Sheki is a city in northwestern Azerbaijan, in the rayon of the same name. It is in northern Azerbaijan on the southern part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, 325 km from Baku.
According to the Azerbaijani historians, the name of the town goes back to the ethnonym of the Sakas, who reached the territory of modern-day Azerbaijan in the 7th century BC and populated it for several centuries. In the medieval sources, the name of the town is found in various forms such as Sheke, Shaki, Shaka, Shakki, Shakne, Shaken, Shakkan, Shekin.
Sheki is surrounded by snowy peaks of the Greater Caucasus, which in some places reaches 3000–3600 m. Shaki's climate includes a range of cyclones and anticyclones, air masses and local winds. The average annual temperature in Sheki is 12 °C. In June and August, average temperature varies between 20 and 25 °C.
The mountain forests around the area prevent the city from floods and overheating of the area during summer. The main rivers of the city are the Kish and Gurjhana. During the Soviet rule of Azerbaijan, many ascended to Sheki to bathe in its prestigious mineral springs.
During 1850–70, Sheki became international silk production centre. More than 200 European companies opened offices in the city, while silkworms to the tune of 3 million roubles were sold to them in a year.
Sheki possesses a small silk industry and relies on its agricultural sector, which produces tobacco, grapes, cattle, nuts, cereals and milk. The main production facilities of Sheki are the silk factory, gas-power plant, brick factory, wine factory, sausage factory, conserve factory, and a dairy plant with its integrated big scale Pedigree Dairy Farm.
A home to ancient Caucasian Albanian churches, religion is highly important to the people of Sheki due to its historical religious diversity. There are many churches and mosques in the city. Some churches such as the Church of Kish in the vicinity of Sheki are thought to be approximately 1,500 years old. The Khan's Mosque, Omar Efendi Mosque and Gileili Minaret are considered important places of worship in the city.
Sheki has one of the greatest density of cultural resources and monuments that include 2700 years of Azerbaijani history. The city boasts a lot of houses with red roofs. In pop culture, probably the most famous feature of Shekinians are their nice sense of humour and comic tales. Sheki's comic tales hero Hacı dayı (Uncle Haji) is the subject of nearly all jokes in the area.
Sheki has always played a central role in Azerbaijani art and more generally in the art and architecture of Azerbaijan. Under the name of Nukha, the city is the scene of much of the action in Brecht's play The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
Architecture in Sheki has largely been shaped by Sheki's history. It goes back to a time, when it was a market centre on the Silk Road, linking Dagestan, Russia to the northern trade routes through the Caucasus.
The city's central and main open city squares are dominated by two Soviet towers. Many public places and private houses in Sheki are decorated with shebeke, a wooden lattice of pieces of coloured glass, held together without glue or a single nail. The technique is complex and known only to a few artisans who pass their meticulous craft from generation to generation.
The Palace of Sheki Khans which was a summer residence of Sheki Khans, still remains one of the most visible landmarks of Sheki. Constructed in 1762 without a single nail is one of the most marvelous monuments of its epoch. Displayed within the palace are Azerbaijani Khanate-era artifacts, as well as displays of the art scene, considered to be among the finest in the World.
The Sheki Castle which was built by the founder of the Sheki Khanate Haji Chelebi Khan (1743–1755), near the village of Nukha on the southern foothills of the Caucasus. The fortress walls are close to a thousand and two hundred meters long and over two meters thick. Protected by numerous bastions, the fortress is entered by two main gates from the north and south. At the height of the khanate, the fortress contained a gated palatial complex and public and commercial structures of the city, while the residential quarter was situated outside its walls. It was restored extensively between 1958 and 1963. Many years Sheki fortress safeguarded approaches to the city, the acts of bravery by its defendants of fight with foreign oppressors had been written in many history books. In Leo Tolstoy's well-known Hadji Murat novel, Sheki fortress had selected as place of events.
A letter from the Chairman of the Kyoto City Council, Daisaku Kadokawa, on 8 December 2008, said that Sheki was a member of the World Historical Cities League. Sheki became a member after the meeting of the Board of the World Cities League in October 2008.
Works to be done in the field of renovation and construction in 2012 were identified: Together with Sheki City Executive Authority and Architectural Urbanization Committee, Sheki City General Plan was prepared. According to the General Plan, it was planned to implement a number of infrastructure projects, as well as the expansion of the city to the west, inclusion of city of Oxud, İncə, Sheki, Kish, and Qoxmuq villages to Sheki.
In 2017, Sheki was visited around 50.000 foreign tourists from all around the world and the number of the foreign tourist who visited Sheki is growing every single year.
Sheki hosts a wealth of historical museums and some of the most important in the country. The Sheki History Museum is one of the main museums, considered one of the most important for artifacts of the Khanate period.
As of the 18th century, some big Caravanserais (Isfahan, Tabriz, Lezgi and Taze) were active in Shaki but only two of them have survived. The upper and lower Caravanserais were built in the 18th century and used by merchants to store their goods in cellars, who traded on the first floor, and lived on the second. Both Caravanserais includes view of all convenience and safety of merchants and their goods.
Perhaps the best-known aspect of Sheki cooking is its rich sweet dishes. Sheki is traditionally held as the home of special type of baklava, called Sheki Halva. Others include nabat boiled sugar and sweet pesheveng.
Sheki also has some famous dishes, including girmabadam, zilviya, piti, a stew created with meat and potatoes and prepared in a terracotta pot.
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