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World Heritage Site

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Blog: Sheki, the Khan's Palace

This is a site probably few have heard of – I also did not know about it until I started preparing for my trip to Azerbaijan and stumbled upon this TWHS. Sheki has been an independent country between 1743 and 1813, after it wriggled itself free from Persia. It lies in the far north of Azerbaijan, just below the snow-capped peaks of the Greater Caucasus and the border with Russia. The proposed nomination Sheki, the Khan’s Palace seems to cover more than the palace alone: the town’s trade and industry neigbourhoods and vernacular architecture are included as well.

Sheki Old Town

Sheki was a main center of silk production in the Caucasus. It was an important stop on the trade route between “the Dagestan Mountain Traders and the main East-West Caucasus Route”, according to my Trailblazer Guide to Azerbaijan. During my trip I stayed for 2 nights in one of the two large former caravanserais in the old town: the 18th century Yuxari Caravanserai. Its grounds are nicely renovated, although the rooms are a bit damp and mouldy. But I did enjoy sitting in the little alcove in front of my room in the evenings.

The houses in the old part of Sheki town are all built in a similar style: their walls are a mix of brick and cobblestones, plus wooden windows. It’s a nice and quiet place to walk around, although unfortunately there’s not much you can enter.

The undoubted highlight of Sheki is the 18th-century summer palace of the Khan. It was constructed in 1762, so it dates from exactly the period that Sheki was an independent state. The palace and related buildings are located above the city in a walled enclave. The palace façade is quite stunning: it consists partly of wood and partly of stone decorations. It is located in a little garden with two old plane trees in front of it.

The Khan's Palace

Inside you’re not allowed to take pictures, but it is even nicer than the exterior. The wooden windows are inlaid with pieces of colored glass, adding a magical sun light to the rooms. The palace is not that big, it has 6 different rooms. It was only used for business purposes, the khan’s family lived elsewhere. The main areas such as the reception hall and throne room are fully covered in murals. Most of it is figurative, but there are also hunting scenes and lively images of the victory of the army of Sheki on Persia (including heads on sticks).

The grounds further contain a museum that seems not to have been refreshed since the communist era. It’s nice enough for a short visit though, it has some archaeological findings and Lenin memorabilia. Another building is set up as a shop for artisans who make the specific wooden windows with stained glass, called shebeke. A young man shows how it is made: tiny pieces of wood and glass are put together like a jigsaw puzzle (without glue or a single nail).

Putting together a coloured glass window

In hindsight, the Sheki Palace was the most memorable monument that I visited in Azerbaijan. It has a very distinct architectural style that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. Also it has been well-kept. It provides an eye into the past of what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Published 2 May 2016

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Responses to Sheki, the Khan's Palace
Colvin (1 May 2016)

The palace looks fascinating. Thanks for sharing!