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Sumgait (Sumqayit)


Located on the northern coast of the Apsheron peninsula, on the estuary of the river of the same name, and with a population of 275.000, Sumgait is the third largest city in Azerbaijan (after Baku and Ganja). Sumgait is the perfect example of a city resulting from the enormous industrial development effort unchained by Stalin.

Until the 40s there was only village with 4000 souls. Re-founded in 1944 as an industrial centre to support Soviet engagement in World War II, it quickly became a major site for chemical and metallurgical industries, benefiting from the local availability of oil and gas. The city is a major steel producer, accounting for about 40 percent of the steel produced in the Caucasus region. An aluminium plant was built in the 50s, but Azerbaijan needs to import bauxite. Because of the large deposits of salts nearby and the availability of cheap hydroelectricity, Sumgait is a major producer of caustic soda. Factories based in Sumgait also produce synthetic rubber, fertilizers, detergents, and petrochemicals.

Recently the city has become a free economic zone, in order to obtain much needed foreign investment. With such a vast industrial portfolio, Sumgait is a fine example of a grim, Soviet-style industrial city. It's worth seeing if only to grasp the staggering damage to the environment wreaked by the Soviet authorities. The impact on the health of the population was also dramatic and once Sumgait held records for infant mortality (a visit to the children's cemetery will illustrate this dramatically). The presence of oncologycal and psychiatric hospitals also say something about the place. On top of man's damage, nature also took its toll, and Sumgait was shaken by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in November 2000 causing some material damage and a handfull of fatalities.

Most visitors go to Sumgait only because it's on the way to Quba from Baku (take the M-29 road). Anyway, if you are there the seaside areas can be quite pleasant. Walk on the beautiful seaside boulevard, rest on the beach, have a drink, but try stay out of the water... Industrial development brought also the need for a local education infrastructure, and today Sumgait is the place of the Oil and Chemistry College, the Chemistry and Automation college, the University of Organic Synthesis, a medical school and even has a musical college. If you are staying in the evening there a few nice cafés and some restaurants.

If you enjoy the occasional play, try the Arablinski Drama Theatre (21 Azerbaijan street, tel. 59121). There is a stadium named after Huseinzade and a palace for winter sports, both located on Samed Vurgun street.

However, even an industrial city can have behind it a romantic legend. Sumgaitians will tell you about the origin of the name of the Sumgait river and therefore the name of the town itself. In the legend, the hero by the name of Sum is chosen by his community to fight a monster that was blocking the river. Sum eventually accomplishes his mission, but when the river is released he is swept by the waters and never seen again. After that, his beloved, Jeyran, inconsolable by Sum's disappearance, would go to the river and cry "Sum Gayid!" (Sum, return!).

But that's not the end of the story. When Jeyran realized that Sum would never come back, she started to cry and eventually she, too, died, drowning in her own tears. The place where this is supposed to have happened is called Jeyran-Batan, which in Azeri means, "The place where Jeyran drowned." Today, there is a reservoir there which supplies the city of Baku with water. This reservoir was created about the same time that the city of Sumgayit was built. So the names of both places can be traced to olden times and are bound up with the same legend.

Russian traveller I.Beryozin wrote in his travel notes in forties of XIX century referring to popular etymology: "Here flows Sumgayit or Sugayit River nearby Sumgayit town".

In Middle Ages, here was an important trade route. Travellers of this period gave description of two caravanserais sited on both banks of Sumgayit River. These caravanserais are dated back to XVI-XVII centuries. In famous scientist B.A.Pakhomov opinion, they can be related to more early ages.

First record of Sumgayit in historical notes of English traveller H. Barrow is dated 1580. He marked Sumgayit post station in his "Caucasian towns" book. In 1935 people's commissariat of heavy industry of USSR made a resolution to revive and develop heavy industry in Absheron peninsula, namely thermoelectric power station etc. Specialised commission decided to lay a foundation of new industrial enterprises in 35-36 km from Baku due north nearby Sumgayit railroad station.

It was not a random selection. First, this site is near to the capital of Azerbaijan ? Baku city. Second, closeness of Baku-Rostov-Moscow railroad and Nasosny-Baku water pipe created favourable conditions for construction and development of the city. In 1938 here began a construction of thermoelectric power station. On February 13, 1941, first generator of Sumgayit thermoelectric power station started to produce electric power for Baku petroleum industry. In 1939- 1940 chemical plant, pipe-rolling works and synthetic caoutchouc plant started to build up. Bur they were stopped due to World War II. Construction resumed in 1944 with construction of metallurgical and chemical works. Sumgayit became main pipe rolling centre of Transcaucasia since 1952. In 1953, open-hearth shop produced its first steel. One of the largest enterprises of the country Sumgayit chemicals plant started its activity in 1945.

Most beautiful place of the city is Seashore Park. It is edged with Caspian shore and S.Vurgun Street. Largest city stadium after M.Huseynzadeh is also located on territory of Seashore Park. Here you cal also find beach within the bounds of Sumgayit.

Just outside of Sumgait, to the east, you'll find Novkhana, with a salt lake nearby and the excellent beach at Adsyz cape. South of Novkhana lies Sarai, an old village with an interesting ancient mosque. In contrast with the environmental wasteland in Sumgait, to the east of the city, at the tip of the Apsheron peninsula you'll find a small nature reserve, known as Shakhov Bank. From Baku you can reach Sumgait by buses or mini-buses that depart from Baku's 20th January metro station. (40 km northwest of Baku).

Corat village located on the Absheron peninsula plays one of the most important roles in the history of Azerbaijan. The word "corat" has its own stories and etymologies. According to one the word originates from "curet," which means "bravery" in Azeri. The knights of this ancient settlement courageously defended this village from enemies.

Another source says that local population was engaged in fishing, that is why "corat" is formed from the expression "tor at," which means "throw the net". The village settlers owned five fisheries: three on Absheron peninsula and the other two in Onbashi and Qumbashi and eleven cargo ships.

Absheron's climate allowed the population to do gardening. Corat is famous for growing figs, grapes, melon, almond and pistachio. Corat's territory today includes Saray and Shurabad villages. There used to be four mosques in the village, two of them still remain, one of which has a door inscribed with the date of its construction: "409 of Islamic calendar (1415)." The village, located on the Silk Road, had four karavansarays named "Haji Emrullahbey," "Haji Zair Karavansaray," "Haji Gulmammad Karavansaray," "Haji Humbet Karavansaray" and "Haji Baladayi Karavansaray." The village's cemetery is 800 years old and is considered one of the oldest on the peninsula.

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