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Castles and Towers of Absheron

The Absheron peninsula, being a part of Shirvan, was the site for a peculiar type of defensive structures to have originated and developed due to special social, historical and natural conditions. Vast Gobustan semideserts separating the peninsula from the inland country, relatively distant caravan routes, valuable oil and salt resources, and abundant madder and saffron fields the latter being the main export from of old, were the aspects that determined the peculiar development of Absheron and its certain economical and political isolation. Need for protection from foreign invaders attracted by natural resources induced local feudal lords to erect fortified castles some of which stand today, too.

Mardakan's castle, 1204

The fact that the castles stand relatively close to each other prove that feuds were not extensive. Concentrated in the northeast of the peninsula they occupied the most abundant region that thus was subject to invasions. The sparse line of castles in inland part of Absheron could serve some kind of link between the main group of the castles and the Baku citadel but actually they were not an integral defensive system, as it could have seemed, since the castles date to different years of XII and XIII cent. The castles of this period considerably differ from more fortified castles of the XIV cent. and observation towers of the later period that were built less fundamentally.
The earliest defensive structures dated to XII-XIII cent. in Absheron are mostly small castles with round donjon built of trimmed limestone blocks (some of them still stand in Mardakan, Bilghah and Shagan). The castles had a number of features in common. Inner part of donjons was usually divided into several tiers (in most cases into three ones). The ground level entrance led to the first tier. Spiral staircase hidden in the walls began from the second tier so that it was accessible only using a portable ladder. All the defense means were located on the top platform that had strong machicolations protecting shots that defended the castle. Narrow slit-like openings broadening inwards served mainly for ventilation and lighting purposes. Most of donjons had inner water wells providing the defenders of the castle with sweat water

Mardakan's castle, 1187

Nardaran's castle, 1301

The small usually rectangular courtyard of a castle was protected by high thick walls with windowless towers on the corners. The significance of the castles described is demonstrated by the high quality of construction and extensive inscriptions on the donjons that tell us the title of the feudal lord and name of the architect.
Among the most typical defensive structures in discussion is the Mardakan Castle. It was considered a freestanding tower until the contour of the castle walls was discovered during restoration work. This allowed to suppose it was the donjon of the characteristic Absheron castles. The castle was restored using the remaining fragments, old photos and basic principles of Absheron architecture.

Ramana's castle

Based on: Architecture of Azerbaijan by Bretanicky
Azerbaijan, Fortresses -Castles by Farid Mamedov, Jaffar Giyasi

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