Azerbaijanis have sought to protect their cultural identity from long-standing outside influences by fostering indigenous forms of artistic and intellectual expression. They proudly point to a number of scientists, philosophers, and literary figures who have built their centuries-old cultural tradition.
Literature and Music
Before the eleventh century, literary influences included the Zoroastrian sacred text Avesta, Turkish prose-poetry, and oral history recitations (called dastans), such as The Book of Dede Korkut and Koroglu, which contain preIslamic elements. Among the classics of medieval times are the Astronomy of Abul Hasan Shirvani (written in the eleventh or twelfth century) and Khamseh, a collection of five long romantic poems written in Persian by the twelfth-century poet Nezami Ganjavi. Fuzuli (1494-1556) wrote poetry and prose in Turkish, most notably the poem Laila and Majnun, the satire A Book of Complaints, and the treatise To the Heights of Conviction. Fuzuli's works influenced dramatic and operatic productions in the early twentieth century. Shah Ismail I, who was also the first Safavid shah, wrote court poems in Turkish. Fuzuli and Ismail are still read in their original Turkish dialects, which are very similar to the modern literary Azerbaijani.
In music an ancient tradition was carried into modern times by ashugs, poet-singers who presented ancient songs or verses or improvised new ones, accompanied by a stringed instrument called the kobuz. Another early musical form was the mugam, a composition of alternating vocal and instrumental segments most strongly associated with the ancient town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Decorative Arts and Crafts
Carpet and textile making, both of which are ancient Azerbaijani crafts, flourished during the medieval period, and Azerbaijani products became well known in Asia and Europe. Azerbaijani carpets and textiles were known for their rich vegetation patterns, depictions from the poetry of Nezami Ganjavi, and traditional themes. Each region produced its own distinctive carpet patterns. Silk production became significant in the eighteenth century. During the Soviet period, carpets, textiles, and silk continued to be made in factories or at home. In medieval times, ornately chased weaponry was another major export. Azerbaijan was also famed for miniature books incorporating elaborate calligraphy and illustrations.
Azerbaijani architecture typically combines elements of East and West. Many ancient architectural treasures survive in modern Azerbaijan. These sites include the so-called Maiden Tower in Baku, a rampart that has been dated variously from the preChristian era to the twelfth century, and from the top of which, legend says, a distraught medieval maiden flung herself. Among other medieval architectural treasures reflecting the influence of several schools are the Shirvan shahs' palace in Baku, the palace of the Sheki khans in the town of Sheki in north-central Azerbaijan, the Surakhany Temple on the Apsheron Peninsula, a number of bridges spanning the Aras River, and several mausoleums. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, little monumental architecture was created, but distinctive residences were built in Baku and elsewhere. Among the most recent architectural monuments, the Baku subways are noted for their lavish decor.
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