TRIP TO THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MONUMENTS OF ICHERISHEHER

The medieval city of Baku, surrounded from many different directions by powerful fortresses represented one of the advanced trading, craft and cultural centres of Azerbaijan. It played an important role in the social-economic and political life of the whole country. Being on the crossroads of caravan routes, it supported close trade and economic relations with other cities of Azerbaijan and neighbouring countries. At the same time feudal Baku, located on the coast of the Caspian Sea, had well-equipped ports and deep moorings in the bay protected from gales, which provided an opportunity for the participation of the city in the transit trade between many countries. Baku, an important economic and cultural centre of the Shirvanshahs State, grew in a relatively short time from a small coastal settlement into a big city as a result of the intensive development of productive forces and emerged as one of the largest feudal state formations in the territory of Northern Azerbaijan.

Archaeological research and excavations carried out over many years in various sites of Icherisheher (the ancient part of Baku, surrounded by fortresses with towers) and also the study of the rich variety of artefacts discovered during these excavations show that medieval Baku was a densely populated city. It had trade and the circulation of money related to trade, plus various handicrafts, and other branches of activity of the municipal economy took an important place. Baku especially was glorified by its natural resources. The bowels of Apsheron abounded with petroleum, which along with salt-lakes served as basic goods of export for which people used to come from neighbouring and distant countries. Extraction of petroleum here had been already reported by the Arabian scientists and travellers, who indicated that “there are sources of white and other sorts of petroleum in Baku. And God well knows that there is nowhere white petroleum, except this place, and this place is the coast of Shirvan Kingdom. In these oil-bearing soils, there is a volcano of fire, continuously erupting from itself flame of fire all the time”.

During the medieval period, Baku petroleum was widely used in various branches of human life. It was used in illumination, heating, military affairs, lubrication of wheels, treatment of animals against various skin diseases and so on. The curative properties of Apsheron petroleum were well known since ancient times and people used to come from many countries for it. In addition, a hardened black tar mixed with sifted sand and special viscous clay was used on the flat roofs of houses. Quality viscous clay, rich deposits of which are marked in this territory, also figures amongst the natural riches of Apsheron. It is well known that clay is the basic raw material for the manufacture of pottery.

Results of long-term research carried out at excavations show that the majority of artefacts found during archaeological excavations in all the medieval cities of Azerbaijan are products of the potter’s craft. Study of specific artefacts shows that pottery manufacture was considerably improved in the Middle Ages with a resulting development in the manufacture of ceramic ware, during which time high-quality household and economic vessels appeared.

During archaeological excavations in Icherisheher, a rich collection with simple, unglazed, glazed and decorated ceramics, china, porcelain and celadon were discovered. Among them, there are the dining room and kitchen utensils, vessels for storage and transportation of foodstuffs, building ceramics, water and other kinds of pipes, children’s toys and so on. Among the numerous products of simple but unglazed ceramics dating to XI-XIII AD, products with stamped ornamentation take special pace.

The yellow coloured handle part of these jugs and flasks etc. is decorated with the shape of very intricate and varied relief geometrical and foliage designs, and then connected to the vessel. A galib (mould) for manufacturing stamped ceramics was discovered in 1967 during archaeological excavations on the east slopes of Baku hill, where the handicraft quarter was settled in the Middle Ages. The humeral part of some jugs, cone-shaped vessels and two-ear flasks was decorated with stamped designs without a mould but by small punches by a strong pressing from above with a stamp.

On ceramic ware of medieval Baku punched ornaments are found basically on the handles of small narrow-necked yellow clay jugs, on the bulging cover of two-ear flasks, on the surface of covers and on cone-shaped vessels and galyans (hookahs or tobacco-pipes). The majority of such ceramics are not inferior to costly glazed vessels in their richness and variety of ornamentation, as well as art – decorative composition.

Painted ceramics appeared in Azerbaijan from an extreme antiquity. In O.G.Abibullaeva’s opinion, they were delivered here in V BC from the countries of the Near East and during the many thousands of years up to XIV-XV AD they were used by the population. Vessels made of painted, especially red-painted ceramics are widely enough found in both the bottom and top social strata of medieval Baku. These are basically elegant dining room jugs, large-necked and thin-walled with the monochrome red-painted surface, frequently enhanced with engraving or decorated with red painting, sometimes in combination with black shapes of multi-row scallops and net. Alongside elegant dining room vessels, household jugs with simple geometrical ornament were also found.

Of the red-painted chubug galyany (hookahs or tobacco-pipes with mouthpiece) discovered from the top cultural layer, some have stamps with a name of the master on it. Among red-painted ware, it is important to note the clay whistle, shaped like a dove with a painted back. When it is played it makes the pleasant sounds of a reed pipe.

Glazed ceramics from both cultural layers of the Baku fortress are marked by their variety of shapes and richness of décor. Basically dining room vessels – dishes, bowls, plates etc. are found from the bottom layer of VIII-IX – XIII AD period. These are hand-made with transparent coating; transparent and manganese coating underglaze, vessels with polychrome yellow-green-brown painting. Dishes and bowls painted with mixed geometrical and foliage decoration with images of animals, birds, fish and rare cases human images are ornamented with such an art. There were newly discovered art methods of XI-XIII AD period – the engraving and scraping of the transparent layer, which was used in the decoration of both monochrome and polychrome vessels. Some glazed vessels of XI – beginning XIII AD period have printed stamps on the bottom. All sizes of stamp prints on vessels are printed with clay stamps with a diameter of about 4-8 cm. The diameters of stamps are strictly according to the size of the bottom of the vessel. The collections of stamped ceramics from Baku are stamped with geometrical and vegetative ornament, astrological marks, various figures and images. These designs are basically lines radiating out from the centre and nets formed by squares and rhombuses of various sizes; plated ovals, multi-petal rosettes and palmettos, relief concentric circles and spirals etc. Among the numerous stamped ceramics from Baku, a fragment of a bowl with the stamped image of a bird (dove) attracts attention, particularly the wings, a fan-shaped tail, the head and a sharp beak in front of which there are some grains. The eyes are marked by a white round point on a black background. On the back of the bird foliage with curls similar to that located inside the bowl has been placed. Straight and wavy lines have been drawn in front of the figure of the bird and on the back of it, which form an impression of a net. Analogous stamps with relief images of doves are known from Bandovan, a site of ancient settlement.

It is known that a dove is considered as a sacred bird in many nations. In the legends of some nations of the East, the sacred spirit or a deity appears in the image of a dove. For the Uzbeks of Khoresm, an angel appears in the image of a dove. 

Also in Azerbaijan folklore, an angel appears in the image of a dove. Among the finds of 1964 on the northern part of Maiden’s Tower, there is an original polychrome glazed bowl with five crouching pigeon figures inside, which has been done by means of a graphic painting and engraved with great skills. They are shown as going one by one in a clockwise direction.

The other irrigated bowl with drawings of doves was created by painting with transparent coating and engraving and was found on the east slopes of the Baku hill. In contrast to the drawing on the previous bowl, the doves here move anti-clockwise. On the inside centre surface of one of the small glazed bowls, there is polychrome painting in the form of concentric circles with rather narrow strips between them, one of which is filled with cogs. There are original images of three scaly fishes in the smallest circle of the inside, floating one by one clockwise. The figures of fishes are placed in such a manner that the centre of its isosceles triangle is formed with a hook bent on the top resembling a fish head. The shape of this fish resembles the Caspian salmon. The bowl has a stamp of crossed lines. A glazed bowl with fish images drawn on the inside surface, relating to XII AD period, was also discovered in the area of a religious building during excavations in 1964. The drawing was painted with transparent coating and manganese. The fins and gills of the fish are shown on both sides shaped as sharp-edged leaf figures and the scaly body by narrow lines crossing each other, forming squares and rhombuses. The print of the stamp on the bottom is illegible.

Amongst bowls and dishes that are decorated with animal images, the polychrome bowl discovered during excavations in 1939 at the lower yard of the Shirvanshahs Palace in the layer related to XII-XIII AD attracts attention, with an image of running zebra on the background of foliage

The Mongolian invasion, which sharply undermined the blossoming life of Azerbaijani cities and a number of natural unfavourable factors strongly affected the development of ceramic manufacture. In the materials of the end of XIII – second half of XIV AD there is evidence of a reduction in the quality of technique and art in ceramics after the Mongolian period. Later, in XIV-XVII AD a change of art traditions can be observed. A new rise in ceramic manufacture in medieval Baku can be observed at the end of XIV – beginning of XV AD. Apparently, it is possible to relate the period XIV AD to the period of the revival of lost traditions in many branches of craft manufacture, as well as ceramics. It has a number of reasons. One basic reason could be considered the obtaining of a new status for Baku – the capital of the Shirvanshahs State. As to glaze ceramics, the variety of ceramics expanded during the late Middle Ages of XIV-XVII AD, alongside dining room glazed household ware, kups (big jugs), jugs, covers, chirags (oil lamps), and also building ceramics are covered by glaze in this period. If art ceramics of XII-XIII AD, a period of the blossoming of handicraft and culture in Azerbaijan, was characterized by rich folklore and variety of decorating vessels, the best samples of ceramics of the XIV-XVII AD differed with high quality of handicraft. Dining room vessels differ with solid thin handles, high ring-shaped stands, and fine quality of baking. Among the innovations of late Middle Age ceramics, it is possible to note china vessels. Vessels with transparent coating are rising up to qualitatively new levels in contrast to samples of IX-X AD.

Ceramicware took up an important place in the infrastructure of both Azerbaijan and medieval Baku. After archaeological excavations, it has been established that pottery pipes were widely used in the Baku water supply system alongside with the kahriz system (a kind of water supply system). Potter’s pipes were also widely used in a number of branches of handicraft and for other domestic purposes. As to building ceramics, the basic building material of the Shirvan-Absheron architectural school was not fired brick, but local limestone. Building ceramics here were basically tiles – thin covered slabs. Glazed monochromic tiles with various shapes painted in blue, turquoise and sometimes green, have been discovered, which date to about XII-XIII AD. Also, different shapes of red clay tiles with blue glaze in a large size have been found at the top cultural layer of XIV-XVII AD.

Faience wares from both cultural layers are not numerous. In the top layer of XIV-XVII AD, there are fragments of china vessels painted with cobalt. In the bottom layer, it is possible to note fragments of china bowls with white transparent coating on dark background in the shape of multi-petal rosettes, and also parts of vessels with a painting of lustre on the cobalt background. Great interest was drawn to the china bowl discovered in 1974 from the bottom layer of the site, located northwest from the Shirvanshahs Palace. This is the vessel of small size with a ring-shaped stand. The bowl is covered with a little transparent coating of dark-blue painting. From the lateral side, the perimeter of the bowl has a relief belt below nimbus with an inscription in Arabian characters expressing good will to the owner of the vessel.

On the bottom of the other china bowl discovered near to the above-mention place, there is a vegetable ornament painted in dark blue. Between the foliage, there is an image of a bird painted in the same colour. The discovery of these faience bowls shows trading connections between Baku and other centres of the manufacture of faience ceramics, which were the Iranian cities of Ray, Kashan, Sultanabad etc. in the Middle Ages.

The most interesting glass handicrafts were discovered by the northern fortress. In the bottom layer, a significant amount of fragments of thin-walled glassware – jugs, vases, glasses, small pharmaceutical and perfumery vessels and flacons were discovered. Various glass bracelets – round and oval in section, coloured inlaid and twisted, and also various glass beads were discovered.

Among the materials, significant interest is drawn by the big stone with the image of the bullhead, discovered in 1964, at the base of the city wall adjoining the northeast part towards Maiden’s Tower. The stone is soft and there is an image of a bull on its surface, almost in real size. In terms of shape, this image is similar to images on the Shahabbas Gates. Similar bullhead images were also found in the Baku bay area.

The metal items of Icherisheher consist mostly of iron copper items from daily life. These are iron items – round and quadrangular nails with covers, fragments of knife-edges, sometimes parts of horse harnesses; horseshoes and also shoes for people. Arrow tips, tiny iron anchors and plugs of a chirag spear were discovered in some sites.

A tiny iron anchor discovered in 1975 in Icherisheher attracts great interest. The owner of this anchor, which was made as a symbol of abundance, was obviously a seaman.

During archaeological excavations in 1938-1939 by the Shirvanshahs Palace, a metal lamp with artwork which caused huge interest was discovered. The body and spout of this art lamp made of bronze are decorated with figures of various animals everywhere. On the trunk of the chirag there are 14 relief heads of animals and 2 human faces. Undoubtedly, during those years similar hand made articles belonged to people of high society.

The silver vessel for water shaped like a milk jug, a casual find in Baku, is also an interesting find. This vessel, relating to Shirvan handicraft style is part of a set, the other of which was discovered in Shemakha. The vessel is decorated like a carpet and has images of a human, animals, and also a hunting stage, which has been drawn in a rich artistic style. 

There is an inscription that it was made by Master Muhammad Baghir, by order of Jabbar bey. This decorated vessel with exclusive taste presumably relates to XVI-XVII AD.

Special interest was caused by the discovery of a metal candlestick as a result of archaeological excavations at the bottom of the 4-meter well in the yard of the Shirvanshahs Palace. The candlestick was forged from a copper sheet. This very beautifully made a candlestick of the original design is connected to XII – beginning XIII AD.

In 1964 during archaeological excavations at Maiden’s Tower metal vessel similar to teapot was discovered attracting scientific interest. It is supposed that this vessel originally was a sarpush (the cover for a metal dish), and only afterwards it was altered to a teapot. The cone-shaped top part of the sarpush was cut off, thereby forming the top hole of the teapot. There is also soldering on the bottom part. The surface of the sarpush is divided into symmetric strips richly decorated with carved, twisted and rhombus-shaped patterns. Sketches applied on the sarpush as a buta (bud) and sun, which represent ancient art patterns, became widespread in applied art.

The majority of metal items discovered in Baku are copper and silver coins. Coins were discovered during archaeological excavations, as well as casually. Both individual coins and coins discovered as treasure have a special role for the exact explanation of cultural layers and materials found as a result of archaeological excavations. It is interesting that the majority of coins were minted in Baku. Based on this evidence, researchers confirm that there was a mint in Baku in the Middle Ages.

Among the coins discovered in Baku, there are also coins minted in such cities as Shamakhi, Tebriz, Penahabad, Ganja, Derbend, Sharvan, Mahmudabad, Irevan, Ani, Gizil Orda, Kashan, Saray al-Jadid, Bukhara, Gazvin and Sultani and others. The finding of such coins in Baku once again shows that this city had close cultural and trading connections with the above-mentioned cities in the Middle Ages.

In our opinion, monetary treasures and coins, as well as other materials from archaeological excavations discovered in Baku, have great importance for studying Baku history. A tiny bronze figure of a fish takes a special place among the items discovered during archaeological excavations in Icherisheher. It was discovered during a clearing of a fortress base at the northern part of Maiden’s Tower. The fantastic fish figure with opened mouth and raised upper lip was formed with great skill. The glass-shaped eye of the fish is marked in the middle of a big round head. There are gills on the body. The tail is lifted upwards and curved. The whole body of the fish is covered with a dense scaly layer. The figure, which was made in a masterly fashion, is interesting in terms of its style, which is a characteristic of Sasani art traditions.

Tendirkhana - a range of furnaces for baking of bread

It is possible to connect tendirs (furnaces for baking of bread), which were most widespread in the life of the medieval population of Baku, to a number of buildings. Archaeological excavations at various sites in Icherisheher have opened plenty of tendirs allowing the study of the method of baking bread in medieval Baku. Bread baking takes its origins from an extreme antiquity. The results of archaeological researches show that the tendir for bread baking probably appeared in Azerbaijan and the Trans-Caucasus in the neolith period and was further developed over time. In Icherisheher tendirs built underground as well as on the ground were discovered.

A basic tendir had unbroken smooth walls between 2,5 up to 3,5 cm thick which were covered in a specially selected viscous clay of yellowish colour mixed with finely sifted sand. The diameter is 45-50 cm, but bigger tendirs have been found. A tendir with a foundation of 1,5 m in diameter was discovered in the east part of Shirvanshahs Palace in the layer of XIV-XV AD period. This was the first time a tendir with such a diameter was found in Icherisheher. Around the tendir a big smooth area paved with stone was constructed. The sides around tendirs were built from the exterior part of the wall made of stone or brick mixed with clay solution, 20 cm thick, for ease of construction and in order to prevent burns.

Besides tendirs with a smooth unbroken wall, tendirs with other design have also been found. They were built of individual clay braid; strands with almost round section flattened from one side. Such tendirs were usually structured with strands of 20-25 cm connected clay mortar. The flattened side of the braid was put inside. The surface of the interior part was carefully levelled. In order not to destroy or damage unfired walls of uncompleted braid tendirs, the lower half of the tendir was constructed to a height of 0,6-0,7 meters by the master from inside, and the upper half from the outside.

Two tendirs were discovered in Icherisheher with lines which had been carved on the internal surface before firing. These were parallel wavy lines. One of them was in a layer of XII AD period. These carved lines basically were intended to keep uncooked chorek (bread) on the vertical wall of the baking furnace. Alongside it bundles of carved lines printed in decoration on the reverse side of the bread; its observe side was decorated manually.

In Azerbaijan, sometimes tendirs with walls laid of wide ribbon-shaped strips fixed as a hoop one on top of another and braced with clay mortar have been discovered. These tendirs are wide at the base, gradually narrowing up to a truncated cone shape.

For guaranteed good combustion of fuel and heating of the walls, tendirs were supplied with a draft by a ventilation channel with a diameter about 6-8 cm located in the lower part of tendir wall and facing in the direction of the winds prevailing in this area. Icherisheher tendirs faced to the southwest in the direction of the prevailing winds.

Sometimes in small sites, 5 or even 6 tendirs with an area of 1,5 x 1,5 m and 2 x 2 m have been found. Such a close location of them excludes the possibility of simultaneous use. It seems to us now we are probably dealing with a tendirkhana (a range of furnaces for baking of bread) wherein the case of failure of one tendir, a new one was constructed in its place or near to it. Bread baked in such a tendirkhana were sold in the market.