Shemakha monumentThe ancient town of Shemakha is located at the foothills of the Big Caucasus Mountains Chain. The general elevation of Shemakha is 800 meters over the sea level.
One of the most ancient oriental trading cities, it claims to be the city of Kmakhia mentioned by the ancient Greek geographer Ptolomy in his book 'Geography'.
For a long period Shemakha knew a very active commercial life, being one of the basic points in the region the Silk Route was going through.
Once the capital of Shirvan, Shemakha attracted not only invaders that plundered it but was nearly destroyed over the centuries by repeated earthquakes (1902, 1872, 1859, 1828,1669 and 1667), the most recent shook Shemakha on November 25th, 2000 causing some material damage and a handfull of injured people.
In spite of all the seismic activity, some ancient buildings have survived, and are worth seeing. The Djuma Mosque, has been rebuilt several times, but it dates back to the 10th century, making it one of the oldest buildings still standing in the town and the oldest mosque in the Caucasus, occupying the site of an ancient sun worshipers temple.
The Seven Cupolas (Eddi Gyumbez) Mausoleum is the burial place for members of the royal families of the Shirvan shahs, for
whom Shemakha was the capital for several centuries. The half-ruined cupolas are located across the valley from Shemakha and bear witness to the formidable earthquakes they had to withstand. For further historical details try the History Museum and the Sabir Museum.
On the hills just outside Shemakha you can visit the derelict 11-th century Gulistan fortress (near Xinishli village). High in the Pirgulu mountains, 13 km from Shemakha, 1.400m above seal level, is located the Tusi astronomic observatory, built in the 1960s named after the 13-th century Azeri astronomer, it has the biggest mirror telescope in the CIS.
The locals will recommend Pirgulu mountains as a good skiing spot, and the topography is on their side, but there are no lifts, so all you can do is cross-country skiing - scandinavian style!
The silk route is long gone, but if you enjoy an exotic touch the Pirgulu area won't disappoint you: some of the last camels left in Azerbaijan can be found there.
Mild climate of this temperate zone, rich soil, abundant forests, alpine meadows are distinctive features of this part of Azerbaijan. The population of this district works mostly in viticulture, vine growing and wine making (Shemakha is famous for excellent wines produced both in wineries and privately at homes), cultivation of fruit and vegetables, cattle-breeding and carpet weaving. Visitors can tour carpet factories and local vineyards (which produce sweet fortified wines).
The wine tradition is quite old and the area even has its own pink grape variety, Madrasa / Matrassa, indigenous to Madrasa, a village in Shamakha rayon. These grapes are used for excellent dry red wines, such as "Giz Galasi", "Yeddi Gozal", "Naznazi" and "Gara Gila". Local legend claims that the first french vines came from Shemakha! In fact the wine produced along the western Caucasus came a long way. As early as the late 15th century wines from this area were bought by some of the more demanding wine connoisseurs in western Europe: the Portuguese. Scores of traders, soldiers, priests and adventurers followed Portuguese expansion in Asia, creating a local market for the caucasian wines.
If you want to stay in Shemakha, the hotel is the tallest building in town, with 10 floors. Very likely the quality of the accommodation will make you try to enjoy the scenic qualities of the view instead of the room itself. If you don't mind staying outside town try the cabins at Fortuna resort, in the Pirgulu settlement is situated above Shemakhah, a mere 100m from the Tusi astronomic observatory. The road from Shamakhi to Pirgulu is asphalted and is open most of the year.
(130 km west of Baku)