Karabakh, which is an integral part of Azerbaijan, is one of the territories where the human civilization first emerged. The major reason is the presence of moderate and appropriate natural living conditions here. The results of archaeological excavations in the territory have shown that ancient people who lived in Karabakh traveled an honorable path of creation and created numerous cultural pieces, one of which is architecture.
As a result of archaeological research carried out in Karabakh, a camp of primitive men who lived in the Paleolithic period was found in the Azikh cave which belongs to one of the most ancient states of civilization. Along with the remains of primitive man and tools, the foundation of a residential site built from large rocks was found in the cave as well. It is believed that the site is one of the most ancient samples of human civilization.
Such reconstruction work carried out by primitive men in natural caves resulted in the creation of artificial caves later. Like natural caves, artificial caves were arranged on steep rocks and mountain slopes high above the surface of the earth.
Such homes which started from artificial caves traveled a long path of historical development and are known in the history of architecture under the name of Qaradan. Since Azerbaijani territory had various natural-geographical conditions and climatic zones, the qaradans built here were gradually adapted to local climatic conditions and had different architectural-planning particularities. Domestic animals were also usually kept in such houses. According to historical information, qaradans were used in Karabakh until the early 20th century.
In general, Albanian buildings built in Azerbaijani territory before and after the arrival of Islam played an important role in the development of architecture. Of these monuments, the Albanian church in the village of Qarakand in Nagornyy Karabakh’s Khojavand District (1st century), Albanians temples in the villages of Sos (4th century), Iatsi (four temples belonging to the 5th, 7th and 8th centuries), Taqaverd (675), Albanian temples in the village of Guneychatar (1236), Aterk in Agdara District (5th century), Kolatag (614), Qochoqot (672 and 698), in the former village of Dostahir (713), Qasapet (718), Chaldiran (12th century), as well as in the villages of Susanliq (4th-6th centuries), Vanq (9th century), Trakhtik (1094), Tsakuri (1131), Mammadadzor (1147), Tug (1197) and in the villages of Shushikand (905), Chanaqchi (1065 and 1100), Khachmach (1100), Khantsk (1122) and Khndrzistan (1202) are still being protected.
Research into historical and scientific facts shows that the Karabakh region was populated in the pre-Christian period by Turkic and Albanian tribes engaged in cattle-breeding, agriculture and craftsmanship. The works and historical sources of Herodotus, who is regarded as the “Father of History”, and other antique authors contain enough information on this issue.
When Christianity started to spread in the South Caucasus under the influence of the Byzantine Empire in the early 4th century BC, the Christian religion became the official state religion of Caucasus Albania. In this regard, churches and temples in the Christian architectural style were built in the country. After the Arabs occupied Caucasus Albania in the 7th century, they tried to spread Islam among Albanian tribes. As a result of uprisings against Arab invasions, the invaders resorted to punitive measures and destroyed Albanian churches and temples. When the Mingachevir hydroelectric power station was built in the 1940s, archaeologists found the remains of destroyed Albanian temples there. Not everyone converted to Islam despite pressure and persecution. Some Albanian tribes, especially tribes living in the mountainous part of Karabakh, remained loyal to the Christianity. Although a number of Albanian Christian monuments in Karabakh seem bizarre to people who are unaware of this historical truth, they belong to the national culture of our people. Among them, we can highlight the Khojavand monastery complex in Kalbajar District (6th-7th centuries), the Agoglan monastery complex (9th century) and the Amaras monastery complex (4th, 9th and 12th centuries) in Lachin District, the Holy Elisee temple (5th-14th centuries) etc. According to scientists who have researched into the architectural monuments of Caucasus Albania for many years, such monuments are different from Armenian religious architectural monuments for many of their characteristic features and architectural design.
There are many monuments belonging to the Christian period in the territory of Lower and Upper Karabakh, which were an integral part of Caucasus Albania. These monuments were built both before Azerbaijan adopted Islam, i.e. before the 7th century, and during the period of renaissance in the 12-13th centuries. Many of these monuments stand in a line along the Tartar River. One of them is the Holy Yelisey Monastery. Even the name of this monastery is related to Albanian history. Albanian King Vachagan III was buried in this monastery, but his grave was subsequently destroyed by the Armenians and relocated to a different place.
Another monument is the Holy Jacob Monastery. It is one of the most ancient monasteries founded in Karabakh in the 4th-6th centuries AD. Another Albanian monument is called Khudavang. Armenian researchers have appropriated this monument, calling it Khotovanq. The monument which is in fact called Khudavang was founded in the 1st century AD. It played a very important role in the merger of Albanian principalities. Near this monument stands a very old monastery – Amares. They are all architectural monuments that are closely related to the history of Albania. It is to be regretted that like the monuments in Shusha, these ones have also been occupied and captured by the enemy.
In the late 7th century, the southern part of Azerbaijan was incorporated into the Arab Caliphate, while the northern part was subordinate to it. A new religion – Islam – spread in the country. Most people converted to this religion, while some maintained Christianity. Taking advantage of the situation, Armenian Catholicos Ilya reported to Caliph Abdulmalik that Azerbaijan’s Christian Albanians were allegedly conspiring against him, and in 705, the Caliph issued an order to place the Autocephalous Albanian Apostolic Church under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Gregorian Church. After that, the Christian Albanians in the mountainous part of Karabakh started losing their ethnic identity, while Armenians started taking shape.
The adoption of Islam ushered in a new era in Azerbaijan. Karabakh (the city of Barda) was the caliphate’s centre in the north. Beginning from the 8th century, the development of Christian architecture stopped here and construction of buildings continued with new Muslim town planning methods.
According to Islamic requirements, the construction of new types of buildings did not create any obstacles to the development of previous architectural traditions.
Studies show that along with mosques, Albanian Christian churches were also maintained in Azerbaijani cities. Medieval Arab and Persian sources contain enough information about this. This was possible due Islam’s favorable attitude to monotheistic religions, and therefore, monuments belonging to these religions were not destroyed. Secondly, these monuments were the material and spiritual heritage of the local peoples who converted to Christianity in the 4th century and to Islam in the 7th century. A graphic example of this is Albanian Christian temples that were protected in Karabakh.
As the Caliphate strengthened its hold on the Middle East and Azerbaijan, including Karabakh, new types of cities and mosque complexes were built. The results of archaeological excavations confirm the high artistic design of various buildings.
Karabakh cities such as Agdara, Kalbajar, Khojavand, Shusha, Khankandi, Tartar, Fizuli, Jabrayil, Agjabadi, Lachin, Qubadli and Zangilan emerged in the Islamic period.
Arab sources note that there were beautiful houses and covered bazaars built from red bricks in the city of Barda. It must be noted that such buildings were common in the whole of the Muslim East. As the architectural trends of the Shirvan-Absheron and Nakhchivan-Maraga schools spread in the 11th-12th centuries, the Karabakh architecture school also worked actively. This predetermined the development of medieval Azerbaijani architecture.
The Sheikh Yaqub sepulchre (12th century), the Friday Mosque in the village of Qoch Ahmad, the Haji Alasgar Mosque in the village of Ahmadallar, Mir Ali Mosque (14th century), 15th century temples, the sepulchres of Sheikh Ibrahim (17th century) and Ahmad Sultan Jalal (19th century), the Friday Mosque in Horadiz in the Fizuli zone; Fort Asgaran, the Khankandi sepulchre and the Maiden’s Tower in Jabrayil District in Nagorno-Karabakh; a dodecagonal temple near the village of Khachin-Turbatli, Fort Shahbulaq, Shahbulaq Mosque, Agdam’s Friday Mosque, the sepulchre of Panah Ali Khan and his family, a bath (20th century) in the village of Abdal-Gulabli in the Agdam zone; the Ahsadam Baba sepulchre (14th century), the Imamzada Mosque (19th century) and Bahman Mirza sepulchre in Barda District; an octagonal sepulchre, Fort Panahabad (Shusha), Natavan’s house, Mamayi Mosque, the Mashadi Shukur Mirsiyab caravanserai mosque, Julfalar Mosque, Haji Yusifli, Saatli, Yukhari Govharaga, Ashagi Govharaga (19th century), the khan’s house and a gymnasium in Shusha; the Qarasaqqal building, Soltan Baba, Sheikh Ahmad, Sari Ashiq (15th century), Fort Ushaq and the Great Spring in the villages of Jimli and Qushchu in the Lachin zone; Fort Bayat (18th century) and Khamsa Soltan Palace in Agjabadi are all valuable historical and cultural monuments. Most of these monuments are the main type of memorial buildings. Since most of Karabakh is under Armenian occupation, many of these monuments have been destroyed.
In written sources of medieval ages the data about fortresses, urban fortresses, castles and other architectural monuments in the territory of Karabakh can be found. Yagut al-Hamavi, XIII century Arab traveler in his “Mujam al-Buldan” work informed about the Izz Tower, Shamkhor tower, Kazanj tower around the Barda city and buildings built from baked brick and stone. According to him, “Kazanj” word meaning “place of rescue”. Hamdullah Gazvini, XIII century traveler in his work ” Nuzhet al-qulub” calls the area between the Kura and Araz rivers as “Aran province”. The work states that Barda was founded by Alexander the Great in BC. Later Sassanid shah Gubad ibn Firuz had carried out extensive renovation in the city, construction works. Information on a variety of bridges Khudaferin is particularly interesting. He writes that, near Zangilan on Araz river the bridge (eleven spans width) was built on 15th of Hegira ( 636) by the close people of Prophet Muhammad Berk ibn Abdallah. Therefore, it is called “Khudaferin” i.e, “God created”. And the bridge with 15 spans of width near the Karkar shopping center was built by Diya al-Mulk Nakhchivani as charity. Arab traveler of IX century Ibn Khordadbeh in his “On roads and countries” book informs that Barda and Beylagan cities were surrounded with walls built from the raw brick.
In the 18th-19th centuries, Karabakh architecture developed in two directions – on the basis of principles of building compositions which take an important place in the architectural and planning structure of residential settlements and traditions of European architecture. Traditional architectural forms form the basis of the compositional structure of buildings built by Karabakh masters.
During Karabagh khanate of XVIII century the architecture developed on new stage. Under Panah Khan and his son Ibrahim Khan, large-scale renovation and construction work was carried out in Karabakh. In order to repel constant foreign attacks, Panah Khan built great defense castles with the help of local architects and builders.
Mirza Jamal Javanshir, who worked as a vizier for the Karabakh khans at the time, gives interesting and detailed information about the construction of these castles in his work “The History of Karabakh”. Bayat Castle was built in Karabakh’s Kabirli area in 1747-48. The famous Shahbulaq Castle was built in 1751-52 in a style that was typical of Tarnakuasr castles. Asgaran Castle, which had two fortifications, was built on the right and left banks of the Qarqarchay River. This castle known as Asgaran castle among the people was built in XVII century by Panahali Khan in the eastern boundaries of the khanate. If Derbent fortification was Shirvan’s northern gate, the Asgaran castle was the eastern gates of Karabagh. In the face of the growing threat of foreign military aggression, Panah Khan wanted to build an insurmountable castle city in an impassable place on a mountain height so that even the strongest enemy could not encircle and take it. Finally, Shusha Castle was founded on a high mountain peak in 1756-57. Shusha Castle was one of the largest defence buildings of the time. Shusha was the capital of the Karabakh Khanate from 1757 to 1822.
Architecture of Karabakh of the XIX century was represented more by the religious and cultural-domestic buildings. During this period, with the exception of residential buildings, commercial buildings were the most common type of building. Such buildings were used as workshops and as commercial enterprises. The lines of stores in Shusha are the most complete buildings of its kind.
In Karabakh, large and monumental religious buildings were constructed in the first half of the XIX century. During this period the local architecture schools continued to some extent the old traditions were established here. The specific features of mosque buildings are the features that distinguished the architectural school of Ganja-Karabakh zone from other parts of Azerbaijan. In the Karabakh zone rich with national architectural monuments and constant architectural tradition the European architecture could not get deep roots and lost among local styles.
Karbalayi Safikhan Qarabagi plays a special role in 19th century Karabakh architecture. Being loyal to local traditions and principles Karbalayi Safikhan is also the author of the four-minaret Imamzada Mosque in Barda (1868), Mosque in Agdam (1986-70), Asaghy Mosque in Shusha (1874-75) Yukhary or Friday Mosque in Agdam (1883), local mosques, and Haji Alakbar Mosque in Fizuli District (1890) Horadiz (1891-1908), Gochahmedli Mosques of the same region (1906). Apart from that, the architect built Tatarlar Mosque in Odessa (1870) and Qarabaglar Mosque in Ashgabat (1880-es).
The construction of factories, plants, warehouses, ports, bridges, train stations and so on led to the creation of industrial-transport architecture which was new to Karabakh.
Architectural monuments of different periods of our history in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are the treasure and pearls of world architecture.