The town of Guba is located 170km to the north of Baku in the Caucasus Mountains (with Shahdag mountain the highest peak at 4243m). In the 18th century Guba was the capital of a small Khanate. In spring the town is full of white and pink blossom and in autumn of sweet rosy fruit in its many orchards. Famous for its carpets Kutaisi charm also lives in the old architecture of the backsreets and its mosques.
Guba is famous for its 19th century architectural landmarks such as the Juma (Friday) Mosque, the Mosque of Sakineh Khanum, Ardabil Mosque, and the dome shaped bathhouse.
Its charm is also in the old houses of the backstreets. In the spring the town is full of white and pink blossom and in autumn of sweet rosey fruit in its many orchards. The surrounding mountains are covered by virgin forests, alpine meadows, cut through by rivers and springs. Hunting trips can be arranged in the vicinity of Guba.
Other sights near Guba include the spectacular Canyon of Tenghy through which the Valvalacha river flows, with walks of up to 250m in height. Nearby is the Afurdji waterfall and the more energetic can include a walk
to the top of Mount Tenghy (6km).
Also of interest is the Chiraj-Gala Fortress which was perhaps a defence system built by the Sassanid rulers of Persia in the 5th century AD. It remained in their control until the 8th century. You can also visit Guba and perhaps the Canyon of Tenghy, on a day trip from Baku.
If you are looking for the lost tribe of Mountain Jews, you've got to go to "Krasnaya Sloboda" means Red Settlement in the town of Guba in Azerbaijan. This is where the biggest Jewish settlement is - outside Israel. It's across the Gudyalchay river on the other side of Guba. There are many sinagogues there as well as some houses that would remind you of Georgetown in DC. People are very sweet and speak Hibru a bit differently though... You'll enjoy walking down the streets of this small settlement and chatting with locals. This town is yet another proof of Azerbaijan's religious tolerance... There are only two places in the world where Jews live together like this(all-Jewish town), in Israel and here.
Where the Mountain Jews came from is a source of much scholarly speculation. Many of these Jews, who sometimes call themselves Juhuro, insist that they are descendants of Israel's Lost Tribes who began their wanderings after the destruction of Jerusalem's first temple in 722 B.C. Others say the Juhuro migrated north from Persia a mere 300 years ago, at the invitation of a local khan, or chieftain and were cut off from their cousins in Iran as the borders of empires shifted.
An altogether different theory suggests that the Juhuro are what remains of the mighty Khazar nation, an indigenous Caucasian people who converted en masse to Judaism in the eighth century, in a vain attempt to fend off Christian Russians and Islamic Arabs. In appearance, the Juhuro are indistinguishable from their Azeri neighbors, who are themselves a mix of Turkish, Persian, Arab and Caucasian stock. *
An ancient Zoroastrian (often incorrectly called fire-worshippers') temple dated by the 9-th century A.D. is preserved in the village of Khanalygh, one of the suburbs of Quba. Here you'll find a unique ethnic group of 1000 Tats who have preserved the original language, customs and traditions is one of the most interesting components of vivid and colourful image of Quba district.
The oldest materials found here by archaeologists are 5 milleniums old and belong to the Kur-Araz civilization of the early Bronze Age. According to numerous excavations, local population of that times lived at the seaside lowland and was used to the settled way of life, being involved with plants growing and cattle breading.
Peaceful life of locals was interrupted in the 3rd millenium BC when nomad tribes originating from steppes of Northern Caucasus had started to appear here. The Kur-Araz civilization's tribes had to leave away and (the most probably) they had moved to the highland areas. At least it is known that some representatives of the Kur-Araz civilization had took up residence not far from here - in mountains of Daghistan.
Those who settled in the current Guba-Khachmaz region had experienced numerous attacks from the North. This is connected to geographical specifics of the area: the region is placed in a narrow "lobby" between Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains, and this passage was one of few routs serving nomads of the North Caucasus while they had organized attacks onto rich counties of the Fore-Asia.
Among those who used this passage, skifs and kimmerians are the first folks known us by their names. They had intruded in the Orient in VIII-VII centuries BC, and even pharaohs of Egypt were forced to pay them tribute. The next cycle of invasions of north nomads (alans, hunns, khazars etc) had started in I century AD. It was happening when the current Guba-Khachmaz region for several centuries was a part of the Caucasian Albania.
In Albania of V century there had strengthened positions of Sassanian Iran, and Sassani kings had constructed powerful fortress walls partitioning the passage between the sea and mountains (V-VII centuries AD). The most known are walls in Darband. Besides, there were erected two more ranges of defensive walls: one in the current Guba-Khachmaz region, at the River of Gilgilchay, and another at the region's south - close to the Beshbarmaq Mountain. In the beginning of VIII century, the current Guba-Khachmaz region as a territory of Albania occurred to become a part of the Arabian Caliphate. But there was no peace - there had started long-lasting wars between Arabs and Khazars, and they always had resulted with a different winner. During these times Arab and Jew families were resettled to this area, basically to Darband and the current Guba-Khachmaz region. Their function was to protect northern boarders of the Caliphate. Later they were assimilated with the locals. Still these Jews had kept their initial religion and ethnic originality and had received here the name of "Highland Jews".
After collapse of the Arab Caliphate and till XVI century the current Guba-Khachmaz region was a part of the state of Shirvanshahs. It was a period when the region was flourishing. Especially prosperous town of the region was Shabran. Our days the remains of this town can be observed in the Davachi region on both banks of the River of Shabranchay. Archaeological exploration of the area of 40 hectares had shown that the city of Shabran was a rather big town - administrative, economical and cultural center of the Guba-Khachmaz region.
In XV century the Safavie kings of Iran had started to show claims for Shirvan possession - they attempted to catch the Shirvan territories. First among them was Sheykh Juneyd, but he had lost and died in 1460. The battle took place in the area of the current Qusar district of the Guba-Khachmaz region. His son Heydar also had drove his troops through this region and also had died here. Only in 1539, Shirvan (including the Guba-Khachmaz region) turned to be a part of the state of Safavies, now becoming a stage for competition between Iran and Turkey. Since XVIII century Russia had entered this continuous competition as well.
These times local population suffered from raids of rulers of small areas in the neighborhood. One of them took place in 1720, when armies of Haji Davud had totally ruined the town of Shabran.
In XVII century the Guba-Khachmaz region's center was moved to the north. It was the time when Hussein-khan of the Utsmiya Kaytagha clan (from the north of Darband area; his family was killed while intestine strife) had received from the Shah his position of the ruler to the Guba and Salyan khanats. During his living in Iran, Hussein-khan had adopted shi-ism - the state religion of Iran - and managed to gain sympathies and credits of the Shah, who gifted him a province ruler right. So, Hussein-khan made his place in the Guba khanate. Here, in the city of Khudat he had built his fortress and the place turned to be a capital of his khanate.
In 1722 a grand-grand-grand-son of Hussein-khan - Hussein-Ali - came to the khanate's throne. He managed to stay ruling while Russians came, and while Iran's last powerful shah - Nadir-shah - had ruled the country. When Nadir-shah was killed in 1747, Hussein-Ali started to rule the Guba khanate independently. In the same year he moved his capital from Khudat, located in lowland, to more protected city of Guba, and had erected here a fortress.
In 1757, this khan had restored his governing at the Salyan khanate. And then in a year the khan had died and ruling power went to his son Fatali-khan - one of the most outstanding figures of Azerbaijan in XVIII century. Fatali-khan had continued with widening of the khanate. In 1759 he had subjected to himself the Darband khanate; in 1767 - the Baku khanate; in 1768 - the Shamakha khanate and the Javad khanate. Turn came for some other territories. He had obtained a chance to create a big powerful state, which could unite most of the Azerbaijan areas. Center of this state would be located in Guba. For Guba and the Guba-Khachmaz region it was a period of "the finest hour".
But a strong country at Caucasus had too many "opponents". First, Fatali-khan was forced to stop his campaigns for widening of territories. Then, after his death in 1789, subordinated khanates "left" from the Guba khanate's patronage. In 1806 the khanate was abolished and the territory subordinated to Russia.
Later the region turned to be the Guba district of the Baku province of the Russian Empire. In 1837 the region had "splashed" once again: Guba was the center of the biggest anti-colonial rising of the Azerbaijan citizens. Actions were brutally put down by tsarizm.
After collapse of the Russian Empire, the region as well as the Baku province in whole had entered the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, formed in 1918. Then, in 1920 it became a part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan. Since 1991 it is a part of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan.
* - interesting article on Mountain Jews can be found here