The Shirvanshahs came from a single family, the Yazidid dynasty, an Arab family who broke free from the Persian Abbasid caliphate. They ruled longer than any dynasty in the Islamic world, either as vassals or autonomously from the 8th to the 16th centuries. Its capital, Baku (which today is Azerbaijan’s capital and largest city), grew to become a prosperous trade centre in the 15th century.
In 1501, Shirvan was conquered by Persia’s Safavid Dynasty and became a vassal state until 1538, when the Shirvanshah was replaced by a Safavid governor. The Safavids converted the state from Sunni to Shia Islam. (The Shirvanshah rulers were followers of Sunni Islam.) Shia Muslims remain the majority in Azerbaijan, which is home to the second highest Shia population percentage in the world after Iran. Sunni and Shia Muslims share fundamental Islamic beliefs but differ on many aspects of the faith, including who should be considered a Muslim leader. (Read more here.)
The Shirvanshah palace and complex
The Shirvanshahs’ Palace was built in the 15th century and described by UNESCO as “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture”. It may have been built around a sacred place dedicated to a Sufi saint. It was part of Azerbaijan’s heritage list in 1964, and was inscribed in 2000 on the UNESCO World Heritage List alongside the twelfth-century Maiden Tower. Both historic monuments are located in old Baku, the walled city, with the palace perched on the city’s highest point.
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs is a huge sandstone complex composed of the main building (palace), the burial vault, the Shah’s mosque with minaret, a mausoleum, and a bath house. Crypts were uncovered through archaeological excavations. There is also evidence that the palace was once surrounded by a wall, and that it once occupied a larger space and even had rooms for court servants. The time of construction was determined by inscription found on the minaret of the Shah’s mosque.
Construction of the main building began during the rule of Shirvanshah Ibrahim I. It has three winding staircases and an octagonal vestibule, with its main entrance decorated with a high portal. Restoration works during the Russian occupation unfortunately destroyed elements on the second floor. There is a beautiful rotunda called the Divan-khana northwest of the palace complex.
You can visit the palace complex with a guide and go on a walking tour around what was once the seat of Shirvan’s power.
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