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Nachitschewan

Nakhchivan Azerbaijan – Visiting the Caucasian Switzerland

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Welcome to Paradise! The exclave of Nakhichevan Azerbaijan (spelled Naxçıvan in Azerbaijani) in southwestern Azerbaijan, bordering Iran, Armenia and Turkey, is an El Dorado for ethno-fans and a real insider’s tip. The breathtakingly beautiful landscape has mountains up to 4000 meters high, crystal clear lakes, sandy deserts and untouched steppes. The autonomous republic is an almost unknown spot.

Among other things, the “Machu Picchu” (Alinja Fortress) of Eurasia, the tomb of Noah and the oldest salt mine in the world can be seen in the area between Mount Ararat (Agridag) in the distance in neighboring Turkey in the north, the 16-hectare Batabat Lake in the northeast, the capital Naxçıvan City and the Araz Dam in the southwest and the oasis town of Ordubad in the southeast. Therefore, we would like to introduce Nakhichevan to you in more detail.

The Cosmic Exclave

After his return from space in 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov raved that the surface of the Earth would shimmer pink from above. He had only ever seen this hue “once again on Earth, and that was in Naxçıvan,” he said in an interview.

Nakhchivan Azerbaijan
View of the Khans Palace in Nakhichevan city

Where Noah docked and Persians and Arabs fought over a trading post

According to the legend, Nakhichevan means “place of landing”. It refers to the landing of Noah, who is said to have grazed and parted the summit of İlandağ Mountain with his ark and then landed here. Some archaeologists date the origins of the Republic to 1500 B.C. In the 7th century, the Arabs replaced the Persians of the Sassanid Empire, but lost the territory back to Persia in the 17th century. Until 1828, Naxçıvan City was the capital of the Naxçıvan Khanate, known as a center of trade and handicrafts, but Armenians, Mongols, and Turks continued to wrestle for its rule.

The long Russian rule

Persia finally ceded the territory to Russia according to the Turkmenchai Peace Treaty. Naxçıvan became an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union in 1924, and the current stretch of land between Naxçıvan and Azerbaijan was assigned to Armenia. In this way, the fascinating stretch of land around the 2420-meter-high İlandağ Mountain became an exclave.

Independent and suddenly cut off from the motherland

The first president of independent Azerbaijan, Heydər Əliyev, was a native of Naxçıvan and initially returned there in 1990 after his career in Moscow before moving on from there to Baku. Since 1991, the exclave has been part of Azerbaijan, but it has its own constitution and parliament. In the same year, Armenia cut the railroad tracks between Baku and Naxçıvan City, which further isolated the exclave, that from then on could only be reached by plane from Baku.

A Peace treaty as a glimmer of hope

Just now, as part of the peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the train line is being reactivated after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flared up again in 2020, so in the future you will be able to travel there again along the Aras River on the border with Iran directly from Baku.

Nakhichevan – An Oasis of Sustainability

The isolated location has driven Naxçıvan City, with a population of nearly 400,000, to a self-willed self-assertion, even though the little-known region still receives financial support from Baku and trades briskly with Turkey and Iran. The Chinese carmaker Lifan Industry maintains a factory here. Agriculture is the main occupation. When the mostly dry plains are irrigated, grain, tobacco, walnut trees, mulberries for silk moths and all kinds of fruits thrive on the soil. The exclave also has its own mineral springs. Fertilizers are not used, everything here is organic.

The mystical land also relies on self-sufficiency and sustainability and was named “the world’s most sustainable nation” by Lonely Planet. Silk and cotton production as well as ore deposits and sheep’s wool for the carpet industry are further sources of income. For several years, the exclave has been involved in EU projects on renewable energies, environmental protection and water management, for example.

These are the most beautiful places in Nakhichevan Azerbaijan

Naxçıvan City – The Islamic Capital of Culture

Naxçıvan City was the Islamic Capital of Culture in 2018. The city has a variety of significant cultural legacies to offer. Naxçıvan’s medieval school of architecture was famous throughout the Orient. Monuments, mausoleums and museums make the capital, where Noah’s ark is said to have landed, an interesting starting point for a trip. Noah’s Tomb, the Möminə Xatun Mausoleum and the Khan Palace are definitely worth seeing. Temperatures in Naxçıvan vary depending on the season. In winter it can be as cold as minus 30 degrees, and in summer it can be as warm as 35 degrees. The most beautiful months are April and May. Autumn is also an ideal time to travel.

Nakhchivan Azerbaijan
Das Möminə Xatun Mausoleum in Naxçıvan City (Picture: Azerbaijan Tourism Board)

Möminə Xatun

One of the highlights in the improbably clean and very well-kept capital of the exclave, which is rich in monuments, is the 34-meter-high, decagonal brick tower built in 1186 in honor of a woman named Möminə Xatun. It is decorated with unusual geometric patterns, turquoise tiles and a Kufi inscription. The founder of the Atabey dynasty, Shamsaddin Eldaniz, had commissioned the structure from the renowned architect Ajemi Nakhchivani in honor of his late first wife and later had it completed by his son. In contrast to the typical building materials of the Abşeron Peninsula (sandstone), bricks and turquoise tiles were frequently used in Naxçıvan.

Bild: Azerbaijan Tourism Board

The Khan’s Palace

From here, it is worth taking a walk to the old Khan’s Palace, where historical photos provide information about the history of this restored jewel. The carpet museum housed in the palace provides insights into the local art of weaving and knotting.

Nakhchivan Azerbaijan
Noah’s Tomb in the Sassanid Fortress (Picture: Azerbaijan Tourism Board)

Noah’s Tomb

Noah’s Tomb in the form of an octagonal tower with a polygonal gold dome is part of the Sassanid fortress. The structure was renovated in 2008, integrating the preserved foundations. The huge Heydər Əliyev Mosque, just a stone’s throw away, was built recently. The 7th century fortress was in a state of disrepair until 2006. Since the restoration, it is once again open to visitors.

Nakhchivan Azerbaijan
View of the İlandağ with the Batabat Lake (Picture: Azerbaijan Tourism Board)

Tip: An overnight stay at the 13-story Hotel Tabriz (tel. +994 365447701) includes a delicious breakfast at the city’s only panoramic restaurant.

Bild: Azerbaijan Tourism Board

Alinja Fortress

Built in the 12th century, the fortress 34 kilometers northwest of the capital withstood a fourteen-year siege by the Mongol leader Tamerlan at the end of the 14th century and is still impressively solid today. You can visit the museum located at the foot of the fortress, but it’s the panorama from above that makes this trip unforgettable.

If 1500 steps do not scare you, you will reach the plateau with the “Machu Picchu of Eurasia”, an excavation site that was recently restored or rebuilt. From there you will have the best view of Mount İlandağ, which, according to legend, Noah touched with his ark. After visiting the fortress, you can cool off in the nearby Ashab-i Kahf caves, which were already mentioned in the Koran and today attract many pilgrims.

Cehan Kudi Xatun Mausoleum

The second most important mausoleum in the Nakhichevan exclave is located in a small village called Qarabağlar, 40 kilometers northwest of Naxçıvan City, and stands out for its cylindrical shape wrapped in blue tiles, consisting of twelve half-cylinders grouped around each other with a cornice and conical roof end. A few meters away you will find a gate with double minaret. The cultic center was built in the 14th century and extensively renovated in 2018. However, none of the once 70 mosques of the old trading city has been preserved.

Magnificent facade in Ordubad (Photo: Svln4821, Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ordubad

The most picturesque place in the Republic is surrounded by desert and has only 10,000 inhabitants. You can reach this oasis blessed with apricots, peaches, limes, figs and pears on the river of the same name, whose products are dried for export, by minibus in about 90 minutes. Three mosques from the 17th and 18th centuries have been preserved. Worth seeing is the observatory dedicated to the Persian theologian, mathematician and astronomer Nasraddin Tusi.

An important stop on the Silk Road

From Ordubad, starting in the middle of the 16th century, the silk produced here was shipped via the Silk Road to Venice, Marseilles and Amsterdam. In the 1930s, nearly 500 orchards and 50 vineyards existed in Ordubad. The former medieval trading town has been on the UNESCO Tentative List since 2001, among other reasons because of the architecturally special “Harpishta Houses”. These are residential houses with semicircular oriels with eight or six pointed arches on the first floor, which open into an inner courtyard. The 17th century Juma Mosque looks more like a palace. In the Zangazur National Park there are petroglyphs and necropolises to visit. The most beautiful place, however, is the cozy tea house in the center, surrounded by fragrant plane trees.

Wellness in a different way: A visit to the salt mine (Picture: Azerbaijan Tourism Board)

Duzdağ salt mine and hotel

10 kilometers from Naxçıvan City lies the oldest salt mine in the world, which has been equipped with disco lighting and a wooden teahouse for sightseeing purposes. You can hike up to 300 meters deep into the salt mine, which stores nearly 130 million tons of natural salt. You can linger in small alcoves with comfortable loungers and breathe in the healthy air. A kilometer away are the Salt Museum and the chic Duzdağ Resort* with pool area, water slides and spa.

The petroglyphs of Gemiqaya

Even if you have to look closer to decipher the petroglyphs, for lovers of these historical testimonies the trip to the Armenian border is worthwhile. The petroglyphs are said to be six thousand years old and are supposedly similar to the Domkhar inscriptions in Ladakh. Since you need a permit to visit them, it is easier to book a trip through Nakhchivan Travel right away.

Book recommendations

Classical travel guide, that also covers Armenia and Georgia.

To prepare your trip, it is best to learn a few words in Azerbaijani. This book is great for beginners!

Azerbaijani for Beginners*
  • Allazov, Elvin (Author)

Everything you need to know about Azerbaijan’s troubled past, presented in a nutshell.

The classic of Azerbaijani literature, telling a love story on the eve of the Russian Revolution.

Portrait of Azerbaijan, presenting the country in all its facets.

You want to know more about Azerbaijan’s culture? Than this book is the right choice!

How did you like our trip to Nakhichevan Azerbaijan? Let us know and write us a comment. Also, feel free to follow us on Facebook to stay up to date with the latest articles!

* – this link is a partner link. If you buy or order something through this link, we get a small commission. You don’t have to pay a cent extra and we can continue to write new articles for you. Thanks for your support!

Heike Maria Johenning studied translation and Romance languages. She has worked as a freelance author and translator since 1996. She has published numerous travel and architectural guides published by Reise Know-How and dom Publishers. In her books she sheds light on a phenomenon almost unknown in the West, Art Nouveau in Eastern Europe. She is currently working on a new title on “Art Nouveau Architecture in Berlin”.

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Has anything changed in the information? Do you have any hints or questions? We are looking forward to your comment!

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