Khinalug, Quba district
Khinalug – an Island of Ancient Culture of the Caucasus Mountains
About an hour drive along the new motorway from Quba district center, hidden on the northern slope of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, at the height of 2100-2200 m above sea level, there is the oldest Azerbaijan settlement - Khinalug. The villagers call it Kyat and designate themselves as kyaty - direct descendants of the biblical Noah.
Khinalug is over 5,000 years old. For centuries, this village has been cut off from civilization by hard-to-reach mountains with dangerous rocky cliffs. Due to the isolation, its residents managed to preserve their unique language, not belonging to any language group, as well as traditions and customs found nowhere else.
Khinalug population is about 2,000, all the residents are aboriginals, and divided into 4 families. Each family has its own graveyard, its own patterns for carpets and clothing. Khinalug residents practice Muslim and before Islam they were fire worshipers. This is proved by the fire temples and some semi-pagan traditions having nothing to do with the Muslim ones.
The first records of this people date back to the first century AD in the Roman historian Pliny’s writings and in famous Strabo’s Geography. But a speaking proof of extreme antiquity of the village is its 8 large graveyards, whose area is much larger than that of Khinalug itself. The graves, made in 3 and even 4 layers, bear inscriptions in different alphabets on their gravestones.
Kyaty build houses above other ones: in general they resemble a multi-storey house; the roof of one house is a courtyard for another one, built above it. The village has 360 houses built of cobble stone; all of them are very old – 200-300 years of age. The windows of the houses are covered with a polyethylene film, the ceilings are fitted with a smoke flap, through which the locals can also visit each other. The floors and walls are covered with colorful and warm carpets – tikmya, blankets, pillows, mattresses, mutyakka, woven by the hostesses themselves. They not only decorate the houses, but also protect from winter frosts. The local winters are very cold and early, the temperature can be as low as -30⁰ С. Fuel materials used in winter are bricks, made from a mixture of straw and manure. They not only burn well, but also provide sufficient heat. The Khinalug residents make such bricks all year long and dry them wherever there is free space. Firewood is luxury there, because of shortage of trees in the surroundings.
The soils are barren and rocky there, but the locals manage to grow onions and potatoes on small plots, and pot cucumbers and tomatoes in tubs like house plants. As far as livestock concerns, they keep stunted cows and goats, as well as poultry; sheep are less common. To keep sheep is difficult because the locals need to build corrals for winter. Khinalug food is simple: vegetables, churek (bread), milk, cheese, mountain honey and dried goat meat, which they dry each autumn.
The locals are very religious. Not far from the village, there are a lot of holy places: graves of saints, caves and unexplored archaeological sites. Some of them were built as early as the Middle Ages: the Hydyr Nebi tomb, Sheikh Shalbuza Mosque, Abu Muslim Mosque (the XII century), Pirdzhomyard Mosque (1388).
Since 2006 the life of this unique mountain settlement changed a lot, because of the construction of a new paved road. Tourists started visiting it, and the locals got also a chance to go outside the village. Today, many locals also speak the Azerbaijani language, and some of them know Russian. They buy household goods in the city, in their turn, they trade homespun items, food products and offer inexpensive food and shelter to those tourists who wish to get acquainted with this unique village. Khinalug ceased to be isolated from the world, although still remaining a unique place. In the year 2007, Khinalug village was declared a state historico-architectural and ethnographic reserve.