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Civic buildings of Islamic culture in Nakhchivan – caravanserais

One of the most important trade routes connecting the South Caucasus with the Middle East was once passed through Nakhchivan. Studies show that the Julfa, Gizilburun and Shahtakhti crossings in the autonomous republic were used in the VI-V millennium B.C. The famous Silk Road, which connects the East and the West in the Middle Ages, continued in this direction. Because they are located in favorable positions, these checkpoints are now being used.

These crossings were widely used in the exchange of metal and none-metalic minerals, silk and crafts products.

It is not accidental that Nakhchivan city was known as “Nagshijahan” in the sources of the middle ages. This city situated in the center of Azerbaijan was the center of international trade in different periods of the history. The archaeological materials found in the city of Nakhchivan in 2017 prove that there were important cultural centers in our ancient land in the V millennium B.C. After adopting Islam religion the importance of the city increased as a trade and cultural center, the city became the capital of Nakhchivan kingdom later Atabeylar state, after the establishment of Elkhanis, feudal states of Azerbaijan and centralized state in Azerbaijan, Nakhchivan was known as the important trade and craftsmanship center. The development of these fields caused to expand economical-cultural relations, the construction of civic buildings especially caravanserais, which ensures the comfort and safety of commercial caravans became a necessity. Caravansaries were divided into two groups: city caravansaries and transit caravansaries.

In accordance with the Decree of the Chairman of the Supreme Majlis of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic Mr. Vasif Talibov dated December 6, 2005 “On organizing the protection and passport registration of the historical and cultural monuments in the territory of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic”, during the registration of historical and cultural monuments in the territory of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic it was determined that the transit caravanserais in Nakhchivan had a large network. These caravansaries also made opportunity to determine the trade routes passing through Nakhchivan. One group of caravansaries consisted of Kharaba Gilan, Julfa, Jamaldin, Kharabashahar, Khok, Yurdchu and other caravansaries built along Araz valley. These caravanserais from Tabriz to Julfa and from there to Iravan and Tbilisi were very important for the rest of the merchants and artisans. Jamaldin and Yurdchu caravanserais covering the vast area show that they were used even more, and the importance of the way. The caravansary near Dasta village proves that this way leads to Ordubad. However, there were also small caravanserais to spend night in Nakhchivan. The small-size, two-room caravansary in the Batabat forest can be considered an example.

The trade route along the Araz valley was used in ancient times and was of special importance in the Middle Ages. Among the caravansaries located in this direction, a caravansary situated near Julfa was of great importance.  The caravansary is situated in the territory of “Died city” which once played an important role in the economical-cultural life of our country. The remnants of this city were discovered during the excavations held in 1974-1978. Julfa caravansary is the biggest building registered in Azerbaijan up to now. Its total height is 37 meters. During the excavations it was found out that a large part of the caravansary was destroyed during the Julfa railway construction. It was discovered during the investigation that its entry was from Araz river. The existence of the same caravanserais on the other side of the Araz river shows that they are interconnected. According to researchers, before the construction of the bridge, these two caravanserais were linked by a ferry crossing. These places were very convenient for caravans, as well as their owners to spend night and rest. Perhaps that is why the XVII century French traveler named Tavarnia called caravanserais hotels with canteen.

“Died city” had also a great role in caravan trade. The settlement is limited with a mountainous range in the north, the Araz river in the south, and the cemetery in the west. The settlement lies on the left bank of the Araz river, in the form of a narrow strip, from the west to the east, in accordance with the relief of the area. The houses were completely destroyed, the ruins of the building were scattered around. The monument is covered by burnt bricks. It seems the buildings here were constructed by burnt bricks. One can come across glazed and unglazed clay products, copper coins and other material and cultural remains in the settlement. A small part of glazed pottery is made of Chinese celadon pots. Undoubtedly, this residence, located near the Gulustan and Shah Abbas bridge, occupied an important place in medieval trade. There is information about the ancient settlement situated on caravan road and historical monuments in the works of medieval writers. In some sources this city is remembered since the V century. The city was especially developed in the X-XII centuries due to the formation and development of Atabeylar state. Important trade routes connecting Eastern countries with the West passed through this area. The city developed particularly in the XVI century, Safavid period, lived its second renaissance period. The construction of the Shah Abbas bridge coincides with this period. According to sources, this settlement consisted of 10 quarters, 4 thousand houses, and the number of population reached 20-40 thousand. The city established extensive trade relations with Western European countries and India, and silk, jewelry and pottery products, embroidery and stone engraving patterns are widely used in foreign trade. At the beginning of the XVII century the city passed under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, but in 1603 it joined the Safavids.

Caravanserais played an important role both international and internal trade. These caravanserais, which their remnants remained in different villages of the autonomous republic, created favorable conditions for the population of Nakhchivan to contact the northern and southern regions of Azerbaijan.

After Azerbaijan gained its independence, the care to Turkish-Islamic monuments in the autonomous republic increased, mosques, memorial monuments and civil buildings were restored and put into use for our people.

Vali Bakhshaliyev

Corresponding member of ANAS

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Date: 20-03-2019
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