By Laman Ismayilova
A solemn ceremony dedicated to selection of Azerbaijan’s Sheki city as the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World in 2016 took place at the Yukhari Bash Historical-Architectural Reserve, the historical part of Sheki on April 28.
The opening ceremony was attended by UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Secretary General of TURKSOY Dusein Kaseinov, Azerbaijan`s Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfaz Garayev, famous Kazakh poet Olzhas Suleimenov , members of the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-speaking countries, Azerbaijani MPs and others.
Firstly, the participants visited the monument to national leader Heydar Aliyev in Sheki and laid a wreath at the tomb of the national leader.
Later, they joined the festivities organized in the city. Girls in national costumes greeted the guests with sherbet, a frozen sweet dessert made from fruit or fruit juices, in front of the Palace of Shaki Khans, the pearl of Azerbaijani architecture. The guests watched here the ancient national game chovgan, a sport played on horseback with a history going back 2,400 years.
Then, the participants entered the courtyard of the Khan's Palace. Here the guests were met by a symbolic Khan, who was accompanied with his viziers, courtiers. The guests saw the rooms of the palace and enjoyed vivid images, reminiscent of the Khan's times.
The guests also walked through the Oriental bazaar, got acquainted with the works of craftsmen, saw performances of tightrope walkers and national wrestlers, listened to performances of folklore and music groups and enjoyed delicious meals of the Sheki cuisine.
The guests also visited the historical-architectural monument of the XVIII century - Yukhari Karvansaray hotel complex, watched performances of dance groups and ensemble of ancient musical instruments, as well as visited the exhibition-fair of Sheki craftsmen.
Addressing the official ceremony, Head of Sheki City Executive Power Elkhan Usubov said that the decision to select the city as the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World in 2016 was declared at the 33rd meeting of the Permanent Council of Culture Ministers of TURKSOY.
He reminded that in 2012, the city was chosen as the Capital of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Also, 2012 year was declared as the year of Mirza Fatali Akhundzade, an author and activist, who was born in Sheki.
In 2014, Sheki hosted the exhibition, as well as the fashion show of national costumes of Turkic-speaking countries.
Usubov, on behalf of Shaki citizens, thanked President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva for a great attention attached to the preservation of cultural heritage in the country as well as the promotion of the rich culture of Azerbaijani people.
"The event taking place in Sheki unites the culture of the Turkic World. It is hard to imagine the Turkic culture without Azerbaijan, especially without Sheki city. Today, there is a festive atmosphere in Sheki. The city of Shaki is recognized globally as a cultural center," Abulfaz Garayev said while addressing the event.
Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, in turn, stressed that such events serve to further strengthening friendly relations between the peoples. “Strong economical and cultural ties give impetus to the further development,” he said adding that the main aim of the UN Alliance of Civilizations is to expand ties, build bridges among peoples.
The TURKSOY Secretary General, for his part, said that Shaki is the fifth city, which was declared a cultural capital of the Turkic world.
“The city is the birthplace of many cultural figures. Sheki is famous in the world for ancient historic monuments, tasty sweet treats and humor. All of these factors played an important role in the election of Sheki as the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World", he added.
Then, media representatives of Azerbaijan and other Turkic countries have been awarded TURKSOY prize for the activities.
The ceremony continued with a gala concert, where musicians from Azerbaijan and other Turkic-speaking countries presented an interesting concert program. The concert started with the dance "Yalli" performed by the State Dance Ensemble "Jangi", dance collectives of Turkey, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as well as dance groups of Shusha music school.
The attendees watched performances of famous Azerbaijani ashugs and mugham performers, dance groups and singers, who came from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Turkey, soloists from Kyrgyzstan, Bashkortostan, Gagauzia as well as Baku Chamber Orchestra. The ceremony ended with fireworks.
Sheki, located on the descriptive hillsides of the Caucasus Mountains in the background of snowy peaks is among Azerbaijan’s main tourist destinations, hosting hundred thousands of tourists every year.
The city is a real natural wonder with its beautiful landscapes, mineral water springs, forests and rivers.
Since ancient times, Sheki has been famous as a city of artists, artisans and merchants. The city hosted the traders from all over the Great Silk Road, due to which the construction of caravanserai was very important. Between the 18th and 19th centuries some five large caravanserais were operating in the city, and today only two of them namely Upper and Lower survived.
Sights of attraction
The must-see place in Sheki is the local Old Fortress. There are 11 historical bathhouses here, and one of them built in 19th century, is still in operation. Most of the historical monuments from different periods are located in this part of the town, including the 5th century Albanian temple and barracks built in the time of Tsar.
Juma Mosque, built in the18th century is another tourist attraction in Sheki, which is protected by the state as an important historical monuments.
The majestic Palace of Sheki Khans, located in the city fortress, takes a special place with its magnificent wall paintings and colorful windows' mosaic.
The palace is a two-story brick masonry structure elongated on the north-south axis and covered with a wooden hipped roof with long eaves. The layout of both floors is identical; three rectangular rooms are placed in a row, separated by narrow, south-facing balconies that provide access to the rooms.
The summer residence is renowned for the lavish decoration of its exterior and interior. The facades are covered in tiles with floral and geometrical motives. The interior walls of the residence are covered with frescoes painted during the eighteenth century. Many of the frescoes feature flowers in vases, while a series of paintings on the first floor halls depict hunting and battle scenes. Signatures on frescoes list the names of artists Ali Kuli, Kurban Kuli and Mizra Jafar from Shemaha, Usta Gambar from Shusha, and Abbas Kuli, who may also have been the architect of the summer residence.
The palace was the residence of Sheki khans back in 1762. The interior design of the palace reflects the best traditions of Azerbaijani architecture. The palace is considered as one of the most beautiful architectural monuments of medieval Azerbaijan.
Samples of Sheki cuisine
Famous local dish is Piti. No one could resist the flavor of this Piti, which is cooked in special earthenware pots in eight-nine hours.
Piti is traditionally a workers’ dish, local people say. There is even a belief that one portion of piti is enough to see a worker through the whole day; it is a very satisfying and, at the same time, inexpensive lunch. The main ingredient is lamb, rich in proteins and fat. The use of only fresh meat and the fat from the distinctive tails of Azerbaijani sheep give the dish its special flavour.
Sheki is also famous for its own sweet pakhlava made of rice flour, nuts, and sugar-honey syrup. Anyone visiting Sheki will not be able to resist the temptation of its famous Pakhlava.
Laman Ismayilova is AzerNews’ staff journalist, follow her on Twitter: @Lam_Ismayilova
Follow us on Twitter @AzerNewsAz