Ganja is Azerbaijan's second-largest city. In Soviet times it was named Kirovabad. According to medieval Arab sources, the city of Ganja was founded in 859-60 by Mohammad b. Khaled b. Yazid b. Mazyad, the Arab governor of the region in the reign of the caliph Al-Mutawakkil, and so-called because of a treasure unearthed there.
According to the legend, the Arab governor had a dream where a voice told him that there was a treasure hidden under one of the three hills around the area where he camped. The voice told him to unearth it and use the money to found a city. He did so and informed the caliph about the money and the city. Caliph made Mohammad the hereditary governor of the city on a condition that he would give the money he found to the caliph.
However, modern historians believe that the Persian name Ganja suggests that the city existed in pre-Islamic times and was likely founded in the fifth century A.D.
The city is situated on a foot of the Small Caucasus, on the Ganja River, south of the Kura River in a rich agricultural area. It is in a middle of the way between Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, and Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia. Estimated territory is 197 square kilometers. Ganja administratively divided in two districts: Kapaz and Nizami. Average temperature in January is 1,1C and in July is 25,4C.
The name Ganja means wide derived from a word "gan" (wide). Ganja is an ancient city of Azerbaijan which is settled in the fifth century. The reference to Ganja could be found in the book "Kitabi Dada Korkut" ( the historical literature work of Oghuzs, the ancestors of Azerbaijani turks.) Location on the Great Silk Way, connecting the West with East played a significant role in the development of economy and culture in ancient Ganja having made the city one of the beautiful and prosperous locations in the world.
In the six century Ganja was seized by Arabs and became area of fighting between them and Khazars. In the 10th century Ganja became the capital city of the Salarilar state and in 970 having been captured by Sheddadilar became their capital city. In 1088 a commander of the Saljuk sultan Malikshah called Bugan captured the city. From then Ganja became in the possession of the Saldjuk Empire. In 1139, 18th of September terrible earthquake happened in Ganja. The city was destroyed tremendously, about 300 thousands of people were killed in that disaster. Top of the mountain Kapaz fall on flow of the river Aksy having created a lake named Goy-Gol. After the awful earthquake Ganja regenerated soon and in the 11th and 13th centuries Ganja became again the prosper and richest city known everywhere in the East. The population achieved 500,000.
Ganja was also very famous by its cotton fabric named Al-Ganjavi. In 1231 Ganja was captured by Mongols. In 1259 Ganja was included in the state of Ilkhanids. And after that became in the possession of the Karakoyunlu state and later on belonged to the Akkoyunlu state. In 16th century Ganja became the capital city of Karabakh province belonging to the state of Qizilbashs (Safavidâ€™s state). Transformation of Safavi state from Turk one to Persian one made Azerbaijan depend on Persian nobles.
By 18th century when Azerbaijani small states named khanats became independent, Ganja with the lands surrounding it became an independent state as well ruled by the dignitaries from Ziyadogly dynasty. In 1804 after the unequal battle between Ganja khanat military home guard and troops of the Russian Emopre in the place named Quru Qobu, Ganja was besieged and captured . In despite of the suggestion made by the Russian commander to a ruler of Ganja Khanate to surrender, Javad khan refused and kept defense of the city one month until he died in 3rd of January. His great statement "Oldu var, Dondu jokh"( Lets die but not turn back) inspired defenders of Ganja and influenced future generation of azerbaijani people in struggle for independence from Russian and Iranian empires.
Again in the beginning of 20th century Ganja had a tremendous role in the history of Azerbaijan. In 1918, 27th of May Ganja became capital city of the first republic in the Moslim world until Baku was liberated from bolsheviks and the government moved there. The advance of Soviet troops in Azerbaijan meet resistance in Ganja and was cause of the Famous Ganja Uprising when Azerbaijanis showed again their wish for independence and took part in the unequal fight with the invaders.
Ganja was part of the Persian Empire from 1606, as the capital of a khanate, until the Russian Empire annexed it in 1804. Russian troops defeated Persian forces here in 1826. Numerous Armenian, Russian and German settlers moved to Ganja developing a significant industrial and commercial momentum. For some time in 1918 Ganja was the provisional capital of a briefly independent Azerbaijan. Changes in history were also reflected on the city's name. The toponym 'Ganja' is not drug related... it originates in the Ganjak tribe. The city was named Elisavetspol from 1804 to 1918, after the wife of tsar Alexander I. It reverted to the name of Ganja until 1935, when it was renamed Kirovabad. It reverted to Ganja in 1989.
In recent history Ganja was the scene of a military uprising in June 1993 that toppled the government of president Abulfaz Elchibey.
The road from Baku to Ganja is one of the country's most scenic. The area is famous for the Kapaz mountain and the 7 lakes near it, particularly the Geygel - the blue lake. The territory is perfect for canoeing, swimming, walking and trekking or for the simple joys of a family picnic. The city was the birthplace of poets Abil-Ula, Mahsati hanum Ganjavi and Nizami - is considered the country's literary centre. Ganja presents a lot of ancient architectural monuments that have reached us from the depth of the history. Many historical monuments have been perished irrevocably. But those which were at least partially saved are of great historical and scientific value.
One of those is of course the Imamzadeh mausoleum, located in 7 km from center of the modern city. Around the building of Imamâ€™s sonâ€™s mausoleum, there was a cult complex with its gate, fortress wall, a number of small mosques and several burial places.The researchers refer the central tower part, which has a dome at its top, to the end of XIV or the beginning of XV, while extension, surrounding the center of the tomb from three sides and shaped as two-layer arcade - to XVII century.The indicated above architectural complex is the main town-planning ensemble of Ganja.
One of its main preserved elements is the building of Juma-Mosque, build in 1606 by the known scientist and architect Sheykh Baga-ud-din. The Mosque consists from a prayer hall and small official rooms, contiguous to its corners. Internal space is naturally lightened through covered by lattices Shebeke - windows, lined in two and somewhere three raws. The Mosque, constructed from the red brick, is placed in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by indistinct walls, with gates accented by vertical lines of the twin-minarets. The complex of constructions included Madrasa (school). A bath joined this Madrasa at west. At the southern side of the mosque there was a cemetery.
The architectural shape of Ganja depended on those construction and decoration materials, which were widely used here. The main material for construction of the important basic buildings was plane, square shaped, good burnt brick, while in mass habitation and in other construction the raw brick was much more usual. In decorating of buildings the limestone plates, plain stone, bricks and the relief majolica were used.
Centers of the Caravan trade and crafts production, such as Ganja, Barda, Shamkir, Beilagan, where a separate Aran school of architecture was generated, had influenced strongly the development of the Azerbaijan medieval architecture. Features of this school were characterized by the originality of mono- and polychrome piling of walls, known as the "Ganja piling", specifics of the architectural forms and other distinctive features.
The limitation of territory of the medieval Ganja by contours of fortress walls has defined the extremely high density of the city's buildings, with characteristic narrow and curve streets.In the planning structure of cities of feudal East the important place took Caravan-Sarais. Two-stored, rectangular caravan-sarai in Ganja, related to XVII century, has a large internal courtyard.
The preserved samples of the Ganja dwelling tradition of XVII - XVIII have dome blocking of double curvature, and also economic niches "tahcha", and wells called "raf".
Divided by the small river Ganjachay, the city of Ganja, up to the beginning of XIX has precisely came apart from three parts; historical center and two regions - Bagmanlar (region of gardens) and Kilsakent (village near the church). Down to second half of XIX, the city has saved constant medieval architectural shape. In later buildings of Ganja, the tendencies connected with dominance of Russian town-planning culture are felt. At the end of the XIX century some transformation measures had started. At the end of the XIX the shape of the city was determined by new building policy, based on building of houses in the area of former Ganja fortress, destructed in the 90-th years. Instead of the two rows of fortress wall, the 'European' quarters with broad streets have appeared in the city. And still architectural shape of today's Ganja in many respects is determined by the historical heritage, kept to us by the famous and anonymous architects of the past.
Today the Hassan Aliyev University, the Academy of Sciences, Medical School and the Ganja State University (formerly the Pedagogical Institute) ensure that the scholastic tradition is continued.
With ample streets and avenues and well designed parks, Ganja is prettier than most Azeri towns. The city retains a strong German influence in its architecture. (After the collapse of the Soviet Union; without travel restrictions; worried about the war with Armenia, and with strong incentives from the fatherland, most ethnic Germans left in the early 1990s.) With a vast main square, the city has its fair share of Soviet architecture, some of it quite good, like the grand city hall with its immense colonnade. Lenin's statue is now gone from the main square, but the city retains a lot from previous times.
Located near Khatai street, in a park south of the main square you should not miss the 17th century Shah Abbas, or Juma mosque, with two tall minarets and a dome with interesting decoration. The red-brick building was designed by scientist and architect Sheykh Baga-ud-din and is illuminated through beautiful panels of stained glass (Shebeke). There are also a few other less appealing mosques. The two-storied but rather modest caravanserai can be found in the vicinity of Hotel Ganja. Nearby there is a colourful mosaic, one more tribute to Nizami.
Another landmark is the first parliament of the short lived 'Azerbaijan Democratic Republic', originally it was the city hall and is now used as an agricultural school. Near the parliament is the large and pleasant city park, comprising the remains of the 16th century fortress walls and a chaikhana.
The baths, situated close to the Abbas mosque have striking colours and attractive domes, but are not very old. Behind the baths there is the 19th century grave of Javad Khan and across Ganja street you'll find the cinema. The modern baths can be found a few blocks to the east.
Although most Christians are now gone (Armenians, Russians and Germans) there are several churches worth a visit: a ruined Armenian church in the south of the town, the Alexander Nevski church (now the puppet theatre!) and a 19th century orthodox church near the university. The state drama theatre is on Abbaszade street and the state philarmony is on Atayev street.
A local oddity is the bottle house, a two-storey building decorated with about 50.000 glass bottles! (intersection of Guseinli and Garia streets) The decorations contain a portrait of one of family members, missing since WWII.
North of the bottle house is the Mir Bager Aga tomb. If you still have time try the history museum (Ataturk avenue, near the city hall) or the academy museum (in front of the old parliament), both are housed in early 20th century noveau riche mansions. For shopping try browsing the central department store, on Nizami street.
There are many ancient historical monuments: mosque of Albanians, Ganja Gates (X-XI c.), Palace "Dar-us-Soltan" (XII c.), towers, medrese, bath-house, Caravansaray, Imam-zade Complex (XVI c.), Djuma Mosque (1606). To the south of Ganja between the emerald alpine forests is hidden the azure lake Goy-Gol (Blue Lake). On slope of mountains surrounding the lake there are unique creations of nature: "Stone circus", "Chingil", mystical caves and grottos.
Outside the city you'll find the ruins of old Ganja, they are located about 6 km east of the centre near the road to Baku (after the semi abandoned aluminium factory). The ruins have little to see, and are hard to access because of a tank unit housed in the area, but it's worth visiting the nearby Nizami's mausoleum. The existing monument, built in 1991 replaces a similar obelisk dating from the late 1940s. The mausoleum is an elegant marble covered structure about 20 m tall. Behind it there is an open area with a display of scenes from Nizami's books, sculpted in metal.
About 15 km northeast of Ganja, after the village of Aznixi you'll find the Imanzade. This is a beautiful brick building with blue domes, surrounded by a cemetery that was built as the mausoleum of the 8th century Imam Bagira ibn Ibrahim. Inside you'll find the tomb enveloped by black curtains. The date of the original building is uncertain, and the current design results mostly from a 19th century reconstruction.