Nakhchivan, an ancient city that dates back to the period of Prophet Noah, once hosted the Silk Road caravans, and which Evliya Çelebi referred to in his Book of Travels as “Nakş-ı Cihan” (Flower of the Universe), awaits to be discovered.

I wake up somewhat uneased by the cries of the traveler beside me shouting “We are falling in Nakhchivan.” But as soon as I feel the wheels of the plane touch the ground, I am relieved and begin to smile. Although Azeri Turkish has many similarities with my native language, Turkish, it does have significant differences. For instance, the word “fall” in Azeri means “to land.” I begin to wonder what else I will come across in this city that has already put a smile on my face at the beginning of the journey.

The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic’s capital of the same name, which is surrounded by the Lesser Caucasus Mountains including Zangazur and Daralayaz, is situated on a verdant plain that extends towards the Aras (Araxes) River that also forms the country’s border with Iran. On the advice of the reception personnel when I was leaving my baggage at the hotel in the center of the city, my first task is to visit Bayraq Meydanı (Flag Square) to view the city from the highest point. I observe the view of the city while listening to the story behind the national flag in this square, which is a popular picnic location for the locals during the summer months. Before I came to Nakhchivan, I have discovered that, although consid- erably short, this country and my own country, Turkey, share a border. The snowy peaks of Mount Ararat salute me in the distance, as if affirming this...

I begin to head towards the city center with questions in my mind like whether Noah’s Ark landed on Ilanlıdağ (Hacha Mountain) as claimed in the culture of Nakhchivan or on the peak of Mount Ararat. Today, I will be dedicating my time to discovering the historical aspects of this city said to have been established five thousand years ago. I learn that Nakhchivan, which resembles a cultural mosaic because it was on the trade route, is cleaned with great care 24 hours a day, and as I continue along the wide, spacious roads I eventually reach Jame Mosque. This mosque, built in the 18th century, accurately reflects the architectural features that influenced the region. I cannot take my eyes off the Iranian-style stained glass windows and the reddish bricks of the mosque that reflects Seljuk architecture. I sit for a while under the shade of a tree in the mosque garden thinking about the civilizations that lived in this geography, each more important than the other.

My next stop takes me back even further. The Momine Khatun Mausoleum, located on the same road as the mosque, was built by architect Ajami ibn Abu Bakr in the 12th century for Momine Khatun, wife of Azerbaijan Atabey Shamsaddin Eldaniz. Turquoise ceramics embedded in the geometric compositions decorating the façade of the mausoleum and the Kufic-style inscription of Surah Yasin were done so beautifully that I just stand there staring in admiration. I feel so proud that such a monument was built for a woman, and under the conditions of that period.

 The environment is gradually becoming even more appealing, and I am walking towards the Han Saray that shares the same spacious garden with the mausoleum. This historical palace owned by the Kangerli family and used actively until the beginning of the 20th century has now been turned into a museum. More than 300 works ranging from cultural artifacts to an office, flags to weapons are exhibited in this two-story structure that has views of the Aras River and was once used both as living quarters, and for administrative affairs. The structure appears fairly plain from the outside with its red bricks, yet the inside is truly magnificent. I imagine the inhabitants of the palace sitting in the mirrored room drinking tea under the reflections of light shining through the colorful stained glass on the windows. I am awakened from this fairy tale by the rumbling of my hungry stomach. I leave with the intention of returning at sunset, and head towards the Milli Yemekler restaurant that is close by. The restaurant that serves local meals from the Nakhchivan cuisine, mainly consisting of meat, including cız bız, piti, qreçka, and borş, pleases both my stomach and my purse.

This intake of energy says “Continue your historical tour from where you left off.” So, I stop by the Rug Museum on Heydar Aliyev Prospekti (Street), and find myself lost amidst the vast array of rugs, both in design and size, and equipment used in weaving exhibited in a huge hall. When I discover that the camel figures associated with the Silk Road symbolized prosperity and the buta figure unique to Azerbaijani Turks symbolized the teardrop, once again I find myself admiring the value the Nakhchivani people give to their culture. After buying small souvenirs for my friends and family from the souvenir shop under the museum, I head to another hill -one that hosts the Nakhchivan Castle- to end my first day in the city watching the sunset.

The atmosphere of the sunset at the recently restored castle and Prophet Noah’s tomb that is immediately beside it is so beautiful that a couple came with their friends to have engagement photographs taken here. According to the young people I met, the castle gardens play host to local festivals at the weekends throughout the summer months. The Nakhchivani people who enjoy having fun, enrich these festivals with dance performances and concerts. I can envisage the youth wearing the traditional Azerbaijani Turkish costumes and performing their dances that symbolize the past.

The next morning, I begin the day at the bazaar to become more closely familiar with daily life in the city. Colorful stands offer a wide range of products. The indoor market, open daily, has everything ranging from spices to dried fruits and nuts, from vegetables and fruit to dairy products. The hospitality of the locals is also reflected in the bazaar; I taste the regions famous alana (dried peach) sold on the stand run by Orhan who helps his father at the bazaar. I learn from an elderly woman called Farhana, who sells vegetables she grows in her own garden, that coriander and dill are essential ingredients in the local cuisine. So, now, I feel a bit more like one of the “locals,” and before leaving the bazaar I bid my farewells to the elderly stallholders saying “take care.”

Although the people of Nakhchivan give importance to the development of their country, they are still loyal to their traditions. Under the guidance of Ruslan and Mammad who have accompanied me throughout my journey, I am now changing my route to Ashabi-Kahf that is visited by the locals for various reasons including reciting the azan in the ear of a newborn child or dedicating an adak (an offering of gratitude). According to reports, a wish is made in the sitting area of the cave where the Seven Sleepers slept, and if a drop of water drips on the supplicant, they believe that their wish will come true -but only if you are not impatient! In this season, this sacred visiting place that costs between 10-12 manats (Azerbaijan’s currency) from the city by taxi is accompanied by the fragrance of silverberry, not to mention cinnamon tea.

With its rich minerals, Nakhchivan, that has been a center of attraction throughout history due to its location, has become a popular healing center. When the salty air I breathed while walking around the 110-meter-deep caves on Duzdağ (Salt Mountain), that is approximately 10-12 km from the city center, begins to have an effect in a short time, my curiosity increases even more. I discover that every year, hundreds of asthma and bronchitis patients from different nations visit the rehabilitation center that has been operating since 1979. The nearby hotel provides accommodation for those visiting from abroad with friendly personnel.

 My hospitable guides who have accompanied me on my journey have made preparations to end my visit with an evening meal, and take me to Dan Yeri restaurant. They bring such a variety of dishes to the table before the main meal; there are pickled ferula, çuğundur, and baldırğan; fresh tarragon; tzatziki (cacık) prepared with coriander and dill, goat cheese, and olive... The aptly named saffron shah pilaf made with dates, walnuts, dried apricots, grapes, and meat is certainly the shah of Nakhchivan’s cuisine. This is served with rosehip, gövce and feyhua compotes. This time, I end this delightful evening by choosing koz (walnut) jam to accompany the tea brought after the meal.

I really don’t understand how my time in Nakhchivan flew by so fast. I had other places to visit: I was going to listen to the Azeri folk song “Sarı Gelin” by the Nakhchivan National Philharmonic Orchestra in the Clock Tower Square, I planned to visit Alinja Castle, to have a picnic on the floating island on Lake Batabat, and visit the Ordubad lemon orchards. I am leaving Nakhchivan with this list of places to visit in my mind and the sound of the verses Küçelere su serpmişem / Yar gelende toz olmasın (I sprinkled water on the narrow streets / so the beloved does not run away) by Rashid Behbudov in my ear. I will return one day, I’m sure of it.

 

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