Ganca (Gyandzha, Kirovabad, Elisavetspol)
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Ganja / Ganja - Azerbaijan - location mapGanca (pronounced 'Ganja') is Azerbaijan's second largest city (population 300,000). The city is located on the Ganca river, south of the Kura River in a rich agricultural area. Ganca has for long been the main industrial centre of western Azerbaijan. A heavy industrial heritage from Soviet times comprises aluminium, porcelain, instrument making, furniture, textile and other factories which are now mostly stopped, while new investment is slowly bringing new plants to Ganca, usually with smaller scales companies.

Ganca - coat of armsThe city was the centre of the caucasian Albanian Christianity till the 11th century, when it fell to the Seljuk Turks.  It was rebuilt in the 12th century after an earthquake in 1139 destroyed the original town that was founded in the 5th century, east of the modern city.

Being located on the main caravan routes it became an important centre of trade but was again destroyed by a Mongol invasion in 1231. In the 15th century Ganca was included in the state of Garagoyunlu. In 16th century the town was taken by the Sefavids.

Ganca / Ganja - Azerbaijan: fountain in the city centre - photo by F.MacLachlanGanca was part of the Persian Empire from 1606, as the capital of a khanate, until the Russian Empire annexed it in 1804. Russian troops defeated Persian forces here in 1826. Numerous Armenian, Russian and German settlers moved to Ganca developing a significant industrial and commercial  momentum.

For some time in 1918 Ganca was the provisional capital of a briefly independent Azerbaijan. Changes in history were also reflected on the city's name. The toponym 'Ganja' is not drug related... it originates in the Ganjak tribe. The city was named Elisavetspol from 1804 to 1918, after the wife of tsar Alexander I. It reverted to the name of Ganca until 1935, when it was renamed Kirovabad. It reverted to Ganca in 1989. In recent history Ganca was the scene of a military uprising in June 1993 that toppled the government of president Abulfaz Elchibey.

Kapaz mountains - Geigel / Geygel lake - Azerbaijan (photo by Elnur Hasan)The road from Baku to Ganca is one of the country's most scenic. The area is famous for the Kapaz mountain and the 7 lakes near it, particularly the Geygel - the blue lake. The territory is perfect for canoeing, swimming, walking and trekking or for the simple joys of a family pic-nic.

Ganca: Mahsati hanum Ganjavi monument (photo by Elnur Hasan)The city was the birthplace of poets Abil-Ula, Mahsati hanum Ganjavi and Nizami - is considered the country's literary centre. Today the Hassan Aliyev University, the Academy of Sciences, Medical School and the Ganja State University (formerly the Pedagogical Institute) ensure that the scholastic tradition is continued. Ai all four state and two private higher educational institutions function in the city with 24.000 students.

Ganca / Ganja - Azerbaijan: pergola and fountain in the city centre - photo by F.MacLachlanWith ample streets and avenues and well designed parks, Ganca is prettier than most Azeri towns. The city retains a strong German influence in its architecture. (After the collapse of the Soviet Union; without travel restrictions; worried about the war with Armenia, and with strong incentives from the fatherland, most ethnic Germans left in the early 1990s.)

Azerbaijan - Ganca: City Hall (photo by Elnur Hasan)With a vast main square, the city has its fair share of Soviet architecture, some of it quite good, like the grand city hall with its immense colonnade. Lenin's statue is now gone from the main square, but the city retains a lot from previous times, both in architecture and in character.

Ganca: dome of the Juma / Shah Abbas Mosque / Gence Shah Abbas mescidi - photo by Elnur HasanLocated near Khatai street, in a park south of the main square you should not miss the 17th century Shah Abbas, or Juma mosque, with two tall minarets and a dome with interesting decoration. The red-brick building was designed by scientist and architect Sheykh Baga-ud-din and is illuminated through beautiful panels of stained glass (Shebeke). There are also a few other less appealing mosques.

The two-storied but rather modest caravanserai can be found in the vicinity of Hotel Ganca. Nearby there is a colourful mosaic, one more tribute to Nizami.

Azerbaijan - Ganca: Agricultural School (Old Parliament)Another landmark is the first parliament of the short lived 'Azerbaijan Democratic Republic', originally it was the city hall and is now used as an agricultural school. Near the parliament is the large and pleasant city park, comprising the remains of the 16th century fortress walls and a chaikhana.

Azerbaijan - Ganca: the Baths (photo by Elnur Hasan)The baths, situated close to the Abbas mosque have striking colours and attractive domes, but are not very old. Behind the baths there is the 19th century grave of Javad Khan and across Ganca street you'll find the cinema. The modern baths can be found a few blocks to the east.

Azerbaijan - Ganca: Orthodox Church (photo by Elnur Hasan)Although most Christians are now gone (Armenians, Russians and Germans) there are several churches worth a visit: a ruined Armenian church in the south of the town, the Alexander Nevski church (now the puppet theatre!) and a 19th century orthodox church near the university. The state drama theatre is on Abbaszade street and the state philarmony is on Atayev street.

Ganca / Ganja - Azerbaijan: bottle house and clothes line - photo by F.MacLachlanA local oddity is the bottle house, a two-storey building decorated with about 50.000 glass bottles! (intersection of Guseinli and Garia streets.) The decorations contain a portrait of one of the family members, missing since WWII / Great Patriotic War. North of the bottle house is the Mir Bager Aga tomb.

Ganca / Ganja - Azerbaijan: museum and fountain - photo by F.MacLachlanIf you still have time try the history museum (Ataturk avenue, near the city hall) or the academy museum (in front of the old parliament), both are housed in early 20th century noveau riche mansions. For shopping try browsing the central department store, on Nizami street.

Even some of the very recent architecture of Ganca is worth seeing, e.g. some of the banks. The local stadium is home to the Kapaz Ganca soccer team. The first goal of independent Azerbaijan in the European football competitions was made by the player of Kapaz team Y. Suleymanov.

Ganca / Ganja - Azerbaijan: Nizami's mausoleum - tomb of Nizami Ganjavi - Persian poet from Ganca - aka Nezami - photo by F.MacLachlanOutside the city you'll find the ruins of old Ganca, they are located about 6 kms east of the centre near the road to Baku (after the semi abandoned aluminium factory).

The ruins have little to see, and are hard to access because of a tank unit housed in the area, but it's worth visiting the nearby Nizami's mausoleum. The existing monument, built in 1991 replaces a similar obelisk dating from the late 1940s. The mausoleum is an elegant marble covered structure about 20 m tall. Behind it there is an open area with a display of scenes from Nizami's books, sculpted in metal.

Ganca: the baths - photo by Elnur HasanAbout 15 kms northeast of Ganca, after the village of Aznixi you'll find the Imanzade. This is a beautiful brick building with blue domes, surrounded by a cemetery, that was built as the mausoleum of the 8th century Imam Bagira ibn Ibrahim. Inside you'll find the tomb enveloped by black curtains. The date of the original building is uncertain, and the current design results mostly from a 19th century reconstruction.

Azerbaijan - Ganca: the Gymnasium (photo by Elnur Hasan)There are a couple of good restaurants in the city and several assorted other places to eat. There is a Univermag north of the Academy of Sciences, but if you prefer there is a large bazaar in the north-eastern sector of the city.

Ore minerals extracted from nearby mines supply Ganca's metallurgical industries, which produce copper and alumina. There are porcelain, silk and footware industries. Other industries process food, grapes and cotton from the surrounding farmlands. Besides the agricultural school Ganca also has an agricultural experiment station and an institute dedicated to cotton research.

Ganca, Azerbaijan: train station - vagzal - photo by N.MahmudovaGanca is served by the country's major east-west road and rail routes (both going to Georgia). You can take a bus from Baku to Ganca, but the city is also served by its own airport  (airport code: KVD - tel. 60263 / fax 61305). There are some international flights operated by Imair and Turan Airlines (office on 254 Artatur av. - tel 66000), which also flies to Nakhchivan and flights to Baku with AZAL. Bus services also connect Ganca with Iran and Turkey. There several trains from Baku, but the station is 5km away from the city centre.

Ganca, Azerbaijan: aluminium plant - Azeraluminium factory outside the city - photo by N.MahmudovaIf you need lodging try the new Planet Hotel, on the east side of town off Baku road, not in the centre, but there are restaurants nearby. Alternatives are the Ganja Hotel, very central, near the Academy of Sciences (Khatai av.) and Hotel Kapaz, near Nizami's statue.

(300 km west of Baku)

see also: Hotels in Ganca, Xanlar, Shamkir, summary, maps, images, places
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