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Mountain fortresses

There are plenty of natural shelters "fenced" with the deep gorges, sheer rocks, precipices and ravines among the mountain chains of Azerbaijan. During the crusades of foreign troops, people took shelter in these impassable mountains, fighting battles against the slavery in the highlands. Therefore, a great number of Azerbaijan defenses were built in mountains.

Depending on the size and character, the mountain fortresses were either of state or a local importance. Some of them were situated near the city fortress which functioned as the administrative center of city; others protected the roads and were used as ruler's residences and shelters during times of war.

As a defensive work, the mountain fortresses performed the most important function during the most difficult sieges of the country. The fortress was not only a passive defensive point, it also functioned as one of the main components of a general defensive system of the country, and very often, depending on the potential of a regiment, was used as an active military base.

During the first Arabian crusades, Isphendiar, a ruler of Azerbaijan, warned Arabs that Azerbaijan would be hard to conquer because the people would withdraw with numerous fortresses in the mountains and attack the Arabs from there. And, in fact, Arabs did confront a long-term defense of central mountain fortresses in Azerbaijan.

For their supremacy in the height, the mountain fortresses could endure the prolonged sieges. Sometimes they stayed impregnable even when the enemy seized the whole country. The sudden attacks from such fortresses kept the enemy in a constant tensity.

Inside the mountain fortresses there were various buildings and dwellings for the disposition of military contingents as well as the storage of rations and ammunition. To withstand a long siege, the waterlines were laid, the wells were dug, the and underground roads leading to water springs were built.

Among the defenses of Azerbaijan, the mountain fortresses are distinguished by their brilliant inimitableness. General features of this type of local architecture are obviously seen in the character of its location, the arrangement of the defensive system, the planning, the use of building materials, and the solution of artistic and architectural problems. The military and strategic qualities of the location chosen for building of the mountain fortress were considered dominant. Very often these qualities were determined by a special "island-like" position of the mountain. With such a geographic position, it was easy to build a strong circular defensive system in the mountains.

Compact mountain fortress consisted of two parts - the main fortress and inner fortress. The inner fortress was usually situated at the highest spot of the mountain, and as a rule, it occupied a corner of the fortress. With the exception of a few cases, most of the mountain fortress-shelters were built from local materials and stones extracted from river deposits and rocks. ,

The Mountain fortresses of Azerbaijan hadò bear different names according to the functions of the fortresses, a natural geographic position, a world outlook and mythology of people, as well as the participation in historic events. Amongst them, three Iocal groups can be clearly distinguished: Koroglu Fortresses, Maiden Towers and Gavur Fortresses.

The Koroglu Fortresses were built in the most inaccessible places. There are the natural force, staggering power and heroic spirit in the simple and monumental forms of these fortresses.

It is hard to believe that some time ago among these wrecked walls and turrets were happened the "unprecedent wars," and "stones of the fortresses turned red because of the enemy's blood,"

The name of Koroglu is connected with notions and concepts of the Turkish people which date back to remote ages. The image of a revived Koroglu renewed by real events, originated from the concept of an "ideal hero" - a brave man fighting against the injustice. In this sense, Koroglu symbolizes a clenched fist of the people directed against the injustice, obedience and slavery. Koroglu represents the freedom, human dignity and national pride. To name the mountain fortresses after Koroglu was quite natural.

One can find defenses called Koroglu Fortresses in different parts of Azerbaijan. There are also Koroglu Fortresses in the monuments located in Anatolia, Turkey, and the Borchaly and Goycha regions.

Gedabey Koroglu Fortress was built in the picturesque mountain near the village of Galakend on the left bank of the Shamkir River. The stone architectural masses looked like a continuation of the huge rocks. The corners and other weak places of the fortress were strengthened with large turrets. It is not easy to ascertain the age of the fortress for neither its name was mentioned in the ancient manuscripts, nor it has stone inscriptions. Though the massive measures and perfect architectural forms of Koroglu Fortress show its centuries-old history.

There is also one more Koroglu Fortress near the villages of Khatynjan and Oysuzlu, in the Tovuz district. Koroglu Fortress over Shamkir area fell to the ground recently, so it is difficult to say anything about it. Only a ring-shaped turret and a fragment of a small wall remain from the Koroglu Fortress in Dashkesan. All these fortresses are monuments dating back to the Middle Ages.

Monuments known as "Maiden Towers" are situated in all parts of Azerbaijan. They exist in Northern Azerbaijan (Baku, Shamakhy, Sheki, Ismayilly, Gedabey, Jabrail, Yardimly, Kalbajar, etc.) as well as in Southern Azerbaijan (Tebriz, Miyana, Maraga, Khamadan, Serab, Zenjan, etc.) to this day. The area of the constructions named "Maiden Tower" is not limited to Azerbaijan; they are widespread in Middle Asia, Iran, Turkey, and Iraq.

There are various interpretations explaining the name "Maiden Tower." Ancient religious beliefs, mythologic, ethics and moral views of people, as well as the historic events going back to different periods of history played their role in the formation of this poetic name. Depending on the concrete historical conditions, one of the above mentioned factors was determinant.

One of the fortresses repeatedly mentioned in historical sources is the Maiden Tower of Shamakhy, more commonly known by the name of Gulustan Fortress. The age of this archaeological site dates back to the ninth century. Researchers have proved that the age of the Maiden Tower may be more than one thousand years. In the Middle Ages it was a legendary fortress, the last shelter of Shirvanshahs, and, as such, was a center of numerous historic intestine wars going for Shirvan. Since its destiny was connected with such prominent persons of Azerbaijan as Manuchehr, Akhsitan, Khalilullah, Shah Ismayil, Shah Takhmasib, the historical value of Shamakhy's Maiden Tower is much greater than that of the others.

The high building culture of Shamakhy Maiden Tower is connected with its state importance. No doubt, the rulers of the country had invited most well-known architects, builders and stonemasons for its building.

There was one more fortress known as Maiden Tower in Shamakhy, near the Beygurd fortress.

The size of fired brick used in construction, techniques of revetment, and the architectural accomplishment of remaining emergency door prove the fact that from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, large construction works were conducted in the Maiden Tower in the village of Khanaya, Ismayilly.

One of the most famous Maiden Towers is a fortress called Gelersen-Gerersen (Come and See). Similar to Shamakhy's Maiden Tower, the Maiden Tower of Sheki is situated very close to the city and included into its general • defensive system. This last shelter of the central city in this vast, rich area was mentioned more than once in historical sources.

The second name of Maiden Tower - "Come and see" is originated from a belief of its impregnability. This fortress, in fact, repulsed the most violent attacks. The construction of the fortress is supposed to have been started at the beginning of the fifteenth century, though, according to scientists, the foundation was laid in the VIII-IX centuries.

Amongst defensive works of Azerbaijan, there were defenses called "Perigala" (the Fairy's Tower). Due to its name, they can be included into a group of Maiden Towers. The most interesting among such buildings is a monument erected on a high rock in the village of Yukhary Chardaglar, Zagatala. Owing to its double-arched construction, similar to the famous Sassanid Monument named Tage Bostan Grottos (IV-V B.C.), Iran, researchers thought it to be a temple of Zoroastrian.

Among the mountain fortresses of Azerbaijan, the Maiden Tower of Gedabey, located 7 kilometers' distance from the village of Soyudlu, is distinguished by its strategic position, its building materials and especially by the perfect monumentality of its architectural measures. In the science literature it is more known as Namerd (the Betrayer) Fortress.

It is difficult to say when and for what reason Maiden Tower of Gedabey was built. Owing to the peculiarities of the main building materials and type of construction, the scientists consider it to be a monument, dating back to the period of Eldegyz' reign in the twelfth century. It is clear that such a magnificent defensive work could be erected only hty a greatly centralized state.

At the Dyry Mountain on the north bank of the Araz River, there is one more Maiden Tower. Due to the measures and peculiarities of architectural planning, which provided a security of caravan roads passing along the Araz River, this Maiden Tower apparently was a defensive work of local importance.

In legends, a ruler of the Maiden Tower was very often a girl or a woman faithful to her beloved and her country. These legendary women-rulers of the Maiden Tower stood up against outrageous warriors and inflicted on them the moral and sometimes even physical defeats. In one of the legends devoted to Maiden Tower of Shamakhy, a woman-ruler of the fortress defeated Alexander the Great - the "Horned Alexander" by tearing out his horns. For a man who had claimed to create a world empire, it was a great disgrace. Maiden Towers are the memorials erected to the girls who saw the "horned" aliens become "hornless".

Alongside with the Maiden Towers, there are "Lad's Towers" as well. They are, however, difficult to be distinguished as a group because of the small number of such fortresses.

The interpretation of the name "Gavur Fortress" is not disputed much. The major theory about the name is that the word "kafir" denoting "a person who is not a Muslim" was formed in the result of assimilation of a word "Gavur" which in Arabic meant "a person who did not believe in the Islam religion." The fact that the defenses situated on the territory of Azerbaijan are called "Gavur Fortresses" and date back to the pre-Islamic period, confirms the accuracy of this theory.

"Gavur Fortresses" were widespread in Middle Asia and Turkey. The most ancient fortresses of Azerbaijan are situated in Nakhchivan. The archaeological remains can be found in Vaykhyr, Garabaghlar, Payiz and Shakhtakhty villages.

As a result of research and observations made by archaeologists and architects of the Gavur Fortresses of Nakhchivan, it was determined that the fortresses dated back to the second century B.C. and were similar to the Khett fortification systems of the same period. This similarity is obviously seen both in the manner of building -large heavy plates were built without grouting, in the construction of walls - the lower part of the walls were built of stone, while the upper part was built of raw brick, in types of engineering (turret-like exits, rectangular turrets, volumetric entrance gates, etc.), as well as in the general compositional and spatial planning.

There are several defenses called "Gavur fortresses" in the northwest part of Caucasian Albania. These remains are located in the territory of Oguz, Gabala and Sheki areas.

One of the parts of Azerbaijan rich for its fortresses is an area along the Araz River. The antiquity and compactness of the city - building in this region was so impressive that Yagut Khamevy wrote in amazement as follows: "In Aran there were a thousand towns built along the Araz." A great number of mountains fortresses on both banks of the Araz river remaining until our times and prove this somewhat exaggeration about the number of cities. Most of these fortresses were defensive works immediately connected with the cities. Evolutionary process of changes is traced back to the fortification system of defenses located in Nakhchivan area (Gultepe, Ezneburd, Oglangala, etc.) which covers the period from III-II B.C. to the end of the Middle Ages.

One of these fortresses - Gultepe 2nd. The walls of that polygonal fortress were found by archaeologists recently in 12 km north of Nakhchivan.

The development of military architecture of the following periods is obviously seen in fortresses situated on the sunny banks of the Araz River. Studying the remains of Urartu fortress (IX-VIII B.C.) in Southern Azerbaijan, scientists arrived at the conclusion that the defenses functioning as a fortress-shelter, as a residence and a castle, differed in size: Bastam Fortress (1025 x 400 m), Farakhram Fortress (750 x 350 m), Siyakh Fortress (83 x 75 m), Uzubtepe Fortress (71 x 32 m), etc.

Unlike the fortresses situated in the Nakhchivan area which date back to the Bronze Age, the walls of these fortresses were fortified with solid turrets disposed in a certain order. There are very interesting constructions in these fortresses made for water supply, such as special reservoirs and stepped tunnels.

Though there is a lot of fortresses situated along the Araz, the most famous among them is Alinja Fortress. Its active participation in important historic events, its unconquerability and impregnability were repeatedly mentioned in written sources and reminiscences of travellers.

Though, the Alinja Fortress rendered its service to various ruling dynasties of Azerbaijan and the Near Eastern region, it was more widely known as a residence and treasure-house of the Eldegyz I House; its security aroused the admiration of Tamerlane who was used to defeating the mightiest armies.

On the top of the mountain there was situated the inner fortress of Alinja which was called Shah-Takhty (the Throne). Here, on Shah-Takhty terrace there was located the palace complex of the Eldegyz I House. The remains of the complex are vividly seen up to now.

There is a great number of fortress remains and fortifications in Nakhchivan area dating back to different historical periods (Abbasabad, Aza, Ilanly Summit, Juga, etc). Unlike these fortresses, the ones on the south bank of the Araz are not well- studied yet.

Northeast Azerbaijan is noted for its multiplicity of Shirvan defenses. In the early Middle Ages, a military and strategic importance of Shirvan increased still more. According to Ibn Fagikh Khamadani (IX cent.) "after building Derbent city, foundations of 300 cities and fortresses (according to Ibn Khordadbeh 360 castles) were laid." We cannot, however, define these figures more precisely but historical materials confirm the fact that the fortresses and fortifications of Shirvan formed a compact lefensive network in the Shirvan Mountain.

One of the central mountain fortresses of Shirvan was the famous Beygurd Fortress which had a very complicated composition and occupied a vast area in which have been found materials dating back to the eleventh century. The earliest information about this fortress can be found in the works of geographer Zakariyya Gazvini (the 13th century).

Many ancient fortresses, defenses and places of people's settlement are found in Ismayilly region, famous for its fertile nature and complicated topography. These monuments are divided into three groups, according to their periods of existence. Galagakh, Topchu, Talystan (Javanshir), Yekakhana defenses date back the early Middle Ages; Niiidi, Shamdlan, Khanaya (Maiden Tower) fortresses date back the Middle Ages; Sulut (Fit, Kharami-lar), Galajig (Gasymkhan) fortresses date back the late Middle Ages.

The largest and the most magnificent fortress bearing on the first group is Javanshir Fortress, near the village of Talystan, on a mountain over the right bank of the Agchay River. The above sea-level of this place is over 1400 km. Agchay River surrounds the whole eastern side of the mountain, and on the other sides it is divided by deep mountain ridges.

Javanshir Fortress consists of two modules: the inner fortress and main part. The relief of the main part is rather complex, it raises towards the north. The southern walls of the fortress retained in better condition. It was the weakest place of the defensive system from the point of view of the nature's defensive potentials, so the builders gave special consideration to its strengthening. They erected two huge turrets here.

The name of the monument is connected with the name of ruler Javanshir (the Vllth century). There were four great empires around the country at those times, so Javanshir, who was trying to keep the independence of the country, surely felt necessity for a large, reliable cover-fortress of state importance.

There is one more famous fortress of the state importance in this region: Niyal Fortress. Mas'udi in the tenth century wrote: "From all the fortresses in the world, Niyal Fortress is most firm."

Niyal Fortress situates in a very advantageous location on a mountain plateau. It has both natural fortification obstacles and opportunities for active farming. The Shir-vanshahs had their residence here. The citadel, where the treasury located, was set on the very top of the mountain, in inaccessible place. Even now it is very dangerous to raise to the mountain where Niyal Fortress settles.

On the land between the villages of Sulut and Khan-kendi there are remains of the defensive works connected with each other: Fit Fortress, Harem Fortress and Khireki Fortress. In contrary to others, Fit Fortress was erected on the foot of a mountain. The wide terraces of the fortress area forms a stretched rectangle. According the historians, Mustafa Khan, the ruler of Shirvan and the last of Shirvanshahs died in this fortress in the 19th century.

Down the Sulut River there are remains of one more defensive construction. It calls Harem Fortress, and looks more like some fortified dwelling than fortress. There were rumors at the times that Khan kept here his forty wives. That is the reason this fortress' second name is "Forty rooms." The other version of the fortress name associates with the word heram (a robber). Herem Fortress consists of two large buildings. Together both of them served as an inner fortress.

A fortress situated between the villages of Dalygaya and Zukhur, Sheki, is known by two names: Garanlygdere Fortress and Yeddiler (the Seven) Fortress. The correct date and the name of its founder is still unknown. The first name associates with the name of the nearest deep precipice. The second name is connected with the legend of seven brothers, who erected this fortress.

Because of its geographical location and the level of architect's planning this fortress differs from other fortresses of this kind in Azerbaijan by its originality. There are no defensive works in the whole country with the equal complexity of the defense system.

Concerning the constructional engineering, the Yeddiler Fortress, like the Chyrag Fortress was evidently built in the early Middle Ages and reconstructed in the following centuries.

Among the mountain fortresses, the oblong-planned fortresses arouse peculiar interest. Configuration of the mountain's relief affected the design of the fortress. Such oblong-planned fortresses remain in Sheki (Bash Kungut), Garabagh (Gulustan), in Gakh (Gakhbash), etc.

An area of Kelbajar-Gubadly is surrounded by a range of Goycha, Murovdag and Garabagh Mountains with the Mykhtekem mountain chain as center. This accounts for the multiplicity of defenses which remain in these mountains. Most of them date back to the tenth century and were built in the pre-Islamic period: Galaly Fortress, Gubadly (Muradkhanly village), Goy Fortress (Aligulu-ushagy village), Galajig, Kafir Fortress, Lachyn (Zeyva village), Lev Fortress, Kelbajar (Lev village), etc. Among them, the Lev Fortress is the largest and most monumental. Numerous cellars for food inside the fortress indicate that the Lev fortress was used both as a shelter and as a food store-house.

One of the fortresses situated on the island Shakhi (Shakhu) at Urmia lake was often mentioned in historic sources of Azerbaijan. Shakhi fortress had been mentioned since the times of Babek's struggle against the Khalifate.

"Better tp be a ruler and live just one day than to be a slave for forty years." Similar to Babek, who was faithful to this idea and devoted all his life to this struggle, his legendary fortress Bazz has remained in historical memory as a symbol of freedom and independence. In historical sources the names of other fortresses of the Hurremites are also mentioned (Varsan, Gazakh, Ershag, Khushsh, Shidan, etc.). The Mountain fortresses of Azerbaijan played an important role in Babek's movement against the mighty armed forces of powerful Khalifate; Bazz Fortress, which supported Babek's army, was a main part of a compact network of mountain fortresses.

Babek, who struggled more than twenty years against the Arabian Khalifate, shook loose the yoke, and his last battle took place in Bazz Fortress in 837 A.D. The Arabian commander after seizing the fortress gave the order to destroy and give it to fire, so that "there would not be even a trace of Hurremites."

There are dozens of mountain fortresses whose names are mentioned in the sources but their locations are not yet defined.