Shaki (or Sheki) is a city laying in northwestern Azerbaijan – on the southern part of the Great Caucasus mountain range. It is about 300-325 km far from capital Baku city. The closest and most convenient highway connecting Baku and the city is the one passing through Akhsu and Ismayilli. The population of the city is around 63,000 people.
History of Shaki
History of the city dates back to some 2700 years ago. According to linguists, the name Shaki comes from the Saka tribes that appeared in Azerbaijan as early as the 7th century BC. They settled and lived here for centuries. Therefore, ancient authors often refer Shaki as Sakasenu which means “the land of Sakas people”.
With the arrival of Christianity to the region in 4th century, the region turned into one of the most important Christian centers. As a matter of fact, early Albanian churches started to emerge in the region starting from 5-6th centuries. Among many of them, one of the most well preserved church is located in a small village of Kish. This is the place where a disciple of apostle Thaddeus, St. Elliseus, came to preach Christianity in the 1st century AD. he established a church here and proclaimed the Mystery of Eucharist. Thus, the Kish Church became the “ancestress of all churches in the East”. Even the famous traveler Thor Heyerdahl also visited the church. The temple impressed him so much that he even initiated joint work on its restoration between Norwegian and Azerbaijan researchers. Finally, in 2003, the church started to accept its visitors again.
Medieval Ages Period
After Arabs conquest in the 7th century, Azerbaijan became one of the border districts of the Caliphate with Khazar Empire. During this period, as most of other cities in North Azerbaijan, Shaki was repeatedly caught in the cross-fire of Arab- Khazar wars. In the 11th century, the city was annexed by Shirvanshahs state and then made part of the different Medieval Azerbaijan Empires, such as Ilkhanids, Gara Goyunlu, Ag- Goyunlu and Safavids. In 1743-1819, the city was the capital of the independent khanate. After, Russia annexed all northern khanates of Azerbaijan. Consequently, Shaki also became one of the administrative unites in Russian Empire.
During the 19-20th centuries, Shaki was the “Lyon of Azerbaijan” due to the silk produced here. In fact, the city contributed 40 percent to Azerbaijan’s total silk production and was one of the favourite supplier markets for Russian silk traders. Shaki was awarded a medal in a 1862 exhibition in London. There is a silk factory still remaining in 15 minutes walk distance from the heart of the city reminding us the old days of the city. There is a store adjoining the factory where vendors sell some fine silk items at lower prices than what you would find at the bazaar.
Modern Shaki has preserved much of its historical values. The population here speak Azebaijani language with a distinct dialect. The historical and architectural monuments here are the main attractions for the tourists along with the unique cuisine of the region. Well preserved monuments include Albanian Christian Churches, a fortress and mosque, the Palace of Shaki Khans, caravanserais, baths and bazaars, homes and bridges.
One of the most outstanding monuments in Shaki is the Palace of Shaki Khans.
It was built in 1760s by Haji Chalabi Khan- the founder of Shaki Khanate. The structure is a combination of red brick with red cobblestone and does not include a single nail. The palace interior decorations is rich with narrative drawings depicting scenes of hunting and wars. There are unique sections of stained glass- shabaka, containing 3000-7000 pieces in each square meter. The pieces were glued together with a solution. The composition of that solution is still remains as mystery.
Another must-see place in Sheki is the Medieval time Fortress located in the center of the city. The fortress surrounds the Khans’ Palace and besides, there are 11 bath houses around the area. One of those bathes belongs to 19th century is still operational. Caravansaries of Shaki are also very popular among tourists.
Piti of Shaki is one of the top dishes of Azerbaijan cuisine
There is a local teahouse operating in Upper Caravansary where you can taste delicious Sheki Pakhlava sweets with Azerbaijan traditional tea. Talking about the delicious cuisine, one visits here, must also taste national dish of Azerbaijan- Piti. The cooking of Piti is a very tiring process as it takes ten hours, but the end result of this magical dish is just worth it. It is cooked in a special pots, which traps the hit. Meat in the pot cook slowly, and the narrow head of the pot keeps the flavour of the meat inside.
Local people call these pots “Dopu”. Dopu comes in different shapes, but the most common one is the small pot which holds a single serving. Historically, pots or dopus used to be hand made. Even, there is Potters’ street in Shaki, where potters lived and worked with their families. On its pick, there were more than 50 masters working there to produce pots, but as times passed, their numbers felt. Now, there are only a few families continuing the pottery tradition.
Modern Shaki City is a “must visit” destination of Azerbaijan. It has almost everything that someone might need to have an enjoyable vacation- history, culture, nature and cuisine.
If you are interested in visiting Shaki check our Golden Ring of Azerbaijan group tour to visit Shaki and many more unique destinations in Azerbaijan