10 reasons why you should travel to Sheki instead of Baku

Murad Akhundov 18 September 2020 192 views 7 min. read

Beautiful streets, ancient architecture, breathtaking landscapes, and delicious cuisine. All these are combined in the ancient Azerbaijani city of Sheki. This city is one of the best cities in Azerbaijan. Located in the north of the country, the city has a rich history and, for many centuries, was one of the most important centres of Azerbaijan.  Sheki is located 350 kilometres to the northwest of the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. You can buy a special one- or two-day tour, and you can also arrange a particular time because this city is a must-visit! It's hard to argue that Sheki is a bright reason to get an Azerbaijan visa and travel to Azerbaijan. There are so many things to do in Sheki Azerbaijan, and in this article, we will try to tell you about ten reasons why it is worth going to Sheki and not to Baku.

1. Palace of the Sheki Khans

ancient palace of shaki

The most famous building in the city is the pearl of Azerbaijani architecture - Palace of Sheki Khans, built in the 18th century by order of Huseyn khan - great-grandson of the founder of Sheki Khanate Haji Chalabi Khan. The palace is unique in that it was built without a single nail and is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The building is entirely built of a wooden frame. It is famous for its stained-glass windows - Shabaka, the uniqueness of which is the combination of glasses without chemical solutions and glue. The famous Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who visited Sheki in the 20th century, was so impressed by the palace that he called it the most beautiful building he had ever seen. The Palace of Sheki Khans consists of 6 rooms and two mirror balconies, located on two floors and decorated with paintings and frescos on the military, cultural, and state themes. For many years, the Palace of Sheki Khans delighted guests who arrived in Sheki and is still the main attraction of the city. In front of the palace, there is a vast garden, where endemic plants and trees grow. In front of the facade of the building, there are two giant plane trees, each of which is over 500 years old.

2. Galarsan-Gerarsan Fortress

Looking for the best things to do in Sheki Azerbaijan? Galarsan-Gerarsan Fortress is a must-visit while you travel to Sheki. The name of the fortress is translated from Azerbaijani as "you will come and see". The history of the name of the fort goes back to the wars between khanates and Nader Shah. Initially, Nader Shah sent Haji Chelebi Khan an order of subordination, but the khan refused to surrender. Having ordered to know the reasons for the stubbornness of the ruler of the small khanate, Nader Shah sent his messenger, but the khan who was not going to surrender without a fight answered "Galarsan-Gerarsan". Indeed, the impregnable fortress did not submit to the majestic army of Nader Shah and remained unruly. Nowadays, Galarsan-Gerersan Fortress, which presumably dates back to the 15th century, is a popular place for tourists. Visitors can admire the mountain landscape of these places from the walls of the fortress.

3. Piti

piti soup

Azerbaijan is very rich in its cuisine, and piti is one of the essential dishes without which this country cannot be imagined. Sheki is considered to be the homeland of this dish. It is here that you can try piti with an ancient recipe, after which you will want to come back here again and again. Piti consists of lamb, potatoes, chickpea, onion, garlic and chestnuts, and saffron. Traditionally, this dish is prepared in clay pots, and the whole process takes from 8 to 12 hours. Gourmets advise enjoying this dish leisurely, as it is very calorie in itself. Piti is served at the table with a bread - lavash, without which it is impossible to imagine traditional dishes of Azerbaijani cuisine. For superior taste, many amateurs add dried barberry-sumac to the piti. Residents of Sheki are very sceptical of people who once tasted this food in other places. And be ready when the resident of Sheki argues with you that you have never tried real piti because it can be cooked only and only in Sheki! And do not be upset if you gain a few extra kilograms because once in Sheki, you will not wonder, "Where to go for a walk?". Streets and historical monuments scattered throughout the city will quickly help you get back in shape.

4. Sheki Halva

sheki halva

For those who love sweets, there is good news. One of the most famous desserts of Azerbaijan is Sheki halva, which is different both in taste and consistency from the usual halva, widely spread in the East. The real secret is known only to Sheki people, who do not like to share the secret of exquisite taste. In the city itself, you will find several old halvači (this is the name of the masters who cook halva) who are not in the first generation. The traditional recipe includes flour, sugar, saffron, cardamom, and hazelnut, but no one can get the taste of real halvah. Sheki people add a secret ingredient that nobody knows about.

5. Kelaghayi

kelaghayiKelaghayi

is a national women's handkerchief, famous until the arrival of European fashion for clothes. Being one of the centres of Azerbaijani cultural life for centuries, Sheki attracted the best masters, artisans and jewellers. Situated on the ancient Silk Road, Sheki became a transit city for silk traders from China and India and quickly became popular among them. Historically, the most beautiful kelaghayi were sewed in Sheki because the inhabitants of this city are closely associated with silk for over 1000 years! To this day, the city is home to weavers who create priceless examples of this art. According to a long tradition, ornaments on kelaghayi are applied with natural dyes, so the colour remains unchanged even after many years of use. It is noteworthy that before, kelaghayi was allowed to be made only by men, but now many women in Sheki are involved in the manufacturing process. You can buy kelaghayi in Sheki both at souvenir shops and from residents. But do not forget that real silk is not so cheap, so if you want to buy a beautiful gift, be ready to pay.

6. Clean Air

caucasus mountainsSheki weather

is specific due to its geographical location. Unlike many cities of Azerbaijan, it is located on the slope of mountains, so even in summer, it is cold, unlike Baku. Also, there are no large industrial plants and factories in Sheki that pollute the air like in big cities. During heavy rains and mudflows, the old city was destroyed at the end of the 18th century, and residents moved to the higher ground. As a result, the city has almost no air conditioners. If you travel to Sheki even in the summer season, do not forget to bring warm clothes, because at night it is cold there. By the way, the rains are widespread here, and the city is almost free of dust. The Sheki people joke that if somewhere in the sky even a drop falls, then rest assured that it is pouring into Sheki! And is not this a reason to arrange a weekend for your lungs?

7. The Hospitality of the Sheki People

vintage car

In the East, you are unlikely to find a city for which the guest is not considered sacred. And, of course, Sheki is no exception in this respect. However, the hospitality of Sheki, even by the standards of the East, exceeds all expectations. Regardless of gender, race, and age, all the doors are open for any guest in Sheki. Walking through the streets, do not be surprised, because almost every resident of the city will say hello to you, invite you to dinner and suggest you help by showing the neighbourhood, because every Sheki resident is proud of the city. Also, you will hear a lot of jokes and anecdotes about the Sheki and Sheki people because Sheki is the capital of humour in Azerbaijan. Not surprisingly, this city is often compared to the Bulgarian Gabrovo, where the local population also has a keen sense of humour. By the way, Sheki and Gabrovo are twin cities.

8. Caravanserais

sheki caravanserais

We have already mentioned the rich history of Sheki, which for many centuries was located on the Great Silk Road and hosted many traders from eastern countries. Thanks to this, several caravanserais for guests were built on the city's territory. Acting as today's hotels, caravanserais were equipped with guest rooms, where merchants could not only stay for several nights but also sell their goods. Usually, caravanserais were built by wealthy city residents, where the upper floors were inhabited by themselves, and the lower floors were rented out. There were also separate storage rooms for goods and unique stalls for camels. The owner of the caravanserai hired workers who guarded not only the guest but also his interests. Unfortunately, only two caravanserais built in the 18th century are still in excellent condition. Today, these caravanserais perform the same function as they did back then. Any tourist, who travel to Sheki, can book a room and spend the night in the caravanserai. It is completely restored but still retaining its flavour, and its rooms are perfect for those who want to feel like Asian merchants.

9. Kish Village

kish village

One of the most asked questions about the city is "hiking Sheki where to start?" Well, Kish village is one of the best places for hiking. Kish is unique in its history. The disciple of the Apostle Thaddeus, Saint Elisha, who arrived in this village, built a Christian church in the 1st century AD. At one time, the Albanian temple of Kish was a place of enlightenment for Caucasian Christians, and the population, compactly living around the temple until the 19th century, retained its identity and language. From 2000 to 2003, the Kish temple was restored by the Azerbaijan University of Architecture and Construction together with the Norwegian archaeologists. For this purpose, great traveller, archaeologist and historian Thor Heyerdahl visited Kish in 2000. Thanks to the research, it was established that the first constructions on the site of the present temple date back to 3000 BC, i.e. long before the appearance of Christianity in the territory of Azerbaijan. Now Kish, located about 5 kilometres from Sheki, is a unique museum that attracts many history lovers.

10. Riding Horses

horse is running

Horse breeding has long played an important role in the life of the city of Sheki. Before the appearance of the cars, almost every inhabitant had a horse, which was considered a sign of wealth and security of the region. Nowadays, the role of horses is insignificant in the economy, but Sheki invented a new application for them. With the transformation of Sheki into a tourist city, one of the largest centres of equestrian tourism was built on its territory. New breeds that take part in elite horse races are brought out, and tourists who wish can not only learn how to ride but even take part in competitions. Every year in May and December, Chovgan tournaments (a sport like polo) are held in Sheki. To do this, you need to be instructed by professional coaches. Also, the Equestrian Tourism Center will be interesting for children. In addition to horses, there are also ponies adored by children.

Bonus

sheki

You can visit Sheki at any time of year, but mostly it is the best in spring. Spring is of particular importance for Azerbaijan. For a long time, the residents of this region celebrated the beginning of the year not in winter but in spring, when nature is reviving. Therefore, the Novruz holiday is an ideal time to visit Sheki. Also, at this time, the city hosts the festival "Silk Road", during which fairs, sports competitions and cultural events are held. You can get from Baku to Sheki by bus or car in about 5 hours. There are also daily trains leaving from the capital of Azerbaijan to Sheki, which is ideal for those who do not want to sit in the car for several hours. Another advantage of travel by train is the fact that they go not in the day, but at night. Getting on the train at night, in the morning you will already find yourself in this beautiful city and will have time to walk around the Sheki!

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