Pirallahi – the forgotten island

 

boat

Image: news.az

A few facts 

Pirallahi, a small island situated some 45 km east of Baku, is the eastern-most point of Azerbaijan. This flat, low-lying land used to be a sacred spot for Zoroastrians (fire worshippers) who decided to build there a temple. During the times of the Russian Empire the name of the island was Svyatoy (‘’the holy one’’). Another interesting fact about Pirallahi is that an undersea booty from a 17th century battle between Persians and Cossacks still lies in the waters north of the island.

Oil

The island was among the first, if not the first, oil extraction areas in the country (petroleum was extracted in Pirallahi already in the early 19th century) and it still remains an important oil drilling zone – currently the volume of oil deposits in the northern part of the island is estimated at 1.2 million tons.

pirallahi

Source: panoramio

Why visit?

The island is only 11km long and 4km wide but offers some of the most unique landscapes in the peninsula, and as it might not be enough to fill a day trip, it will certainly complement any tour of Absheron. When entering Pirallahi by the bridge connecting the mainland and the island, visitors will be greeted by a small, rusty, half-sunk ship wreck that stands out from the light blue waters of the Caspian Sea. On the island there are a few houses resembling fishermen huts but majority of the buildings come from the Soviet times. Arguably, the most interesting place awaits the visitors at the end of the island, in the SOCAR-owned area (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) scattered with tens of both active and abandoned oil wells, some smallish oil platforms and rusty ships that have certainly seen better days. Mind you – taking pictures in that zone is forbidden and you might get yourself into some unpleasant conversations if you get caught breaking the rule!

Lighthouse next to Pirallahi Island. Source: gomap.az

Lighthouse next to Pirallahi Island. Source: gomap.az

Around Shamakhi

Etibar shamakhi

Image: Etibar Jafarov

Around Shamakhi

Shamakhi, situated just under 2-hour drive North-West from Baku, is among the most popular tourist destinations in Azerbaijan.  Thanks to its rich past this seemingly inconspicuous place offers visitors plenty of unique historical and cultural attractions, and sheds some light on Azerbaijan’s eventful past. Regionally, Shamakhi is also famous for its carpet weaving  and wine making traditions.

About Shamakhi

The beginnings of Shamakhi go as far back as the 5th Century BC.  During the Middle Ages it was an important urban center and from the 8th to 15th centuries served as the capital of the powerful Shirvan State, and later as the capital of the independent Shirvan Khanate. The city was a serious outpost on the Silk Road and, according to historians, at some point it had 130 silk winding establishments. Unfortunately, due to its seismically active location, over the centuries Shamakhi has been regularly struck by devastating earthquakes, and in the 15th century, local rulers decided to transfer the capital to safer and strategically located Baku. In the 19th century Shamakhi became one of Russian Empire’s guberniyas (Shamakhi Governorate) but after another devastating earthquake from 1859 the administrative center was transferred to Baku. In the years that followed the political and economic significance of the city has decreased and nowadays Shamakhi is a small (population of approx. 31,000) and rather quiet town.  However, it still hold the remnants of its great past, and among them the leftovers of the Gulustan Fortress and the picturesque Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum. And once you’re tired of sightseeing, try a glass of the fine local wine as Shamakhi district is the national center of wine growing.

What to see:

Juma Mosque (Friday Mosque)

The original mosque was constructed around 743-744 by Arabs and it is considered to be the second mosque in the Caucasus after the Friday Mosque in Derbent (Dagestan).  Over the centuries the mosque has undergone several major reconstructions (12th Century, 17th Century, 1860, 1909, 2009) due to the significant damages caused by numerous battles and earthquakes.

Shamakhi_Juma_Mosque,

Image by Azernews

Gulustan Fortress

Gulustan Fortress, built at the foot of Murovdag hill, some 2 kilometers North of Shamakhi, used to serve as a defensive installation for the shahs of Shirvan. The first recorded fortifications here were the iron gates erected between 1043 and 1049 by Shirvanshah Gubad. However, some archeologists claim that the fortress  could have been built as early as the 9th Century. In its prime, the massive construction intimidated foreign armies but the numerous earthquakes and passing time has left a significant toll on its structure. Today all that is left of this formerly imposing construction are plenty of scattered stones, some towers and remaining of defensive walls but it’s still well worth visiting the place. From the top of the hill you will get a better idea about the original size of the fortress and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views  over the area. For detailed information about the fortress please click here.

Gulustan

Remaining of the Gulustan Fortress. Image: wikipedia.

Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum

This ancient cemetery, situated about 1.5km south of Shamakhi, was built in the 18th century for the family of the last khan of the Shirvanshah dynasty. The name, which translates as ‘’Seven Domes’’, comes from the number of gravestones in the crypt belonging to the shah’s relatives. Only three of the mausoleums survived till this day, others are either entirely or partly destroyed. 

Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum

Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum

Shamakhi wines

Thanks to its mild climate, fertile soils and hilly terrain, Shamakhi district is the key wine grape growing and wine making area in the country. Traditionally, local wine makers produced sweet wines (result of the local taste as well as dry climate) but over the last years there have been a lot of efforts made to start production of world-class wines, and nowadays it’s possible to try some good red and white dry wines. It’s worth noting that wine tradition in the area is centuries-old and you can find here some indigenous grape varieties, such as Madrasa (spelled also Matrassa, derived from the name of a local village) used in production of popular red dry wines. Interestingly, among the first European purchasers of local wines were the Portuguese traders who worked on extending their commercial influences in Asia.

Practical information

For more information about getting there, accommodation etc. please contact us directly.