The CIS Heads of State, who met in Bishkek for the anniversary summit, named ancient Ganja the capital of the cultural life of the Commonwealth of Independent States for the year of 2017.
Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan, is located in the west of the country, 352 km from Baku. Its early history is still a subject of debate. The research, held by the experts of the Egyptian Archeological Center, suggests that Ganja is more than 4000 years old. Yet another, more popular hypothesis, states that the city is much younger: it was founded in 859 CE by Muhammad ben Khaled from the Arabic clan of Yazids, who controlled and guarded caravans following the Silk Road. The remains of fortified walls and towers dating back to this period were discovered by archeologists in the Old City.
During several centuries the city grew, flourished and finally turned into one of the key regional centers of economy and culture. However, many times Ganja has been demolished by invasions and internal conflicts. In 1139 Demetrius I, the king of Georgia (1125-1254), seized the city and took away the fortress gates as a trophy. Half of the gate, decorated with ironwork, is displayed in Gelati monastery nowadays.
The city reached prosperity in the 12th-13th centuries as it became the second capital of the Atabek state and one of the outposts of Persian civilization. An exclusive fabric called "Ganja silk" was manufactured here. It was highly valued in the neighboring countries and in the Middle East.
Until the end of the 18th century, the city was the capital of the Ganja Khanate – one of the states that opposed Russia when it initiated the war against Persia. In January 1804 Ganja was conquered by general Tsitsianov. The governor, Javad Khan, was killed in this battle. The Ganja Khanate became a part of Russian Empire and the city was renamed Elisabethpol after the wife of the Russian emperor Alexander I.
In 1918 the city regained its historic name for a while, but in 1935 it was changed again to Kirovabad – to commemorate one of the communist party leaders, Sergey Kirov. In 1989 the ancient name was given back to the Ganja. In the Soviet period it became Azerbaijan’s second largest industrial center after Baku.
In spite of numerous destructions suffered through the history, Ganja remains a beautiful city with many ancient sites. Among them are the Big and Small Bridges (12th century), the Palace of Darus Sultan (12th century), towers, the Friday Mosque, the madrasah, hammams and caravanserais, as well as Imamzade complex (16th century) – a picturesque building with blue domes, constructed as a Mausoleum of Imam Bagir ibn Ibrahim. The historical and architectural complex, built in the 17th century by Sheikh Bahauddin, is also worth mentioning. It includes Juma Mosque (called Friday or Shah Abbas Mosque), Chekyak-Khamamy (medieval bath) and a caravanserai.
Chekyak-Khamamy is a bath consisting of two connected halls. Big domes on top of the building are combined with the set of semi-domes that served as a part of an air conditioning system: air got into semi-domes and then spread through the pipes inside the walls so the compartments were hot in winter and cool in summer. Two steam boilers, heated by the wood, were installed in the basement. The steam circulated via ceramic pipes in the walls and under the floor. This unique 400-year-old bath had worked flawlessly until 1963. In 2002 Chekyak-Khamamy obtained the status of a cultural heritage site of international significance.
Juma Mosque in Ganja is also called Shah Abbas Mosque, as it was built in 1606 at the order of Persian Shah Abbas I the Great. In 1776 two minarets were added to it. Both the Mosque and the minarets were made of red brick – a traditional material widely used in Ganja. During the major reconstruction works in 2008, the renovators found an envelope with 100-year-old Russian imperial banknotes.
Outstanding Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi and poetess Mehseti Ganjavi lived in Ganja. Nizami, born in 1141, was one of the most educated people of his time. He became world-famous for his Khamsa (or Quinary) – a cycle of five long narrative poems. Khamsa is recognized as a great piece of art revealing deep ethical and philosophic ideas of the author. UNESCO declared 1991, when 850th anniversary of the poet was celebrated, the year of Nizami. The Nizami Mausoleum, built in Ganja in 1947, is visited by millions of people who appreciate his talent. The tomb is made of granite blocks with semi-circular facets and has a cylindrical shape. The door seems very small compared to the monumental forms of the Mausoleum. The name of the poet is carved over the entrance and covered with gold.
Javad Khan Mausoleum is newly built – in 1990s the remains of the ruler of the city were brought there from the old city graveyard.
In 2016 Ganja was also proclaimed the European Youth Capital, so the home city of great Nizami hosted a lot interesting events and welcomed many tourists during the past year.