History and Geography
Often dubbed the cradle of Azerbaijani music and culture, Shusha’s reputation is well known throughout the country. Even today, many still refer to Shusha as the “Pearl of Karabakh.” Historically the capital of the Karabakh Khanate, the region’s area is 29 square kilometers (18 square miles). The Shusha region was established as one of the Republic of Azerbaijan’s administrative units in 1930. In 1977, the city of Shusha was designated a State Historical and Architectural Reserve of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan.
The capital of Shusha is the city-fortress of Shusha. Founded by the Karabakh Khan Panah Ali in the year 1750 on the site of an ancient settlement, Shusha is a rarity of Azerbaijan medieval urban development and a live encyclopedia of Karabakh architecture. Click here to view photos of the historical region of Shusha.
The earliest mentions of Shusha appear in the Middle Ages, and in the 19th century, Shusha was one of the great cities in the Caucasus—larger and more prosperous than Baku or Yerevan. It was well known for its silk trade, carpets, spices, and horses. Shusha became a flourishing cultural capital with many reverberating developments still expressed in modern Azerbaijani culture.
Azerbaijan’s most notable female poet, Khurshidbanu Natavan, was deeply engaged in philanthropy, promoting the social and cultural affluence of Karabakh from her native town of Shusha. Natavan was the daughter of Mekhti Kuli Khan, the last ruler of the Karabakh khanate (1806-1822), and is considered one of the greatest lyrical poets of Azerbaijan.
Shusha is home to one of the leading schools of mugham, the traditional Azerbaijani genre of vocal and instrumental arts. It is sometimes referred to as “the Music Conservatory of the Caucasus” because of the many talented musicians the city has produced throughout its history. Among other notable artists, the opera tenor Bulbul (1897-1961) grew up in Shusha.
The Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948) was also raised in the city. Hajibeyov was also a conductor, publicist, playwright, teacher, translator, and social figure. He is recognized as the leader of Azerbaijani classical music and opera. Hajibeyov composed music for the National Anthem of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (which is also the anthem of the modern Republic of Azerbaijan) and the state anthem of Azerbaijan SSR. He is the first Muslim author of an opera.
Shusha is well known for its ancient carpet weaving, and Karabakh’s rugs increased the fame of Azerbaijan’s carpet school around the world. Carpet weaving in Karabakh especially developed in the 19th century, when many Karabakh people were engaged in the craft, mainly for commercial sale purposes. Shusha became the center of Karabakh weaving tradition. Shusha is also well known for sileh rugs-pileless floor coverings characteristic of the South Caucasus and parts of eastern Turkey.
Construction on Ashaghi (lower) Govhar Agha Mosque (pictured, left) and Yukhari (upper) Govhar Agha Mosque began during the reigns of Panah Ali Khan Javanshir and Ibrahim Khalil Khan Javanshir in the 18th century, but were completed in the late 19th century. Named after poetess and princess Govhar Agha (1796-1868), they are considered symbols of Shusha and masterpieces of Eastern architecture. After the fall of Shusha under Armenian control, the mosque stopped functioning and was heavily damaged. According to reports from an Azerbaijani delegation visiting Karabakh, the mosque is still in disrepair and no renovation work is being done. Click here to see more photos of the Shusha Mosque.
The Ganja Gate is located in the northern part of Shusha city, receiving its name from its position on the road leading to Ganja, one of Azerbaijan’s largest and most important cities. Three other gates connected the city to Azerbaijan’s western regions, and surrounding highland villages. According to Azerbaijan’s medieval tradition of urban development, the city of Shusha had four gates. Only two of those, Panah Ali Khan Castle and Kara Boyuk Khanum’s Castle, have survived. An inscription on the front door dates Kara Boyuk Khanum’s Castle to 1768.
The Khari Bulbul (orchis) is a beautiful flower found in Shusha that doesn’t grow anywhere elsein the world. The flower looks as if a nightingale is sitting on it. This endemic flower (pictured, right) is also extensively used as a healing herb. The shape of the flower resembles a nightingale, hence its name: “Khar” means “thorn” in Azerbaijani, and “bulbul” means “nightingale”. If you look at the flower closely, you can easily discern three petals spreading in three different directions. Two of them are like wings, and the third one in the middle is shaped like a bird’s head with a beak.