Shamakhi / Şamahı

Shamakhi has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence. It is famous for its traditional dancers, the Shamakhi Dancers, and also for perhaps giving its name to the Soumak rugs.

Eleven major earthquakes have rocked Shamakhi, but through multiple reconstructions it maintained its role as the economic and administrative capital of Shirvan and one of the key towns on the Silk Road. The only building to have survived eight of the eleven earthquakes is the landmark Juma Mosque of Shamakhi, built in the 10th century.

The city was taken by the Safavi dynasty in 1500 – 1501. Following the conquest of the area by the first Safavi ruler Ismail I, he allowed the descendants of Farrukh Yassar to rule Shamakhi and the rest of Shirvan under Safavi suzerainty. This lasted until 1538, when his son and successor, king Tahmasp I (r. 1524–1576), turned the territory into a full Safavi province and appointed its first Safavi governor. From then on, Shamakhi functioned as the capital of the Shirvan province.

The Russian forces first entered Shirvan in 1723, as they invaded the Safavid Iranian territories in the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia during the Russo-Persian War (1722–1723), using the attack on their subjects in Shamakhi shortly before by the rebellious Lezgins as one of the pretexts. They however soon retired from the city, leaving it to Ottomans who possessed it in 1723–35, until Nader Shahs rise. In 1742 Shamakhi was taken and destroyed by Nader Shah of Persia reincorporating it back to Iran, and, who, to punish the inhabitants for their Sunnite creed, built a new town under the same name about 26 kilometres (16 mi) to the west, at the foot of the main chain of the Caucasus Mountains. The new Shamakhi was at different times a residence of the Shirvan Khanate, ruled by semi-independent khans, but it was finally abandoned, and the old town rebuilt. In the mid-1700s, the population of Shamakhi was about 60,000, most of whom were Armenians. The Shirvan Khanate was finally annexed by Russia in 1805 during the Russo-Persian War (1804–1813) and Qajar Iran was forced to irrevocably cede the sovereignty over the town to Russia, under the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813.


The city is described by people as following:

“This city is five days’ walk on camels from the sea, now it has fallen a lot; it is predominantly populated by Armenians…”

Anthony Jenkinson, 1562

“Its inhabitants are in part Armenians and Georgians, who have their particular language; they would not understand each other if they did not use Turkish, which is common to all and very familiar, not only in Shirvan, but also everywhere in Persia.”

Adam Olearius, 1637

“about 7,000 well built houses…26 quarters… seventy mosques…forty schools for boys, seven pleasant baths…forty caravanserais…the greatest part of the inhabitants are Sunnis of the Hanefirites, who perform their prayers secretly.”

Evliya Çelebi, 1647

Places of interest

Historic buildings

Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum

Juma Mosque of Shamakhi


Go top