Zagatala, Azerbaijan

Tours, Attractions and Things To Do in Zagatala

Zagatala Travel Guide

Zagatala, a mesmerizing region nestled within Azerbaijan's verdant landscapes, is surrounded by forestry mountains adorned with energetic rivers and awe-inspiring waterfalls. Here, rose bushes stretch endlessly across fields, hazelnuts melt in your mouth, and juicy persimmons fill the air with their sweet aroma. Folks journey to this remote mountainous territory for a taste of the exceptional local dried meat. The region, notable for its rich ethnic diversity, is home to inhabitants from nearby villages who identify as separate nationalities. Here, you'll find ancient fortresses and old churches standing tall, a testament to the region's rich history, and the locals carry on living, preserving the authentic traditions passed down from their forefathers.

This enchanting region of Zagatala in Azerbaijan is a traveler's paradise. It offers an abundance of thrilling trekking adventures along picturesque mountain trails, an invitation to explore an unusual fortress carved into rock, and a taste of the local cuisine in quaint villages nestled on green ridges. Simply put, Zagatala is a haven that ensures a memorable and enjoyable trip.

Zagatala History

The Zagatala district was once a fragment of Caucasian Albania. This ancient state disintegrated in the 5th century AD, and its regions were absorbed into the Iberian Kingdom, which existed in what is now central Georgia. The local Albanians were converted to Orthodox Christianity and came under the rule of the Kakhetian queen, Danara. In the 15th century, the eastern edge of Kakheti and Zagatala's slopes began to welcome Avars moving in from Dagestan. The subsequent century saw the large-scale incursions of Persian Shah Abbas's troops. The Shah seized the local populace, and Azerbaijani settlers began to occupy the surrounding lands. The remaining Georgian population was pressured to convert to Islam by the Tsakhurs and Avars, which led to Zagatala becoming a truly multi-ethnic region.

When Georgia joined the Russian Empire, Zagatala was made a separate region of the state, making it the smallest administrative-territorial unit of the country. The Zagatala district of the Russian Empire existed until the revolution of 1918. The local elders appealed to the Soviet authorities to transfer their lands to Muslim Azerbaijan rather than Christian Georgia. Thus, the multi-ethnic Zagatala found its destiny, with each village offering its unique charm.

Zagatala Attractions

Zagatala offers a captivating blend of historical mysteries and stunning locales that leave one breathless. Its attractions can be grouped into natural, historical, and cultural attractions.

Zagatala's natural beauty captivates with its vibrant colors and ubiquitous greenery. Amid this lush expanse lies the breathtaking Kateh waterfall, near Gabizdere village. Just 15 kilometers from Zagatala's center, it's well worth a visit. The waterfall's roar will greet your ears before its impressive cascade meets your eyes. Plummeting from ivy-draped cliffs, Kateh is recognized as Azerbaijan's most powerful waterfall in terms of water flow.

Kateh Waterfall is located within the Zakatala Nature Reserve, a treasure trove of diverse flora and fauna. The mixed forests covering the mountain slopes are home to rhododendrons, maples, beech, lime, walnut, persimmon, dogwood, medlar, and wild cherry trees. Among its inhabitants are deer, forest cats, badgers, lynxes, and wild boars. Over a hundred species of birds, as well as reptiles and amphibians, can be found in the reserve. Given the reserve's location near the protected border zone, it's advisable to stick to the established tourist trails.

Zagatala Fortress, or New Zagatala Fortress, is a must-see. This defensive structure was erected by Tsarist Russia in 1830 to pacify rebellious mountain tribes. Initially a garrison for the Russian army, it later became a prison for the sailors involved in the famous battleship "Potemkin" uprising. In Soviet times, it served as a reformatory for juvenile delinquents and later housed a museum. Despite some decay, the fortress remains in reasonably good condition today.

Lastly, a leisurely walk down the city's central alley, lined with centuries-old plane trees, will leave you in awe. Many of these silent witnesses to history are nearly eight centuries old, having seen the rise and fall of states and rulers.

History enthusiasts and explorers of authentic locations will find their heart's delight in visiting the remains of an Albanian church. An impressive structure, its inception traces back to 1803. However, it only remained in service for a few brief years, as the Albanian Catholicosate soon dissolved. These ruins serve as a poignant reminder of the numerous conflicts and disputes that ravaged the Caucasus in the early 19th century.

A short journey from Zagatala takes you to the charming village of Ashagi Tala, renowned for its lavish plantations of lavender and rose bushes. Here, with advance planning, you can visit Lecheq Farm & Distillery. Wander through picturesque fields studded with aromatic flowers, immerse yourself in a photoshoot, or participate in harvesting the ripe buds. The farm crafts syrups, jams, and rose water from the delicate rose petals. Witnessing the harvesting process is a unique experience: workers handpick blossoms, gather them into enormous bags, and then dump them into the spacious truck beds—an extraordinary sight!

A 20 km journey from Zagatala will lead you to the village of Yukhari Chardahlar. As you approach, your gaze will be drawn to a remarkable structure on a massive mountain slope-- the Peri-Kala fortress, chiseled into the rock above the cliff. The fortress hangs above the ground at a towering height of 200 meters. Scholars remain puzzled over its exact construction period and are astounded by the methods used to scale such heights and undertake construction there. The fortress features a grand entrance with an arch and three interior halls connected by corridors. Some speculate that the fortress, believed to be sculpted into the rock around the 4th-5th centuries AD, was initially a Zoroastrian temple—an assumption given credence by the fact that Zoroastrian temples from that period were frequently established high in the mountains.

Your journey wouldn't be complete without a visit to the scenic village of Jar. From here, a hiking route commences, leading to the Shamilovka plateau adorned with alpine meadows. From this vantage point, you'll be treated to splendid views of the bends of the Kateh River. This trail takes about five hours to traverse, revealing an array of breathtaking mountain panoramas along the way. Crystal clear mountain springs dot the route, offering refreshing, safe-to-drink water. Occasionally, you'll come across peaceful herds of sheep and cows grazing under the watchful eyes of local shepherds.

From Jar village, you can venture on a trek to the Khonzogor plateau and Gabizdere village. This trail will captivate you with stunning sights of alpine meadows, sprawling valleys, towering mountain ranges, and lush forests. You'll encounter shepherds' huts along the way, and camping sites are conveniently situated along the trail.

Zagatala's Cuisine

In addition to the vibrant natural landscapes and ancient historical monuments, Zagatala will intrigue you with its unique cuisine. The mountain dwellers, living in seclusion, have over centuries developed distinctive dishes that are unparalleled anywhere else.

During your journey through the Zagatala region of Azerbaijan, make sure you sample Syurkhullu, a dish that holds the crown as the king of flour dishes. It's comprised of petite pieces of dough, shredded into boat-like shapes, coupled with dried meat. This hearty delicacy is often enriched with homemade sausage. The final touch is a thick green plum or dogwood broth that is poured over it. Syurkhullu is served with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.

Kyata, a well-known Azerbaijani muffin roll, is made in Zagatala following unique recipes, incorporating fillings of pumpkin, nettle, and even meat.

Mahara, a golden pancake in the form of a radiant sun, is a show-stopper! Regarded as a symbol of Zagatala cuisine, every homemaker here has the knowledge to prepare it. Mahara is crafted on a special utensil, referred to as a 'saj' here, which is a curved cast-iron skillet commonly used for frying and sautéing. For Mahara, the saj is inverted and placed over a modest fire. Thick batter is spooned and poured onto the heated surface of the skillet, where it sizzles delightfully, spreading into thin rivulets around the circumference and hardening before it has a chance to flow over the saj's edges. This sun-like pancake is gently flipped and fried for a few additional seconds on the reverse side. Once cooked, the enticing "suns" are transferred to a plate and slathered with butter. The plate typically cannot accommodate the entire Mahara, and its edges drape over, forming a radiant fringe. It's served with thick sour cream and aromatic honey—a true ambrosia!

Mahara is traditionally prepared on the eve of the Novruz holiday in spring, a day celebrated in the Muslim world as the start of spring, rejuvenation, and the onset of a new year. Mahara symbolizes rebirth and revitalization following a long, cold winter, and in Azerbaijan, this dish has become a staple of the festive table during the warm spring days.
Zagatala is replete with hazelnut orchards, and therefore, ground hazelnuts find their way into sweets, sauces, and a variety of dishes. The abundance of rose bush plantations makes it possible to prepare jams from rose petals. Juicy persimmons are also prevalent here, consumed fresh or made into delicious jam.

Exploring Zagatala and its surrounding areas is a blend of tranquil relaxation and exciting journeys to quaint villages, each corner exuding a distinctive charm and coziness. The Zagatala district is one of Azerbaijan's most scenic places. Its local nature will enchant even the most experienced travelers, and you could spend days exploring the mountains, rivers, and waterfalls of Zagatala. The residents of Zagatala are always thrilled to welcome guests and eagerly share the warmth of their hospitality. Embark on a journey to this splendid region and discover yet another vibrant aspect of Azerbaijan!