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City fortresses

There was a wide-spread saying in the past: "There is no city without a fortress." So it is obvious now why the ancient people associated the conception of a city with fortresses. Since the defense of any ancient city, its influence, economic status, as well as its organization of public services and amenities were determined by its fortress, both in Azerbaijan and in Middle Asia, the concepts "fortress" and "city" often signified the same notion. Firm walls, high turrets, huge towers were not only the means of security, they symbolized a dignity and splendor.

The first information about cities located on the territory of Azerbaijan dates from the 1st millennium B.C., the period of Manna and Mydia states. The history of cities neighboring Urmiyah has been studied mostly from Assyrian and Urartuan sources. The ancient settlements in the 1st millennium B.C. were built by the group principle, and in the head of all those groups dominated the city fortresses, which embodied the defense system. As we see in the ancient manuscripts, the defense system of the cities consisted of firm walls and turrets, and was surrounded by deep moats and steep earthen obstacles. The Assyrian armies, the strongest armies of that period of times, seized these city fortresses with great efforts, and often even could not manage with them because of a thought-out I defense and a fortification system.

Recognition of authenticity of the inscriptions of Assyrian reliefs dates back to the end of the 8th century B.C., giving a vivid idea of the architecture peculiarities of Manna and Mydia fortresses. These fortresses were often built in highlands area and on the banks of rivers, and consisted of two parts - inner fortress and outside city.

The composition and colors of the walls of the ancient Hamadan Fortress give us a valuable information on the socio-hierarchical structure and cosmogonic views of Mydian society. The palace of a ruler and treasury, painted gold, were located on the top of a hill. Below them the surrounding walls gave a form of the crown to whole composition.

The majority of cities of Manna and Mydia (Khainadan - a capital of Mydia, Khasanly - city discovered by archaeologists) were built in the form of a circle, corresponding to the shape of hill. In general, the ring-shaped cities are considered to be the first models of city-building art. Ring-shaped cities of Azerbaijan known as far back as the Shumerian period, had their own traditions of construction.

Since defense potential of the first cities was the main goal of their constructors, they erected fortress walls at the most impassable places for the enemy on the tops of steep mountains and hills. This accounted for the circular or oblong shape of city fortresses. Besides, according to religious, philosophic and cosmogonic views, a circular form of a shelter was thought to be the magical model of the Universe and of divine order. In addition, the circular form of fortress walls had certain advantages, owing to its ability to fortify and economize on the building materials. The most perfect specimen of such a city fortress was the city Shyz, called "Gendjak" in the pre-Islamic period.

The remains of Shyz are located in the Afshar region, Southern Azerbaijan. The city, built in the form of an ellipsis, is enclosed by solid stone walls (5 meters thick X 15 meters high, 1200 meters in circumference). Another inner wall (10 X 8 meters high) built of raw brick joins the outside walls. Thus, a total thickness of the outside fortress walls is 15 meters. Shyz represents a unique phenomenon of military architecture of Azerbaijan. An unusual stability of the Shyz fortress was connected with the special status it held. This city was an official religious center and a treasury of two great empires of pre-Islamic period of Front Asia: Parphyan (3rd-8th B.C.) and Sassanid empires (3rd-7th B.C.).

As a result of archaeological excavations and historical discoveries, a few specimens of ancient cities were found constructed as square-shaped fortresses.

Gendjak (Shyz) used to be the summer capital in Azerbaijan, while Ardebil was its winter capital. In the early period of Islam dissemination in Azerbaijan, the Ardebil Fortress was square-shaped and its sides extended to two thirds of pharsakh (approximately 4-5 km.). An armed camp and a residence for the ruler were inside the "impregnable fortress." The fortress was enclosed by a wall with four gates.

According to written descriptions, a fortress of the city Barda known as "Mother of Aran" (i.e., Azerbaijan) was similar in shape to the Ardebil fortress, though more spacious than the latter. Istakhri (the 10th century) wrote: "As to Barda, this city is very large, it is more than one pharsakh wide, and as much long."

Both Ardebil and Barda were located in the plain. This factor accounts for the fortress walls which formed a square. The construction of other fortresses of large Aran cities, as well as the remains of the defenses of the city of Beylagan are the most conclusive proof of this fact. The difference between the sides of Beylagan fortress which date back to the early Middle Ages is not very large (from 610 to 596 meters).

According to ancient belief, a static square was thought to be the most stable measure against foreign forces coming from all sides. This geometric arrangement, peculiar to ancient cities, found its further development in construction of four fortress gates.

The remains of ancient fortress in the city, having changed its name more than once but perpetuated in memory of people as Ganja, occupies a large area on the bank of the Ganja River. The oldest parts of the Ganja Fortress included twin fortresses built in a form of rectangle along the banks of the river. Similar to Beylagan Fortress, the corners of Ganja Fortress looked towards the main sides of the world.

In the middle of the 10th century Ibn Hovgal wrote: "Barda is the mother of the cities, and is the best of all." Afterwards, in the 13th century Yagut Hamavi noted that "Ganja is the largest city of Aran, and it is the capital." Apparently, after the 10th century the socio-political importance of Barda decreased, and Ganja turned into the main city of Aran, keeping its influence in the region till today. Those times Ganja often was called as the "great and wonderful city" with "full treasure" and "intelligent people."

The grandeur and state importance of Ganja have found its embodiment in the firm fortress and strong defensive system. Abdurrashid Bakuvi noted Ganja first of all as "the most fortified city of Aran." The ancient city-builders of Azerbaijan worked out a well thought-out system of defense - every fortress was surrounded by deep moats on both banks of the river; and special mechanisms were organized to fill the moats with water from the Ganja River.

The descriptions of four Azerbaijan cities (Tabriz, Sultaniya, Khoy and Hamadan) made by the painter and poet Nasukh Matrakchi, a palace architecture, a participant of the military campaign headed by Suleyman Ganuni (1537), a Turkish Sultan, are very valuable from the viewpoint of studying early constructions of city fortresses of Azerbaijan.

Though in some cases ancient Azerbaijan city-builders used rectangular forms in building city fortresses which were located in the highlands, a steep relief peculiar to that area in a great extent complicated the shape of these, forms. Concerning the question of defining a circumference of fortress walls, the Gabala fortress is very characteristic sample of this.

Gabala is one of the monumental city fortresses of Azerbaijan. Being a political and religious center of Caucasian Albania, on the eve of Islam, it became one of the central cities of Khazar tribes; therefore, Arabs called Gabala, "Khazar city." Like Ganja and Hamadan, Gabala also consists of two parts: Gala and Selbir. Gala had 10 towers, and Selbir - 17 ones. For the weak natural potentials of the fortress its walls and towers were built more firmly. The natural growth of the city outside the fortress walls made it necessary to build the second fortress in Gabala.

In the middle of the Middle Ages, the security of Gabala Fortress aroused people's admiration. In 1386, Tamerlane set up his armed camp there; Shirvanshah Farrukh Yassar chose it as his shelter before his final historic battle with Shah Ismayil. A long and stormy life of Gabala Fortress lasted until the end of the eighth century.

In the Middle Ages, city fortresses with complicated construction were mostly widespread. Shamakhy Fortress was one of them. The basic period of its main construction goes back to the period of Shirvanshahs' state in the ninth century. According to written documents, Shirvanshah Gubad (1043-1049) had a fortress wall with iron doors built in Shamakhy.

Shamakhy Fortress included an inner fortress called Bala Gala or Icheri Gala and the "outside fortress" with fortress walls enclosing it from outside. Inside Bala gala there was the complex of Shirvanshahs' palace. During 1970-72 the archaeologists had found only small fragments of firm fortress walls. The accuracy in coating of the fortress walls shows the capital status and cultural development of Shamakhy.

The peculiarities of construction and architecture of the Shirvan city fortresses can be traced in Derbent and Baku fortresses. The age of Baku, like the age of the most of the ancient cities of Azerbaijan is not known exactly. The researchers consider Baku to be one of the cities which Ptolemy noted in the ancient Albany cities list. According to one of the inscriptions, Baku was said to be founded in the period of reign of Manuchehr Shirvanshah III, but there is no doubt that Baku had had more ancient defensive works even before that period.

Baku Fortress - at present Icheri Shekher (the Inner City) - was surrounded with single walls along the seacoast and with double walls in all other places. The walls, in turn, were enclosed from outside by deep, wide moats. In fact, today's Icheri Shekher is an inner town of medieval Baku. Similar to Derbent Fortress, the outside walls of Baku Fortress reached the sea, stretched for 30 meters and formed an artificial gulf. That's why ships could cast anchor in Baku harbor near the fortress walls. As Abdurrashid Bakuvi wrote: "Now the seawater washes the walls of Baku. The sea had flooded some fortress turrets and is very close to a mosque. The city has two very firm and strong fortresses. The sea got too close to the biggest of the fortresses. That very fortress was inaccessible for Tatars."

Ovliya Chelebi in his description indicates that while his visit to Baku in 1656, the inner fortress located outside the city fortress.

Later, in the 18th century I.Lerkh, the German traveller and physician, who was a witness of Russian siege of Baku in 1723, testified that some elements of the fortress and towers were changed, and modernized in accordance with the new military tactics and techniques (rifles and cannons).

The construction of the fortress walls - very high on the outside and rather low inside - as well as the building of underground roads and passages show that, while building, ancient masters of Baku used the peculiarities of local relief and rocks very effectively. All these factors improved the field conditions and security of fortress defenders and gave an opportunity for the saving building materials and labour.

In the end of the 19th century near the northern gate of Baku Fortress there was built one more gate looking exactly like the first one. Now we call them Gosha Gala Gapysy (the Twin Gates). These gatef differ from all other gates in Azerbaijan architecture by their high plastic arts and fabulous ornaments.

Maiden Tower of Baku is one of the most magnificent and enigmatic monuments of Baku and the Absheron Peninsula. The historical and architectural problems of this unique monument are yet to be solved. In the history of architecture there is no other monument which compares to the Maiden Tower from the viewpoint of defining time limits of its protracted construction. Thus, some claim that it dates back to the beginning of Shumerian period, while others try to prove that it was constructed in the twelfth century. It is still not understood what its function was; whethier, for example, it was an Absheron variant of a ziggurat a temple for fire worshippers, a tower of silence; A watch-tower, an observatory, or a passive defensive work.

Maiden Tower has peculiar features of a fortress intended for a long-term defense; such as 1) thick construction of walls (5 meters below, 4 meters above); 2) ability to impede an attack on its tower; 3) a staircase between the ground and the first floors was not built; on the second floor inside the wall there was a water well. Above all, Maiden Tower due to its spatial construction, is similar to Absheron castles with their circular towers, yet differs from them because of its height and multi-stories.

For the present, it is difficult to define exactly the initial reason for its construction and its function. However, the fact that since the twelfth century Maiden Tower had been included in the defensive system of Baku and thought to be a main tower among the most solid fortresses of the Shirvanshahs is beyond doubt.

Shusha was one of the most impregnable fortress cities which was developed in the period of Khanates. In 1753, Panakhali Khan of Garabagh erected a castle and fortress walls on the highest summit of the mountain and thought that even the most powerful enemy would not be able to conquer his capital, Panakhabad - future Shusha. However, half of the century had not passed when this fortress city, just like most of other khanates, fell into alien hands.

The location of Shusha Fortress was ideal for a powerful city fortress. Military specialists, travellers and historians often admitted the ruling location over the wide territory, a great quantity of water springs and building materials, which strengthened defensive opportunities and invulnerability of the fortress. Despite of easiness of defense and small forces necessary for its defense, in 1797 Shusha Fortress could not stand the attacks of Aga Mohammed Shah Gajar's army. Few years later Shusha Fortress was turned into the defensive point of the Russian Empire. More later, in 1822, after the Czar's abolition of Garabagh Khanate, Shusha Fortress lost its main function.

In contrast to the Shusha Fortress, a defensive potential of Sheki Fortress located between the mountains on a beautiful valley was very weak. In 1772, Sheki was swept away by a flood of the Kysh river. Afterwards, the city moved to a safer place, closer to the mountains. The fortress which has remained to our times used to be an inner fortress of the city. It is situated at the highest spot of Sheki and is known by the name of "a city clinging to the mountains".

The fortresses of other large cities in Azerbaijan, especially those of the centers of Khanates (Tabriz, Ardebil, Ganja, Nakhichevan, Khoy, Khamadan, Merend, Ordubad, etc.) dating back from the seventeenth to the 'nineteenth centuries are known from archive documents. As is evident from plans of these cities, these fortresses were very compact in construction, and much smaller in size, especially in comparison with large city fortresses of the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. On the one hand, such a regression was the result of political separation, economic stagnation of Azerbaijan and of all the Muslim Orient, and a consequence of the general decline of the art of city-building as well. On the other hand, fortresses had lost their historical function and expediency.

A certain consistency in the design of city fortresses of Azerbaijan, dating back to ancient times and the Middle Ages, becomes obvious. It was based on the principle of dividing defenses into an inner fortress and another fortress used in a closed defensive system of cities since times of Manna and Mydia was preserved until the period of the Khanates. This accounts for a slight change in the construction of firearms and the unalterability of siege tactics. Changes in a social system and a diverse development of the society affected the physical size, content and architectural scheme of spatial planning of the inner fortresses and fortress cities, leading to their renovation.

A prominent cosmographer and geographer of Azerbaijan, Zakaria Gazvini (1203-1283) depicted a model of medieval city in the form of five òöåã circumferences meeting in a single center. As is obvious from this model, an inner fortress was at the core of the developed defensive system of the medieval city, and consisted of two rows of closed fortress walls.

Both the inner fortress and the city fortress were enclosed from outside by deep, wide moats. When these moats were filled with water, it strengthened the defense of the fortress greatly.

The inner fortress, taking a primary position in the planning was usually erected at the highest spot of city or, in some cases, on artificial hills. Thus, the volumetric and spatial construction of the defensive system of the city created an appropriate compositional development, i.e., an elevation was clearly seen in the distance, which looked towards the inner fortress.