One of the most ancient settlements and cultural centres of Azerbaijan, Sheki was founded more than 2700 years ago at the southern slopes of the Major Caucasus Mountains Chain (370 kilometres to the north-west from Baku). During its millennial historical the town used to be devastated many times, so the most part of the historic and architectural monuments currently preserved are dated to the 16th-19th centuries.
Magnificent Royal Palace of Sheki Khans (Kings) constructed in 1762 without a single nail is one of the most marvellous monuments of its epoch, which the Shekians are particularly proud.
For many centuries, Sheki has been famous as the basic centre of silkworm-breeding. Tobacco, fruit, vegetables and corn have a long history of cultivation here, as well as the stock-raising. Markhal health resort of Sheki is known as one of the most picturesque parts of these places. Historical Museum, the House of Craftsmen famous as the centre of skilful masters, medieval Caravanserai, which was perfectly restored as a hotel several years ago are just a small part of places of interest which the visitors will enjoy while being in Sheki.
The manufactures of the Shekian jewellers, potters, engravers, pastry-cooks have been famous not only in Azerbaijan but far abroad as well.
Nearby Kish village is by many opinions is much better and interesting, with nice hikes, some places has military check points that take your passport to check.
The original settlement dates back to the late bronze age. During the 7th century, Sheki was taken by Arab invaders becoming dependent on a local emirate. However, in the 9th century with the weakening of Arab power a Christian state was established by the last remaining forces of the Albanian kings. It was later taken by the Shirvanshahs, the Mongols under Tamerlane and the Safavids.
By the 18th century, Sheki was capital of its own Khanate, only to be taken by the Russians in 1805. After the Russian revolution, the Red Army only took Sheki in 1920. Located on the left bank of the river Kish, originally the town sited lower down the hill, however Sheki was moved to its present location after a devastating mud flood in 1772. As the new location was near the village of Nukha, the city became also known as Nukha, until 1960 when it reverted back to the name Sheki, after the Sak tribe.
Sheki is long famed as a silk centre and an important stop on the silk route, Sheki is still the site of a huge factory that was once the Soviet Union's largest silk plant (such a big factory was naturally named after Lenin...). In its golden period, the factory employed over 7.000 (out of a population reaching almost 100.000). Nowadays the silk industry is still alive, but through smaller private workshops. The agricultural activity is quite important, with tobacco, grapes, grain, nuts, cattle and milk as the main products.
Sheki is famous for the 18th century Khan's summer palace. The two-storied building is decorated with magnificent frescos (one 24 m long) and exquisite stained glass work, known as 'shebeke' (northern part of the city). Besides the palace have a look at the fortress that involves it. It has two gates and defensive towers on the southern and northern sides, the castle looks much better than most in Azerbaijan, as it underwent extensive restoration work in the early 1960s. Inside the walls of the castle are also located two museums.
The largest is Sheki's History Museum, with artefacts from several periods, but notorious for pieces relating to silk manufacturing and trade. The other is a 19th century church that now houses the crafts museum. Visit also the baths and the three mosques, in particular the Juma and Gileili mosques. Not to be missed is the reconstructed upper caravanserai located on the right bank of the river Gurjanachai - this is the main hotel, so the chances are that you will stay there. The lower caravanserai is loaded nearby, but it is now used as a warehouse.
Although the centre is dominated by two Soviet towers, you will see everywhere a horizon of red tiled roofs. For entertainment, try the state drama theatre, on Azadlyg Street. If you have an appetite, try one of the confectionary shops that are famous throughout the country for the sweet 'halva'. The market is held on the street along the river-bed of the Gurjanachai River. If you still have the time have a look at the Gelersen-Gerersen ('if you'll come, you'll see', meaning that if you'll come with war you'll feel the toughness of local swords) castle and the 7th century Albanian churches in the villages of Orta Zeizit and Kish, just north of Sheki.
Sheki is served by trains and you can get buses to most major cities in Azerbaijan as well as to Tbilisi. The bus station is in the southern end of the town.
Sheki was famous as the city of craftsmen and merchants. Merchants and traders from the countries of the Great S ilk W ay used to gather there. Therefore , a great attention was paid to construction of caravanserais. So in the 18th - 19th centuries 5 big caravanserais were active in Sheki. Only two of them have survived. The Upper and the Lower built in the 18th century. Even then the craftsmen tried to provide worthy service to lodgers. C aravan serais were built with a view of all convenience and safety of merchants and their goods. In Sheki caravanserais merchants stored their goods in cellars, traded on the first floor, and lived on the second.
The caravanserais were rather big: the Upper one was 6,000 sq.m., the Lower - 8 , 000 sq .m. Their height was about 14 m. Each one had more than 200 rooms. According to the tradition caravanserais had two and even four entrances. When closed, caravan serais tu rned into fortresses
The Upper caravan serai today is used for its direct purpose - it is a hotel complex
Djuma Mosque ( Khan's mosque) was constructed in 1745-1750, near the market square. Directly in front of the mosque is a small cemetery. Gadzhi Chelebi , the ruler of Sheki (18th century) and his confidants were buried there. These tombs are topped by domes and gravestones with cut out lettering in Arabian language. The mosque, its minaret and the ancient cemetery today are protected by the state as important historical monuments.
Gileili Minaret is a monument of the 16th - 17th centuries. It used to be a part of Gileili Mosque very well known in the city. But unfortunately, the mosque disappeared. Only the minaret, protected by the state, reminds of its existence. Gileili Minaret (built from burnt brick ) can be seen in K yu le k hlin makhal of the cit y. It is the first and the highest minaret in Zakataly - a Sheki district.
Sheki has a very well preserved bath of the19th century. It was constructed in the style of traditional baths : it co nsists of two bigger halls - one for undress ing (Chol or Bayir) and the other - for bathing with a warmed up floor.
New Sheki Fortress
A Sheki khan Gadzhi Chelebi (1743-1755) during his reign constructed a fortress in the northeast for defense p urposes. The overall l ength of the fortification is about 1 , 300 meters , its southern height is about 8 m , the northern - 4 m . Thickness of the wall is over 2 meters . 21 towe rs were located along its length. F rom the north and the south the fortress was closed by arch gate s. The wall and the two towers of the fortress were badly destroyed. But in 1958-1963 the fortress was restored.
Vicinities of Sheki :
Babaratma – piri
Babaratma - piri is a small mausoleum located near the city of Shek y . I t is located on the territory of the old cemetery near the s ettlement of Taza-kent . This place is very esteemed by pilgrims. It is believed that it can cure of many illnesses.
Near the mausoleum there is a small mosque.
Sumug (Ilisu) Fortress
In a high-mountain village Ilisu ( Sheki vicinities) is located Sumug fortress - one of the war towers of the last Ilisu sultan Dani y al-bek, sheikh Shamil 's brother-in-arms.
According to the legend this quadrangular tower was constructed on the local khan's unfaithful concubines execution site . Then Sumug became one of the w atchtowers of D ani yal - bek. Earlier the bek had been an officer of the tsar ar my. He led the revolt against t he tsar and joined his sworn enemy sheikh Shamil who appointed him a naib. However , Shamil and his naibs had to yield the territory. In August, 1859 the last Daniyal-bek's fortification surrendered.
Sumug Fortress is known to millions of people owing to the film "Don't be Afraid, I am With You" . The well-known final battle scene was shot there.