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Gandja

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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

Gandja

[Ganja; formerly Elizavetpol and Kirovabad].

Town in Azerbaijan. Located on the Gyandza-chay, a tributary of the Kura River in the Transcaucasus, it is recorded by medieval geographers as an important strategic and trading center from the 9th century onwards. The town flourished under the local Shaddadid dynasty (r. c. 951–1174), and, following an Alan invasion, the city walls were strengthened by Abu῾l-Asvar Shavur I (r. 1049–67). Copper doorknockers from a city gate erected by him in 1063 were taken to Gelati Monastery near Kutais after Demetrius, King of Georgia, sacked Gandja in1138–9. Archaeological investigation has revealed that in the 12th century the town had three bands of fortifications with towers and bridges and a square fortress. The town flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries and was considered one of the most beautiful in western Asia. It was the home of the great Azerbaijan poet Nizami (1141–1209), author of the Khamsa (“Five poems”), one of the most popular books for illustration (see Illustration, §II, B). Gandja was burnt by the Mongols in 1235 and declined in importance thereafter.

The complex of Gey-imam or Imamzade (14th–17th century; rest. 1878–9) in the northeast of the town comprises a central mausoleum abutted by various mosques, convents for dervishes and service buildings. The tall drum and blue-glazed cupola of the mausoleum were severely distorted during restoration, and the mausoleum of Dzhomard-Qassab (17th century), a domed octagonal building with entrances on the main axes and engaged columns at the corners, gives a better idea of religious architecture in the town. The Djuma (Friday) Mosque, built in 1606 by the architect Baha῾ al-Din, is a square hall with a dome supported on squinches and a deep entrance iwan. It is set in a walled courtyard with the main entrance beneath paired minarets.

Two types of houses have survived from the 17th and 18th centuries. One type is rectangular; the subterranean lower floor is roofed with a cupola, and the main floor is covered by a hemispherical dome. The second type has a flat roof; its façade has an open gallery with an iwan. These houses were set in gardens, with the main façade facing the garden. The houses in residential quarters were linked by a system of irrigation canals and gardens, creating the microclimate of a large estate. The main material of construction was mud-brick or pisé and occasionally stone. The exterior stucco was sometimes replaced by a facing of small stones. Interior walls were plastered and floors covered in baked brick.

During the Soviet period several large public buildings were erected: the Pedagogical Institute (1940) by Mikael’ Useynov (1905–92) and Sadykh Dadashev (1905–46) and the administrative building on Central Square (1961; formerly Lenin Square) by E. Ismailov, which has a façade in the form of arched openings resting on square columns. A me-morial was erected for the poet Nizami in 1946 by the sculptor F. Abdurakhmanov and the architects Useynov and Dadashev. Its form, a tall tower with engaged columns, recalls earlier tomb towers in the region, such as the 14th-century examples at Barda and Karabaghlar 40 km northwest of Nakhchyvan.

Gandja was a center for various forms of applied art, particularly glazed ceramics, gold-embroidered fabrics and carpets (see Carpets and flatweaves, §IV, B). The town has a local history museum, the Nizami Picture Gallery of contemporary art, and a museum of medieval Azerbaijani book illustrations.

Bibliography

  • Enc. Islam/2: “Gandja”
  • N. G. Mel’: “Ob arkhitekture goroda Gyandzhi XII veka” [On the architecture of the town of Gandja in the 12th century], Izvestiya Azerbay. Filiala Akad. Nauk SSSR (1941), no. 5, pp. 21–5
  • I. Dzhafarzade: Istoriko-arkheologicheskiy ocherk staroy Gyandzhi [A historical and archaeological outline of old Gandja] (Baku, 1949)
  • L. Bretanitsky and A. Salamzade: Kirovabad (Moscow, 1960)
  • S. S. Blair: The Monumental Inscriptions of Early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana (Leiden, 1992), no. 49
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