Azerbaijan harnesses its cultural heritage to attract a new generation of travelers


Azerbaijan has a history as a Silk Road trading post, is home to sites that speak to its surprising Jewish, German and Polish heritages, and is teeming with a wealth of art, architecture, crafts, food and drink, etc. . Its welcoming and tolerant spirit offers the open-minded traveler a myriad of reasons to reflect on the different ways in which it has been shaped by historical forces.

“Azerbaijan is a country with deep traditions of hospitality, tolerance and multiculturalism. Our main mission as Azerbaijan Tourism Board is to illustrate these characteristics through exciting tourism products, ”said Florian Sengstschmid, CEO of Azerbaijan Tourism Board.

Here, SkiftX takes a look at some of the Azerbaijani sites and traditions that date back to key moments in the country’s history.

JEWISH HERITAGE SITES

Today Azerbaijan is home to a large Jewish population, and reminders of its Jewish history are appearing throughout the country. One of the most important is the Red Village, located near the Caucasus Mountains, an all-Jewish settlement of about 3,000 people considered to be the last shtetl in the world. It is home to three synagogues, one of which also serves as the Museum of Mountain Jews.

The Red Village is connected to Guba – a historic and multicultural town – by a 19th century arched bridge over the Gudialchay River. Here, visitors can participate in a Jewish mountain culinary masterclass with local resident Naami Ruvinova, whose repertoire includes interesting twists on classic Azerbaijani dishes like dolma (stuffed leaves) and pilaf, and a vegetarian dish called gaylo.

The Synagogue of Ashkenazi and Georgian Jews in Baku is one of the few synagogues to have been built in this part of the world in the last century, as well as one of the largest in Europe.

GERMAN HERITAGE SITES

An unsuspecting visitor to Goygol may be surprised to come across an abundance of German style architecture. One of the German colonies established in western Azerbaijan around 200 years ago, Goygol is home to its own German History Museum – originally the Lutheran Church of St. Helena – the first Lutheran church in Azerbaijan, dating from 1857. Another must visit is the Goygol winery, located on the site of a wine estate created in 1860, and a cellar with 150 year old German barrels.

Those with a Bavarian appetite can seek out Larissa Danilova’s private restaurant, where specialties include homemade sausages and pork chops and cakes from German recipes. The house of the late Victor Klein, the last German resident of Goygol – soon to be converted into a museum – is also open to visitors.

In Shamkir, in addition to reveling in more German architecture, one can visit a still-working Lutheran church and drink Brau beer at the Hotel Excelsior, brewed in their own brewery using Austrian techniques.

POLISH HERITAGE SITES

Azerbaijan

The rapid development of Baku’s oil industry between the early 1870s and World War I, a period known as the oil boom, brought great wealth to the city, sparking the construction of an eclectic mix of European architecture outside the ancient medieval ramparts. Much of the architectural revitalization in the new city was orchestrated by Europeans, including a number of Polish architects. Together, they designed many of the city’s finest buildings, blending the best of local and Western architectural traditions.

One of these architectural highlights is the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences (also known as Ismailiyya Palace), a Venetian Gothic masterpiece designed by Jozef Ploszko, believed to have been inspired by the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. The Franco-Gothic Palace of Happiness, by the same architect, features a prominent statue of a Polish folk hero, Zawisza Czarny (Black Zawisza). The Baku City Hall building was based on the design of Polish architect Jozef Goslawski and currently houses Baku’s executive branch.

The city has many other Polish architectural landmarks, including the Lukoil office building, the Union of Cooperatives, Baku Department Store, the Institute of Manuscripts and the Catholic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

SILK ROAD LEGACY

The great trade routes known as the Silk Road left deep traces in the political, economic and cultural evolution of the countries it passed through. As one of its main transit points, Azerbaijan was no exception, absorbing international influences in its art, music, architecture, cuisine, etc., all of which are on display today. .

Food: Gastronomic ideas easily spread along the Silk Road, and Azerbaijani cuisine today draws inspiration from influences from Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Anatolia and the Far East. -East. The regions of Baku, Shamakhi and Ganja in Azerbaijan are known for their dishes that combine dough and meat – sometimes with cheese – common in the Silk Road countries. Cardamom, a tasty ingredient in Indian cuisine, is widely used in Azerbaijani savory dishes, but also in traditional sweets such as shakarbura and pakhlava, also known as baklava.

The rugs: Azerbaijani rugs were marketed all over the Silk Road and were highly prized for their bright colors, rich patterns and quality. Today, they can still be found in the world’s most prestigious museums, private collections and auction houses, while the Azerbaijani Carpet Museum in Baku holds the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world.

Silk: The settlement of Basgal – for centuries a transit point on the Silk Road – is the center of the modern silk weaving industry in Azerbaijan. It was here that the country adopted and developed Eastern silk production technology, becoming renowned for its dyeing and ornamentation techniques.

The iron: Azerbaijani blacksmiths became famous on the Silk Road for their household utensils, weapons and armor, tools and other items. Using raw iron typically brought from Russia and Fargana, blacksmiths in the Shamakhi region made high-class daggers and swords that were popular in the Caucasus and Russia as prestigious accessories among nobles. Swords known as the shamakhiyya were also highly prized in Anatolia and the Middle East. The tradition is still alive today, in the village of Demirchi (literally “blacksmith”) in Shamakhi.

Music: Most of the traditional musical instruments that you are likely to hear in Azerbaijan descend from those who traveled along the Silk Road – instruments such as the balaban (a wind instrument often made from mulberry branches), kamancha, the oud, the double-balaban wind instrument, the double-sided cylindrical drum nagara and the gosha nagara. Other instruments such as the tar (string instrument of the lute family), tutek (whistle flute), daf (frame drum) and qanun (vertical string similar to a harp) can be heard in the mugham, an art form combining classical poetry and improvisational music which is also on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.

Architecture: Azerbaijan is home to an incredible diversity of architecture which testifies to its reception of external influences: Zoroastrian temples, synagogues, churches and mosques, hammams, fortified towns and bazaar squares. Likewise, Azerbaijan’s architectural heritage can be seen outside the country, in places like Anatolia, Samarkand and Iran.

A key feature of the Silk Road trading towns, such as Sheki in Azerbaijan, were the caravanserais built to accommodate traders and travelers, their goods and animals. Today, there are still two left in Sheki: the upper and lower caravanserais on Akhundzade. Since the 1980s, the Upper Caravanserai has been open to travelers, where you can enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea. It is a fitting reminder of the warm welcome and hospitality that Azerbaijan has traditionally bestowed – and continues to offer – to all.

This content was created in collaboration by Azerbaijan Tourist Board and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.


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