,000 foreign tourists from all around the world.
Main piazza, palaces and castles
The central and main open city square is dominated by 2 Soviet towers.
The Palace of Sheki Khans which was a summer residence of Sheki Khans, still remains one of the most visible landmarks of Sheki. Constructed in 1762 without a single nail is one of the most marvelous monuments of its epoch. Displayed within the palace are Azerbaijani Khanate-era artifacts, as well as displays of the art scene, considered to be among the finest in the world.
The Sheki Castle which was built by the founder of the Sheki Khanate Haji Chelebi Khan (1743–1755), near the village of Nukha on the southern foothills of the Caucasus. The fortress walls are close to a thousand and two hundred meters long and over two meters thick. Protected by numerous bastions, the fortress is entered by two main gates from the north and south. At the height of the khanate, the fortress contained a gated palatial complex and public and commercial structures of the city, while the residential quarter was situated outside its walls. It was restored extensively between 1958 and 1963. Many years Sheki fortress safeguarded approaches to the city, the acts of bravery by its defendants of fight with foreign oppressors had been written in many history books. In Leo Tolstoy's well-known Hadji Murat novel, Sheki fortress had selected as place of events.
Sheki hosts a wealth of historical museums and some of the most important in the country. The Sheki History Museum is one of the main museums, considered one of the most important for artifacts of the Khanate period.
As of 18th century, five big Caravanserais (Isfahan, Tabriz, Lezgi, Ermeni and Taze) were active in Sheki but only two of them have survived. The upper and lower Caravanserais were built in 18th century and used by merchants to store their goods in cellars, who traded on the first floor, and lived on the second. Both Caravanserais includes view of all convenience and safety of merchants and their goods.
A home to ancient Caucasian Albanian churches, religion is highly important to the people of Sheki due to its historical religious diversity. There are many churches and mosques in the city. Some churches such as the Church of Kish in the vicinity of Sheki are thought to be approximately 1,500 years old. The Khan's Mosque, Omar Efendi Mosque and Gileili Minaret are considered important places of worship in the city.
Sheki has one of the greatest density of cultural resources and monuments that include 2700 years of Azerbaijani history. The city boasts a lot of houses with red roofs. In pop culture, probably the most famous feature of Shekinians are their nice sense of humour and comic tales. Sheki's comic tales hero Hacı dayı (Uncle Haji) is the subject of nearly all jokes in the area.
Perhaps the best-known aspect of Sheki cooking is its rich sweet dishes. Sheki is traditionally held as the home of special type of baklava, called Şəki halvası (Sheki Halva). Others include nabat boiled sugar and sweet pesheveng.
Sheki also has some famous dishes, including girmabadam, zilviya, piti, a stew created with meat and potatoes and prepared in a terracotta pot.
The city of Sheki has developed its own dialect of Azerbaijani language, which is mainly spoken in the city, and the region of Sheki Rayon. Residents of city are known for their cheerful intonation of the words.