::: The Iron Gates of Derbend
Just some 200 years ago the territories of modern Azerbaijan were more than twice as much as now. After a long war between Russia and Iran for the territories of Azerbaijan as the result of Turkmenchay Agreement in 1928 the lands of Azerbaijan southern from Aras river moved to Iran, in 1923 Soviet Government took decision to join several western Azerbaijan territories to Armenia, with the starting of Karabakh war again 25% of Azerbaijan lands became in the bondage of Armenians.
Along with western and southern parts in 1806 Azerbaijan lost its main strategic city in the north – the ancient centre of world civilization beautiful Derbend.
Today modern Derbend is the second largest city of Dagestan Republic which is part of Russian Federation.Dagestan is the biggest Caucasian republic in the Russia with the area of 50.300 sq. km and a population of 2.1 million. The capital is Mahachgala. The republic is bordering with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Chechnya and Russia. Dagestan translates lake the Land of Mountains.
With a long and troubled history Dagestan became an autonomous republic in 1920 and today is one of the world’s most complex ethnic patchworks: it has 32 different ethnic groups, main being: Avars, Russians, Darghins, Kumyks, Lezgins, Laks, Tabassarans, Chechens, Nogais, Aguls, Tsakhurs, Tats and Azeris.
Derbend city is located in 121 km to the south-east from Mahachgala and 230 km north-east of Baku on the west coast of the Caspian Sea. The territory of the city encloses by itself narrow seashore stripe known as Derbend passageway or Caspian Gates.
Derbend has a unique strategic location in the Caucasus: The city is situated on the west coast of the Caspian Sea where the Caucasian mountains tightly border with the sea shores leaving just narrow stripe of plane nearly three kilometers wide and controlling land traffic between south-eastern Europe and the Middle East. Here, in one of the most strategic important and geographically convenient place more than 5000 years ago appeared first human settlement. It is proved by Archeological digs conducted in 1971 which revealed ancient settlement of IV-III millenniums b.c. In the territory of Derbent Citadel were found the remains of buildings numerous means of labor and life, farm implements, granaries, ceramic statuettes of the goddess of fertility from the ancient grain depository, also ancient fortifications with trace of conflagrations and destructions, bronze Scythian arrow-heads confirming that when Scythians were in near east in VIII-VII c. they had to conquer well fortified fortress. And “Narin Gala” Citadel was constructed on ruins of the ancient pack which belongs to the epoch of Early Bronze.
The name of Derbend city comes from Persian “dar band” which means “narrow gangway” “gate junction”. But different nations and states of different epochs gave the city different names: arabs called it “bab-al- khadid”- “iron gates” – Mongols “kakxulga” – “gates”, turks – “demir gapi” –“iron gates”, Greece historians called Derbend Albanian or Caspian Gates so every title connected to the word “gate”
From the ancient times the city kept strategic place for nomadic tribes not to pass Derbend gangway and not to reach the whole eastern Caucasus and Byzantium which was one of the biggest cities of the ancient world, through which the Great Silk Way was passing.
Derbend city was established by Persian monarch Yezdegird II in V century as fortress city in the north borders of Persian possessions. The rumors of marvelous gates of Derbend spread through the world which caused to appearance of different legends connected with the creation of the city. One of them links to establisher as Macedonian Alexander. This version is also noted in the popular epic of Great Azerbaijan poet Nizami Gecevi “Isgendername”.
But in spite all the numerous legends and versions the father of the city and the founder of the great “Narin Gala” citadel, strong walls and iron gates which made the city one of the strongest defensive areas in the world was I Khosrov Anushravan who lived in VI century.
There is one interesting legend connected with the construction of Derbend. It says that
King Khosrov planned to build wall against the invasion of northern khazar tribes and to realize this plan swimmingly he offered to their monarch to make a piece with them and as a symbol of this to marry with his daughter. Happy father hurriedly sent khazar princess to Persian king, but Khosrov didn’t marry her and hurriedly started the building of the wall till the sea, finishing the building he hanged the iron gates over it and returned the princess to her father. Furious king tried to take revenge on guileful Khosrov but it was too late as he stroke against a strong wall.
During different times many strong commanders tried in conquer Derbend that was not an easy job. In different times Derbend city was suffering from the aggressions of Roman Empery and Parfiya, Sasanid Iran and Bizantium, Arabian caliphate and Khazar khaganat, the state of Seljuk’s and Gold Orda, Sefevi monarchs and Turkish sultans, Russian imperators.
From 652 Derbend became a part of Arabian caliphate which after the spreading of Islamic religion was strengthening from day to day. With Arabian invasion in the city started construction of mosques and the most part of population was turned to Islam. In VIII century Derbend became an important military-political centre of Caucasus where located the residency of caliph’s deputy. In XII century Derbend conquered by Mongols fell into decay. From XV century Derbend is a part of Azerbaijan Shirvanshahs Commonwealth, from XVI of Savavi- Azerbaijan. In XVI c. Derbend city became the cockpit of violent wars between Osmanic Turkey and the State of Sefevids. In 1722 after Peter I invasion moves to Russia. After several years it again moved to Azerbaijan which for that time was consisting of small feudal states - khanligs. Under the leadership of Fatali khan Derbend became the strongest state among other kingdoms. In the end of XVIII century when war between Russia and Iran starts on division of Azerbaijan lands in 1806 Derbend finally passes to Russia and till nowadays remains the same.
In the middle of XIX century the economy in Derbend was growing in connection with growth of madder – plant which brought chip dye. Also production of high quality grapevines, wool-spinning mills was spread in the city. In 1898 in Derbend was built a railway station - Baku-Derbend-Petrovsk-Port (Mahachkala) which was significant event in developing of relationships with southern territories.
Today state historic-architectural and art museum-reserve includes in itself complex of stone fortification structures of the VI century with the citadel “Narin Gala”, city walls, the system of mountain defensive wall that is more than 40 kilometers length, Juma Mosque of VIII century, elevated ancient bathes, ancient cemeteries with VIII-IX centuries grave stones, water supply system and other civil constructions. The architectural ensemble “Ancient Derbend” which includes Citadel and many religious and civil constructions which age is between 100 and 2500 years were entered to “world heritage” List of UNESCO in 2003.
The precious stone in treasury of Derbend heritage is architectural ensemble of “Narin Gala” Citadel. It is located in north-west part of Derbend hill top, which raising 340 meters above sea level and occupies square nearly 4,5 hectares. The sizes of this trapezohedral construction reach 200 meters from west to east and 220 meters from south to the north. The width of the walls is 2,5 – 3,5 meters and high 15-20 meters. From the north-west citadel is strengthened with small tower-shaped lugs, and from the south and south-west with square towers.
The title of the citadel “Narin Gala” has several different meanings – “Narin” means beautiful, refined, and inaccessible and “Gala” means fortress, citadel.
The citadel “Narin Gala” by its magnificence could be compared with great Chinese wall.
In the territory of the Citadel placed magnificent monuments of architecture which belong to different periods of city’s development: cross-domical Alban-Christian temple of IV-V centuries, ruins of 7 palace complexes of Albanian, Sasanid, and Arabic periods, Reservoir of XI century, Zindan-prison of XII-XIV cent, Khan Bathes of XVII c, Khan Palace of XVIII, Chancellery of XVIII century, Guardhouse of XIX c., also citadel walls, gates and stairs along south fortress wall and numerous gates – parts of citadel defensive system throughout the city like Orta Gapi, Bayat Gapi, Kirkhlar Gapi, Gala Gapi, Dubari Gapi, Narin Gala Gapi, Djarchi Gapi.
The building of Citadel complex was conducted by stages. First were erected Citadel and Northern Wall of the city, then Southern Wall, and later Mountain Wall –Dag Bari.
The mountain wall Dag Bari starting from south-west corner of Citadel and extended to the depth of Caucasian mountains more than 40 kilometers covering all by-pass roads through mountains to the west of Derbend. Thus, strong long system of fortifications of Derbend best used with the relief of the placement became dependable barrier on the path to nomadic tribes against their devastating raid to Southern Caucasus and Near East.
Strong walls up to three meters thick made up from huge well cultivated blocks, the space is filled up with lacerated stone and mortar. Such reconstruction, also the high quality of mortar gave the walls extraordinary strength with what is explained unique safety of Derbend Defense Complex.
The two-storey construction above the gateways of the Citadel is Khan Chancellery – “Divankhana”- “divan” means “court” which possess with underground prisons small “zindan” – the depth 7 meters. After the bringing of verdict the prisoner was shifted to Big Zindan-Dungeon. Zindan is building in the shape of jar and its depth is 9 meters. Life imprisonments were kept there in ancient times. Zindan was covered with stone arch. The inner square is 24 m2. They pulled down prisoners by rope and covered with stone head and through the hole of the heading the food and water was given to them. During the cleaning works in 1976 there were revealed 1, 5 meter of soil mixed with human remains. The thing is that when new prisoner was moved to zindan the dead bodies were not removed from there.
During the siege it was practically impossible to take the city by storm. There was only one way – the poisoning the water – with the help of local citizens who agreed for a big consideration to reveal the water springs. In these cases enemies slaughtered animals and spilled their blood over the springs, water became foul and suffering from the thirst people opened the city walls and the ruler of the city left his people taking his retinue and fortune and escaping to mountains by the secret underground road. With the aim to prevent the poisoning from water there were built many reservoirs. Small water cistern – is considered small because in the city there is a bigger one. The length of this stone cistern is 18 meters, wide 8 and depth is more than 11 meters. It is huge water supply. The water was coming from mountain springs through the stone gutters. Small storage was used only for monarchial family. It was kept by warders and according to legends before drinking the water was first tried by warders. Water pipe was firstly laid in the city in and the citadel through stone gutters in IV century b.c. They are covered by gravestones and are 2 meters in the ground and in each 150 meters there are distributing drain taps which were clarifying water that is why comes to the city pure water.
The tsar Guardhouse was constructed in the territory of citadel after Derbend was joined to Russia in 1928.
In different historical periods the city was handed over different conquerors and the residence of each monarch was located in the territory of citadel. And every new ruler built his new palace destroying previous. The last castle within the territory of the citadel was built in 1760 for the
Strongest feudal lord of the eastern Caucasus Fatali khan – he was the ruler of Derbend, Guba and Shirvan regions of Azerbaijan. There Palace itself consisted of three inner yards, around the second yard there were huge quarters, 2 storey terrace buildings and they were called the pearl of the east and beauty of the Asia. The palace is not kept until nowadays because in 1919 in the time of civil war in Russia in the territory of citadel were located the forces of White Guard Denikin and the eastern part of citadel was completely exploded.
In IV century in the territory of citadel was built cross-domical Alban-Christian Temple, which after Arabian invasion was filled up with sand and after some time used as reservoir storage.
Khan bathes are also very interesting architectural constructions. The heating in them was installed under stone floor and steam circulating throw the ceramic pipes completely heated the placement.
Very interesting historical memorial is cemetery “Kirkhlar” which is one of the most esteemed Islamic relics as here are placed the graves of perished in 664 in the battle with khazar tribes 40 distinguished Arabian commanders. Eastern style Mausoleum of Derbend khans was constructed in 1787-1788 by Fatali khan for the honor of his wife Tuti Bike.
Just below the fortress is located the Old walled city – still preserved, untouched by the hand of Soviet Urban Planning. At its heart is the impressive Juma mosque – the oldest in Russia and one of the oldest in the world. An Arabic inscription on one of the mosque’s stones records its construction date as 115 in the Hijra calendar – 733. There Minaret Mosque and Kirkhlar Mosques, also several Christian temples are remained till nowadays. Also many ancient fountains are still safe in different parts of the City like Shah Salah, Peynik-Bulax, Xan-Bulaq
Two largest Dagestan ethnic groups in Derbend are composing Azeris and Lezgins. Azeris are mostly concentrated in the Old City, while lezghins live mostly in the newer parts.
Old City is the ancient upper part of Derbend which joins to Citadel. It is divided into 8 areas which are called in Derbend Magals – from Azeri word mahalla. Its narrow curved streets, and small yards, noisy craft workshops and bright carpet shops, majestic domes of mosques and plain roofs of pise-walled houses lick the city the extraordinary shape of unique eastern character, with real middle age atmosphere.
In the lower – newer regularly laid out part of the city remaining constructions of XIX-XX centuries. Like railway station, passage and Christian church.
In spite the fact that today it belongs to other Republic modern Derbend still keeps very close relationships with Azerbaijan in cultural, educational, political, economical and other spheres.
The spirit of unity is still strong between two regions influenced by common history, religion, language, traditions and probably will remain the same forever.