Palace of Shirvanshahs

In this short photography-backed essay, we’ll take you to a journey inside one of the most prominent masterpieces of the medieval architecture of Azerbaijan.

Our story is about the Palace of Shirvanshahs – a remarkable complex of different-purposed buildings erected back in XV century, by the last dynasts of Shirvan – the middle-age state, which had existed in the territory of contemporary Azerbaijan since IX century A.D.

Situated atop of the highest hill of the ancient Baku, the palace has its’ foundation laid during the reign of Shirvanshah Sheykh Ibrahim I, shortly after a devastating earthquake has hit the country’s traditional capital (Shamakhi), forcing Ibrahim to transfer the Shirvan’s metropolis to Baku.

When the ruler’s will was done and the capital moved, Ibrahim I committed himself to construction of “palace” – a memorial complex intended to be built around the sacred place of worship (pir), that had existed since ages in that part of the Medieval Baku, and where Seyyid Yaxya Bakuvi, famous Helwati Sufi saint, was buried in 1457.

The complex of Shirvanshah’s consists of 6 main buildings erected in different parts of the irregular polygon shaped area of the complex.

Started in 1411, the main two-storey building of the complex has about 50 premises connected with three narrow winding staircases. The big lancet portal of the structure leads visitors directly to the second floor, into a high octahedral hall covered with massive masonry dome. A small, octagonal vestibule behind it connects central hall with the rest of the complex’s lodgings.

Mausoleum of Shirvanshahs, the complex’s second largest component, was built in 1435 by Shirvanshah Khalilullah I. It has a rectangular shape, crowned with a hexahedral cupola. The latter’s external surface is decorated with multi-radial stars, whereas the inscription on the entrance doorway indicates purpose of the building’s construction: “Khalilullah I, the greatest Soltan, Great Shirvanshah, the namesake of the divine prophet, the defender of the religion ordered to construct this light burial-vault for his mother and son in 839”. On two drop-shaped medallions in the flannel parts of the portal there are inscriptions with the architect’s name — Memar Ali (architect Ali). Graves of the seven dynasty representatives are located in the mausoleum main lodging.

Divankhana is known to be the complex’s most beautiful construction. It presents an attractive stone pavilion enclosed in a small courtyard surrounded by a gallery-arcade on three sides. The pavilion consists of an octahedral hall covered with a stone cupola. Well-proportioned high portal of the main entrance is decorated with an ornament and Arabic inscription. The portal is decorated with two medallions inside of which there are inscriptions in Kufic Arabic. The pavilion has eight beautifully decorated archways.

Keygubad Mosque is named after the Shirvanshah Keygubad who had ruled Shirvan from 1317 to 1343. In the southern part of the mosque there is also the tomb of famous Dervish built by the order of Shirvanshah Farrukh Yasar. The dome stands on four columns in the center of the hall.

18. Keygubad mosque

Keygubad mosque

The Palace Mosque (1442) is situated the lower court of the complex. The laconicism of its prismatic volumes, completed with two slightly pointed cupolas, is shaded by a well-proportioned vertical line of the minaret rising above in the northeastern corner of the building and still known as one of the city’s tallest minarets. There are two chapels for prayers in the mosque: a large hall for men and a small hall for women, and a couple of small subsidiary rooms. There is an inscription laid under the stalactite belt of the minaret: “The greatest Soltan Khalilullah I ordered to build this minaret. May Allah exalt the days of his governing and reign. The year of 845”.

Seyid Yahya Bakuvi’s Mausoleum is located in the southern part of the complex. Seyid Yahya Bakuvi was a royal scholar in the court of Shirvanshah Khalilullah. The mausoleum is octahedral and covered with similarly shaped marquee. It consists of ground and underground parts. The upper part of the mausoleum was used to perform the cult rites, and the lower one housed the sepulchral vault. There are three small lancet windows with a stone bar – shabaka on the southern, eastern and western verges of the Mausoleum.

Besides its’ major 6 buildings erected during the rule of Shirvanshahs, the complex has two components which were constructed in the later centuries.

First structure of this kind is the palace’s Eastern portal, or the so-called “Sultan Murad’s Gate” (1585). Named after the famous sultan of the Ottoman empire, the gate was built at some point during Baku’s short-term Ottoman occupation of 1585-1603.

The complex’s latest structure is the Bathhouse, built in XVII century, which was later destroyed and then discovered in 1939 by Azerbaijani archeologists. This hypsometrically lowest structure of the palace consists of 26 bathrooms, which used to be covered with cupolas and the light penetrated through their openings. The bathhouse used to be semi-underground for maintaining the water hot in winters and cool during summers.

Ruins of the bathhouse

Ruins of the bathhouse

Palace of Shirvanshahs is deservedly recognized as the one of most beautiful and complete examples of the medieval architecture of Azerbaijan. In 1964, the complex was declared a historical reserve. Currently it presents a cornerstone component of Icheri Sheher – ancient fortress of Baku included into the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

Photographer and Author Ilkin Kangarli for the “”


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