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wtorek, 28 listopada 2006 9:36
It’s a dry and sunny late autumn in Baku, the colour is grey. It’s hard to imagine that a mere 180 km west the season is completely different and all covered in snow. The road to Lahic grows whiter as you go and rather scary as you climb up the narrow, uncertain road hugging the cliff face that plunges down into the valley below (thinking that the marshrutka driver most certainly doesn’t have any ‘winter tyres’).  Because of its isolation, Lahic (also called Lagich or Lahuj), which was the first, original heartland if the Albanian kingdom 2000 years ago, remains a rather untypical Azeri village. It was founded by the Persian Shah Kaikoroso and Persian artisans, known for its copper craft, settled here as they discovered that the surrounding mountains were rich in ore. This is why the language spoken here is a dialect of Persian Farsi called Tat.  


The town spreads by the Girdimanchai river gorge and is framed by two main cobbled streets, finishing with a tiny triangular place at each side. There are springs and wells of chilling mountain water along the streets, and local women carry them in specially designed copper vessels called Jujum (although this is being gradually replaced by the cheaper tin buckets). Jujums, as well as Chirax (an oil lamp vessel looking like Alladin’s) and beautiful Afiafa (used to store water in the toilets to wash yourself up) are all made in the copper smithies which you can detect by the clinging of mallet on metal echoed all over Lahic.

 The copper craft in Lahic has been passed from father to son through centuries but now, in the ‘era of tin bucket and plastic Afiafa’ unemployment is forcing people to Baku (where, fortunately, they continue producing copper work although sometimes turn commercial mass producing samovars). Those who stay in Lahic sell their products mainly to tourists and the omnipresent BP expat workers coming here for weekends.  



Lahic people are very welcoming and warm. Some invited us to sleep in their houses for free. We finally stayed in the only hotel, as the only guests. The hotel keeper did everything he could to make our room a bit warmer and prepared a real potato feast for us for dinner (followed by cottage cheese, sour cucumbers and tomatoes and dry fruits). In the morning, at 6.30, we were woken up from our shallow dreams by a trembling voice singing the morning azan (a call for prayer) from a minaret just opposite the hotel. The mosque’s light (fed by electricity from a car battery) was bright yellow and everything around dead cold in contrast. Getting up was like dying too. Then we missed our bus back, which was rather fortunate as a moment later, a man going to Baku in his 4x4 Lada was passing by and took us in.


Have a look at the Lahic gallery. All pictures by Guillaume as usual...

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Ichari Shahar

czwartek, 23 listopada 2006 19:02

‘The oldest Baku is the smallest. It is not only tiny, but so tightly packed, so compressed, so cluttered, that when I walk into it I involuntarily take a deep breath to make sure I will have enough air to breathe. If you were to stop here in the middle of the street and stretch out your arms, then you could with one hand stroke a child sleeping in a cradle in the apartment on the left and with the other treat yourself with a pear lying on the table in the apartment on the right. One walks single file here, because a couple walking side by side immediately creates a bottleneck. And Baku’s old town has no plan- or maybe it has one, but it is so surrealistic that no normal mind can grasp it.’ (R. Kapuscinski, Imperium)



Fortunately there are landmarks, bizarre as they are, that help find the way (but then, there is no point in finding the way anyway…). One of them is the house of ‘the Boneless One’, a strange man who passed his life in a chair unable to stand or move as his body lacked skeleton. This, to the Azerbaijani’s deeply superstitious Muslim/shaman soul was immediately seen as s blessing. Today, some locals touch the stone doorway as they pass- it brings good luck. There is a little square opposite the entrance and tucked between buildings; it has a tiny fountain and a metal frame on the side to flay animals. We once witnessed the very careful process of deconstructing a sheep together with a couple of women chatting by the fountain (fountains in Islam are ‘women’s places’) who didn’t seem to notice it much anyway. It was surprisingly clean and bloodless, and the man doing it- very calm and almost delicate.



But going back to the landmarks, the most obvious one is the 12th century Maiden/Virgin Tower, which of course also has its story; a princess tale in fact. It says: There was once a ruler who fell in love with his beautiful daughter and wanted to marry her. The girl, trapped between the obvious revulsion and her duty towards her father, demanded to have a tower built, from where she could admire the beauty of her future land. Each time the builders announced the tower was finished she would demand another storey to be added. Once the tower was in its full height, she climbed it up and threw herself off. Today, you can still climb it to admire the sight but guards take good care that you don’t throw yourself off.



In the eastern part of the old town there is the Shirvanshah’s Palace (Shirvanshah was the king if the Shirvan region in Azerbaijan) with a mosque, two mausoleum and a harem building. Below, the Polish Embassy (a place where the Consul can pass you some of the most up-to-day rumours) located in a beautiful 15th century building, and the British Council just next to it (is it a coincidence that the British Ambassador has a Polish wife?).



Above all, old Baku's most interesting buildings are the ones you can scarcely notice- forgotten little mosques often undistinguishable from ordinary houses, underground hammams (baths) with its cosmic roofs, caravanserais, stair-sets leading to nowhere, overhanging balconies. Kids seem to know this maze best, and a foreigner always feels slightly overpowered, out of place.


  There is a little Ichari Shahar gallery on the side.
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