Written by Ms. Gulnaz SALAMOVA
Deputy chairman of Sheki Municipality
Sheki is located in the north-west part of Azerbaijan, in the southern foothills of the Greater Caucasian mountain range and 632 m above sea level. Sheki has an area of 2,430 km², and a population of 180,000. Sheki is considered as an outstanding political, social-econo-mic and cultural center of the north-west part of Azerbaijan. Its beautiful nature, climate, historical and cultural monuments, positive customs, unique craft activities, and delicious cuisine are of great importance, particularly in the area of development of tourism sector internationally.
The existence of historical and cultural monuments is one of the main reasons that Sheki is famous as an ancient place of Azerbaijan. Sheki Khans' palace, New Sheki Fortress, House of Sheki Khans’, The minaret of the Mosque Gilehli, Oval temple, Agvanlar Bathhouse, Upper and Lower Caravansaries, the remains of “Gelersen gorersen” castle, temple of Zeyzid in Orta Zeyzid village, tomb in Babaratma village, Albanian temple in Kish village and others are important, especially in terms of architectural features. Sheki has 84 historical and cultural buildings which are protected by the state. The 250 year anniversary of Sheki Khans’ Palace was celebrated in 2012. Starting in 2012 a “City Day” event has been organized each year based on the initiative of the Mayor of Sheki Mr. Elkhan Usubov.
Today Sheki is a unique place preserving the town-building culture of medieval centuries. Unique historical architectural monuments-caravansaries, mosques, minarets, houses, fortress, and bridges show us Sheki’s old architectural style. Currently the modernization of the city by preserving its national architectural style is the main task.
President of Azerbaijan Republic His Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev often visits Sheki, attends various opening and groundbreaking ceremonies and has issued several decrees for promotion of social-economic development of the city. In his speeches His Excellency stated the importance of careful approach and responsibility to the national historical values and emphasized the role of Sheki in the history of Azerbaijan and state building process. As a result of special attention of His Excellency to Sheki all the historical buildings have been restored based on their original structure and appearence.
President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO and ISESCO, member of Parliament (Milli Meclis), and the First lady of Azerbaijan, Her Excellency Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva has had an outstanding role in the protection and promotion of national cultural heritage, as well as education, health and sports in Azerbaijan.
Considerable work has been done to develop tourism in Sheki. Beautiful nature, unique historical-cultural monuments, crafts industry, cultural heritage and hospitable people are advantages of Sheki for the tourism sector. Currently hotels “Sheki Olympic”, “Sheki Saray” “Sheki Palace”, “Green Hill Ýnn” are operated in the city, “Sheki Park”, “Resting and Health center”, “Paradise garden” are working in Kish village. Construction of “Markhal” resting complex and 4 stars “Monolit D Plaza” hotel continues. People of Sheki have preserved their unique traditions and craft skills. The main types of crafts are “kelagayi” (silk headscarf) production, embroidery, wood carving, coppers, jewellers, traditional style mosaic (shebeke), confectioners, preparation of national musical instruments, and etc. Art of making “kelagayi” has been included to the representaive list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. The unique Sheki cuisine is also famous in Azerbaijan and is a part of local culture.
International festivals became a tradition in Sheki. High level events are very important for the promotion of the rich cultural heritage and tourism potential of Sheki.
Every year national horse riding games festival and “Chovkan” national competition are organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism jointly with the Executive Administration of Sheki which is dedicated to the memory of national leader Heydar Aliyev. “Chovkan” competition is included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. These events have a positive role in promotion of equestrian tourism.
The “Silk Road” International Music Festival is organized in Sheki each summer and it leaves unforgettable memories for the audience. A variety of best examples of world music, including Azerbaijani, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Turkish, Korean, Russian, Iranian national theater, music, dance and folk performances create festive mood.
Last year The First Sheki International Theater Festival was organized jointly by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Executive Administration of Sheki and Azerbaijan Union of Theatrical Figures. The festival was conducted over 10 days and gathered well known theater groups from various countries, as well as from Azerbaijan. It is planned to organize this festival once every two years and is considered to be an outstanding cultural event-theater holiday for Sheki.
For the occasion of the First European Games in Azerbaijan in 2015, Sheki hosted a spectacular Festival of the Torch Relay and Flame. Another interesting event- the International Festival of Confectionaries is held in Sheki each year based on the initiative of the Mayor of Sheki Mr. Elkhan Usubov. The festival hosts the confectionery products prepared by Turkish, Russian, Mongolian, Georgian, Kirgiz, Korean, as well as confectionaries from 23 districts of Azerbaijan.
This year in August Sheki hosted the “Nagara 2015” International Drum Festival for the first time in Azerbaijan as well as in Caucuses region. Musicians from Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan showed their best performances.
Sheki has hosted the Caucases Motofestival 4 times. This year exhibition and fair of moterbikes and accessories, souvenirs representing Azerbaijani culture were organized in the opening days of the festival. The participants- more than 200 bikers from various countries, icluding Azerbaijan, US, UK, Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Croatia, Iran and others passed through the streets of Sheki with their national flags. The closing of festival accompanied with gala concert with participation of famous world stars (Lady Gaga and etc). Sheki being one of the oldest and most beautiful cities of Azerbaijan and is well known for being outstanding in the contemporary history of Azerbaijan.