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The Shirvanshahs’ Palace Complex

This was the last residence of the rulers of the Shirvan State, which lasted a thousand years. The State of Shirvan was the strongest state in Azerbaijan in the Middle Ages. While states replaced each other in the south of Azerbaijan (the Sajis, Salalis, Ravvadis), the borders of the State of Shirvan in the north reached just south of Derbend in Dagestan. The Mazyadi was the first Shirvanshah dynasty in the state. It was founded by Heysam ibn Khalid in 861. The Mazyadi dynasty was originally close to the Arabs, however they gradually mixed with the local nobility and in the 11th century they became the Kasrani dynasty, completely local by tradition and origin. Of the Kasrani dynasty, Manuchohr, Akhsitan and Fariburz were very wise and skilled politicians. Husheng was the last of its rulers. He left no direct successor to the throne so, after his death, his close relative Sheikh Ibrahim I (1382-1417) was chosen to be Shirvanshah in 1382. His antecedents were rulers of Derbend, so the dynasty took its name from there. Sheikh Ibrahim I ruled during a tense period of wars with Emir Teymur (1370-1405) in the Near East. At that time, Tokhtamish, khan of Gizil Orda (the Golden Horde) fought with Emir Teymur for Azerbaijan, with its convenient strategic position and rich natural resources. Sheikh Ibrahim I, a wise politician, took the side of the strongest monarch, Emir Teymur, who recognized the independence of the Shirvanshah state and commissioned Ibrahim to defend the northern borders of the empire. A wise ruler and clever diplomat, Shirvanshah Sheikh Ibrahim I managed, during his rule of 35 years, on Baku not only to preserve the independence and influence of the State, but even expanded its territories. 

    The first capital of the Shirvanshahs was the city of Shamakha. However, after a devastating earthquake there in 1197, the capital was moved to Baku. The fortress walls of ancient Baku having already been built during the rule of Shirvanshah Manuchohr III (1120-1160). 

The Shirvanshahs’ Palace complex was constructed at one of the highest points in Icherisheher. The palace comprises three inner yards. The upper yard includes the residence and the tomb Farrukh Yasar had constructed for himself. The Dervish Tomb, remnants of the Bayil fortress, the foundations of the Key Qubad mosque, which no longer exists, and the Eastern Portal are located in the middle yard. The lower yard holds the tomb that Shirvanshah Khalilullah I had built for his mother and his son, the palace mosque and the bathhouse. 

The palace is a two-storey building in an irregular, rectangular shape. In order to provide better illumination of the palace, the south-eastern part of the building was constructed on different levels. Initially there were 52 rooms in the palace, of which 27 were on the ground floor and 25 on the first floor. The shah and his family lived on the upper floor, while servants and others lived on the lower floor.

Every architectural monument has a corresponding verse from the Qur’an inscribed on it. The inscription on this monument speaks of the life hereafter and absolution. Farrukh Yasar, defeated in the war against Safavid troops in 1500-1501, was burned alive, with his hands and feet tied, and he was not buried here. The tomb’s architectural construction is similar to that of Emir Teymur.  

The Eastern Portal was the last construction in the complex. Known as the Murad Gate, it was constructed in the 16th century, much later than the other monuments, when Baku was under Turkish rule. The upper part of the portal has an Arabic inscription: The construction of this noble mansion was ordered by the Great Rajab Baba Bakuyi h.994 (1585-86) during the time of the fairest and greatest Sultan, Murad Khan.

Stone slabs, discovered in Baku Bay, are displayed in the middle yard. These slabs are one of the most interesting architectural remains of the Middle Ages. They are from Bayil Tower, which has remained under the waters of Baku Bay for centuries. Other than inscriptions, the rocks also portray animals, mythical creatures and heads of people on them. The lion and bull figures carved into the slabs were state symbols of the Shirvanshahs. The depictions of other real animals on the plates represented a calendar of the time. It is most likely that they represented the periods of different Shirvanshahs. It is well known that Middle Eastern countries named the years after animals. The depictions of human heads most likely represent different members of the Shirvanshah dynasty. Exploration of the area has revealed that it was a naval defence fortress. The Shirvanshahs probably had a fleet. Archaeological excavations near the port have unearthed a room, hearth, ceramic dishes, coins and various heavy objects that could have been used as anchors. 

    The Dervish tomb is located in the middle yard. The dervish buried in the tomb lived in the palace of Sheikh Ibrahim I and was the palace muezzin (the person who calls Muslims to prayer). 

There used to be a mosque-madrasah (Islamic religious school) near this tomb. The mosque, built in the 14th century, was named after Shirvanshah Key Qubad. It consisted of a right-angled prayer hall with a small corridor in front of it. Most unfortunately, this mosque has not survived to our time. It burned down in 1918 and only the supporting columns remain. 

    The lower yard, also called the prayer yard, includes the family tomb of the Shirvanshahs and the palace mosque. The palace bathhouse and reservoir are located in the lowest part of the complex. The lower yard of the complex is separated from the others by a closed wall with an arched passageway. 

The palace mosque is the second monument located in the lower yard. This mosque, complete with two slightly sharp cupolas, is noted for the beautiful, straight shape of the minaret on the north-east corner of the building.

The palace bathhouse is located in the lowest part of the complex. 

The Shirvanshahs’ Palace Complex was inscribed on the World Heritage List at the World Heritage Committee’s 24th session held in Cairns, Australia on 27 November - 2 December 2000.