Azerbaijan International

Summer 1998 (6.2)
Page 36

Revisiting History
Ancient Gabala

by Gara Ahmadov

Gabala - AzerbaijanIt's not everyday that one stumbles upon a long-lost ancient city. Yet in 1959, an archeologist from Azerbaijan, S.M. Gaziyev, discovered the 2,500-year-old city of Gabala nestled in the mountains near the southern border. The city is located about 220 kilometers northwest from Baku, about a three hours' drive away. Gaziyev determined that this site was the ancient regional capital that had been invaded again and again by military leaders such as Pompey (1st century), Tamurlane (14th century) and Nader Shah (18th century).

Today, you don't have to be an archeologist to visit the ruins of ancient Gabala. Pay a visit to the ancient city as well as to the History Museum in modern-day Gabala, and you'll get a good idea of what life was like in Azerbaijan during the 4th century B.C.

Findings at Gabala
The remnants of ancient Gabala are found between Garachay (Black River) and Gochalanchay (Sheep-Taking River). The fortress walls were built with stone and brick, and are still visible. The town had two gates, on the northern and southern ends. It also had a curious kilometer-long earthen barrier and a large pit.

When Gaziyev's expedition unearthed the "craftsmen quarter" of ancient Gabala, they found huge pottery ovens, hearths, pottery, construction materials, large basins, water pipes and precious metals. They also found glassware and seals from Greece, Egypt, Syria, India and Rome, showing that Gabala was linked commercially with other parts of the world.

Another significant find was a treasury dating back to the 3rd century AD. Some of the silver coins found there have Alexander the Great's profile but most coins date to the Sasanid period and bear the name of Bahram Shah the 2nd (276-293).

The expedition also uncovered the remnant of a pir (religious place) which over the centuries had been used for Christian, pagan and Muslim worship. Nearby graves and catacombs show that in various periods the population practiced paganism, fire-worshipping, Christianity and Islam. This finding fits Gabala's profile as a multicultural city. As the ancient capital of Albania (not related to the European country of the same name), it was the home for people from many different tribes and nations, and therefore different religions.

Visiting Gabala Today
From the top of the Kohmurad Mountain nearby, you'll have a vantage point to survey snowy Caucasian mountains and the roads that lead to Gabala from various directions. Other natural sights in the region include woods, orchards, mountain springs and canyons.

Kohmurad and the surrounding hills were once used as lookouts. If the city was in danger of being invaded, the person stationed at the lookout warned the population by sending up smoke if it was daytime or building a large fire if it was nighttime.

The modern town now known as Gabala (formerly called Gutgashen) took ancient Gabala's place as the regional center much later. Today most of the archeological findings from the ancient city are preserved in the History Museum in modern Gabala. Some of the artifacts are displayed at special exhibitions.

If you have extra time after visiting these sites, stop by the home museum of Ismayil bey Gutgashinlin, an 18th century Azeri writer. Another local landmark is a large Russian radar station that, oddly enough, still operates. This huge complex can be seen from the road quite a distance away. In the past, it was part of the Soviet Union's southern defense system.

From Azerbaijan International (6.2) Summer 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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