I remember first visiting Julfa in mid-August. In the afternoon, we were waiting for our guide near a model of the Gulustan fortress in the center. I felt dizzy under the heat and almost fainted. “Perhaps this is what you call African heat,” I said to myself and promised not to come to dry and hot Julfa in the heat of the summer again.
Established in 1930, Julfa is borders on Armenia and Iran. It is one of the three districts divided in two by the Aras. There is a same-named administrative center in Iran too. The Alinja, Garadarya and Aras rivers flow here. Local mountains are beautiful. Their geological composition has affected their appearance as they look like massive domes. Nasimi and Babak movies were shot in the mountains between Nakhchivan and Julfa. Julfa was a major Silk Way stopover. Ancient caravan roads from Iran to Shirvan, Georgia and Dagestan passed through here. It is a junction of eastward and westward roads. The main overland crossing to Iran is still here. Since the blockade of Nakhchivan, the importance of this checkpoint has significantly increased. Julfa has the biggest railway network in the autonomous republic.
• Julfa station
The Julfa railway station was built in 1900-1905. Its design is typical of 19th century European architecture. It looks like a cemetery of trains and wagons. Once a railway station of international importance, it had to stop operating in 1991 after a blockade was imposed on NAR. The station is also an important junction for Russia, Armenia and Iran..
This is considered the emblem of Julfa and NAR. It can be seen from anywhere in Julfa. Nakhchivanis call Ilandagh the center of the world. Just like elsewhe re in Nakhchivan, the mountain is full of poisonous snakes. The 2415-meter mountain is also called Hajagaya or Hajadagh. Some legends associated with Noah’s ark are linked to this mountain.
• Ilandagh legend
Ilandagh is also called “Inandag”. According to an ancient Shumer legend, Noah’s ark hit a summit and was swayed by it. Noah said at the moment: “Believe me, this is a mountain.” Hence the name. Subsequently the word “Inan” transformed into “Ilandagh”. Most historical monuments in Julfa are located along the Aras. One of them is the Gulustan village.
• Gulustan village
This is one of Julfa’s oldest dwellings. It was earlier called Juga. There is Azerbaijan’s oldest 13th century caravansary here. The 11-17th century dwelling is surrounded by tall mountains and the Aras. There are mineral water springs in the village. The 12th century historical bridge is among Azerbaijan’s rare architectural monuments discovered during excavations in 1974-1978. There is also a necropolis belonging to the same period. The best-known monument in the village is the Juga tomb, better known as the “Gulustan fortress”.
• Gulustan fortress (13th century)
One of NAR’s most historic monuments belongs to a group of tower-like tombs. Since it is located on the Aras river bank right on the border with Iran, it is not open to visitors. Such tombs are widespread in Anatolia, therefore, the Gulustan tomb is considered a typical indicator of Azerbaijani and Anatolian Seljuks. The monument has many ornamental elements. The tomb’s tent cover is fully destroyed. Disputes over the form of its dome are still ongoing. There are no inscriptions on it, which makes it impossible to identify the date of construction. Neither is it known who the architect was and who it was built for. It is believed that the fortress was built in the 13th century under the influence of Momine Khatun Mausoleum.
• Khanagha village
Located 37 km north of the center on the slopes of the Zangezur range on both sides of the Alinjachay river, this 13-18th century village has a 14-17th century necropolis, a historical bridge and an old mosque built by an unknown woman in 1496. Besides, Khanagha is known for two monuments:
1. Alinja fortress
2. Khanaghah architectural complex
These are Julfa’s must-see sights.
• Alinja mountain
It is 1811 meters tall. Its volcanic nature has created a unique rocky landscape around it. The same-named village is 35 km north of the center on the Alinjachay river banks and on Zangezur slopes. In the 18th century, the place was subordinated to the Ottomans. The Alinjachay, the left tributary of the Aras, is 62-km long.
• Alinja fortress
The fortress is a snake nest. It is infested with snakes from May to the onset of cold weather. Therefore, to get to Alinja one should start in the morning and return before noon. The easiest way lies through Khanaga. Some village homes are at the foot of the Alinja mountain. It takes about five hours to climb up and down the mountain. The air is filled with the smell of thyme. It is often added to tea. The fortress walls start at the foothill and ascend by natural steps. Its upper part resembles a small camp. Remains of many brick buildings have survived to the present day. The small fortress higher up the hill, the Shah throne, was inhabited by chiefs and feudalists. it used to house cattle, 600 warriors and ammunition. There are seven natural pools here and special ditches. During rain, the ditches carried rainwater to the pools to create a supply of water. The importance of the Alinja fortress enhanced during the Atabay-Eldaniz rule in Azerbaijan as it served as a shelter for the ruling family during military uprisings. The residency of Zahida Khatun, Nakhchivan’s 12th century ruler, and the treasury of Atabays were at the Alinja fortress.
• Alinja mint
Medieval feudal rulers kept their treasuries at the Alinja fortress. In the 14-16th centuries, Dirhams of Elkhan and Timur rulers were coined at the mint. Since the fortress is located on a steep slope, it was unassailable. Amir Timur could not seize it either. He kept it under siege for 10 years. Over this period, those inside gradually left the fortress. There were all conditions for normal life in it. Food was brought from nearby villages through a secret tunnel. Spanish diplomat Ruiz Gonzales Clavijo, the ambassador of King Enrique the Third in 1403-06, provided the following description of the fortress:
“The Alinja fortress sits on a high and steep mountain and is surrounded by walls and towers. Inside the walls there are vineyards, gardens, plantations, pastures, springs and pools. There is a palace at the top of the mountain.”
There are different theories as to when Alinja was built. Some researchers say it was built about two millennia ago. Others think it was constructed in the time of 3rd-4th century Sassanid Padishahs. The Book of Dada Gorgud describes the Alinja fortress as a stronghold.
It is known as Alanjik and Alinjagala. Researchers link the name to the word “alan”, which meant “valley” in ancient Turkic languages because the fortress location resembles a small square. The word’s etymology suggests that Alincak means “hands off”, which is linked to the unassailable nature of the fortress. Another theory is that “Alinja” is the name of one of Noah’s eight sons who found shelter here after the Deluge.
The tomb opposite Alinjagala is in the center of the Khanagah dwelling (18- 11th centuries B.C.). From here Alinjagala looks like a model. The inscription says that the tomb was built in the time of Amir Seyyid Ahmed al-Ogul Sami’s son, vizier Haji Mahammad Garagoyunlu Jahanshah (1436-1467), for his son Amirkhan. The Khanaga village on the Alinjachay river is a medieval architectural complex. There are ruins of a tomb, mosque, columns of an unknown monument, etc. here. The tomb is largely called Sheikh Khorasan and was built on the order of great scholar Ulug Gutlug Lala Bay. The inscription bears the name of architect Jamaladdin. Construction date is not visible, so the age of the tomb is unknown. Architecturally, it is attributed to the 12-13th centuries. Local people believe that the after the tragic death of Hurufism founder Fazlallah Naimi at Alinja in 1394, his followers buried him here. People started calling the place Sheikh Khorasan after the philosopher’s nickname of Sheikh Khurasa, i.e. like the Sun. Since he received his education in Khorasan, he was called the Sheikh of Khorasan. The mosque south of the tomb was built by Khond Bika Khatun in memory of Sufi leader Sheikh Haji Lala Mali in 1495-96. In middle ages, Sufi sheikhs lived in Khanagah with their families and were subsequently buried there. Khanagah remained a dwelling until the 18th century.
• Fazlallah Naimi (1340-1402)
He founded Hurufism, a sect widespread in the Near and Middle East in middle ages. For his promotion of Hurufism and political struggle against ruling circles, followers of Amir Timur persecuted him until the Alinja fortress. He was snatched by Amir Timur’s son Miranshah and executed in the fortress.
• Timur’s descendants in Nakhchivan
Timur’s troops invaded Iran in the spring and Nakhchivan in autumn of 1386. Timur’s soldiers kept Alinja under a sustained siege. The local sultan placed his treasury and family in the fortress and ordered 300 fighters to protect it. Fighting against Timur, the founder of Hurufism, Fazlallah Naimi, was killed by Timurs son Miranshah in 1394. Wherever you go in Nakhchivan, there seems to be no end to sight to stories about history. Everywhere you look there is history. The land is rich in valuable ore and minerals. In other words, when in Nakhchivan, one can’t stop admiring the place. Another object of admiration is located on the Julfa-Ordubad road.
The mountain 8 km north-east of Julfa is bare but colorful. Minerals have changed the color of its rocks and ground. Daridagh is 850 meters above sea level. Its upper part has always been suitable for land-farming. The cone-shaped Daridagh mountain was studied by scientists in 1920-30 who discovered numerous mineral deposits on it and studied their physical and chemical composition.
• Daridagh mineral water deposit
There are about 40 mineral water deposits in Julfa. One of them is at the foot of Daridagh. It gives 500,000 liters of mineral water a day. It consists of five springs and 32 exploration wells. For its make-up, the water is similar to Kudova (Poland), La Bourboule (France), Durkheim (Germany), Sinegorsk (Sakhalin). For its mineral content, the Daridagh water is even better. Its temperature is 53-57ºC.
• Daridagh sanatorium
It is an arsenical water sanatorium where water has the highest and most powerful mineral content in Azerbaijan. It was established at the Daridagh mineral water deposit in 1978 and provides treatment for different cardiovascular, musculoskeletal system, peripheral nervous system, skin, gynecological and other diseases. There is a carbon gas factory here too.