High in the mountains stretches the city-fortress of Shoushi. The city, with its history of two hundred years, stands as a symbol of steadfast belief in the future of the Armenian people. Shoushi's crystal-clear mountain air, soft climate, woody surroundings and sources of medical mineral water make it one of the favorite vacation spots in the Republic of Artsakh (Republic of Mountainous Karabakh).
One of the most beautiful corners of Republic of Artsakh (Mountainous Karabakh), the Shoushi plateau has been populated by our ancestors since ancient times. Archaeological excavations have revealed cultural artifacts from the Hellenistic period and early Middle Ages. By the end of the first millennium CE, protective constructions had already been erected on the plateau. The Shoushi fortress was built in the beginning of the 18th century, and developed a richly populated settlement because of its convenient location on the primary caravan routes that connect Armenia and Iran. During Karabakh's time as a part of the Persian Empire, Shoushi began to develop as a market city and trade center. During the century of peaceful existence that started when Eastern Armenia, including Karabakh, became part of the Russian Empire in 1806, craft traditions blossomed and construction expanded. In 1847 Shoushi became known as the City with Arms.
By the beginning of the 20th century Shoushi was a city with all the European conveniences: water pipes, drains, paved streets and sidewalks, and well-developed cultural, commercial and industrial life. 20 newspapers and magazines in the Armenian language have been published in Shoushi, along with 2 publications in the Russian language. Six schools functioned, including the Real School, the first single-sex school (single-gender school) for females called Mariamyan Eparchial School in Southern Caucasus. The Khandamiryan Drama Theatre have put on plays of Armenian and European authors for audiences of up to 350 people. World-renowned Artsakh silks, carpets, jewelry, ornaments and other luxury goods were produced in 570 craft workshops. Shoushi's two markets have stunned travelers with their richness and bright eastern colors.
The population of the old capital of Karabakh reached 45 thousand people at that time, of which 30 thousand were Armenians and about 15 thousand were Muslims (4200 people – Armenians and the small minority of Russians, according the information of 2015). The spiritual needs of the population were satisfied in seven Armenian churches, two mosques and one Orthodox church.
The shattering loss of Shoushi as the "conservatory of the Caucasus", began in March 1920 when parts of the regular army of the Azerbaijan Republic attacked the city. The army rushed into a Christian part of the city with the support of local Islamites, and over the course of three days slaughtered the towns' people, plundered their goods and burnt their houses. Two-third of Shoushi was burnt down at that time. The city was ruined and it completely lost its population of 30 thousand Armenians. Shoushi did not recover from the impact after the atrocities; it lost its cultural value and turned into a remote settlement.
After the emancipation of Shushi in 1992, joint efforts have been made to redevelop Shoushi, and a large amount of restorations have been carried out. Shushi became a symbol of the revival of the Armenian nation and a place of pilgrimage for tourists. Today two hotels, the Center of Tourism and Crafts, and the Cultural Center of Narekatsi operate in Shoushi.
THE MEDIEVAL FORTRESS
Upon entering the city of Shoushi, one of the first sights You will see, is the medieval fortress that was erected by the meliks (princes) of Varanda in the XVIII century and then by the invited leaders of nomadic Turkic tribes.When Artsakh became part of the Russian Empire the fortress was reinforced by Russian military engineers, on the eve of the heroic defense of Shoushi in the Russian-Persian war of 1826.
The fortifications in the length of 2.5 km starting from a high rocky massif hanging over the precipice in the south-west side of the plateau, down the steep slopes of the gorge, and to the east where again fused with the cliffs. Impregnable walls and towers 7-8 meters high, erected from the local rock as if growing out of rocks and very beautifully merge with them. One of the four fortress gates - Yelizavetpol Gate - the only of the four gates have survived almost intact till our days..
THE UPPER MOSQUE
At the end of the 19th century, to suit the religious needs of the Muslim population of Shoushi, here were constructed 2 mosques and prayer houses.The Upper Mosquе located in the center of the Muslim quarter, was constructed in 1883. It was designed by the well-known Persian architect Kerbaly Sefi Khan. The mosque synthesizes traditional Islamic architectural styles with Armenian town-planning traditions used in Shoushi. The facade of the mosque is beautifully decorated with two high brick minarets. Five times a day, muedzin (Islamic cleric) had called believers to prayer from those minarets.
Later, a spiritual school, or madrasah, was constructed close to the mosque.
During the Soviet era the mosque was converted into a historical museum focusing on the local folklore. Today, given that Muslims no longer live in Shoushi, the mosque does not function as a religious institution. Nonetheless, restoration work is underway so as the mosque is the part of historical cultural heritage.
The dominant architectural feature of Shoushi is one of the largest Armenian churches in the world, the Church of Holy Saviour, also called Ghazanchetsots. The church was built in 1888 from white limestone on an open area in the city centre. It is skillfully decorated by thin, expressive grooves, and rises to a height of about 40 meters. The dome leaves an especially strong impression of constructional grandeur, elegance and spirituality. Near the cathedral rises a bell tower , which has four sculptures of angels in the top corners of the ground floor construction. The angels are depicted with a menacing look blowing the horn - an exceptional phenomenon in the national cult building.
Under the altar of the church is located, awe-inspiring, a special room with unique acoustic feature. It changes your voice beyond recognition, and the echo of your voice is heard as if somebody whispers near you.
Church Kazanchetsots - one of the most impressive religious buildings in Armenia, which is perfectly embodies the architectual talent of the Armenian people.
MONUMENTS OF CIVIL ARCHITECTURE
The special color to the fortified city impart the civil architectural monuments - apartment houses and public buildings constructed in the architectural style inherent only to Shoushi. The surviving till our days the stone streets with magnificent examples of the stone dwelling houses of 19th-century will amaze travelers by itheir various constructional technologies. Belts, portals and window frames, gives the building a grand view, is a peculiar form of local architecture. While you walk on the streets of old city, you can see that all houses are constructed in one style and variety is reached mainly by an arrangement of the buildings, which are buried in verdure gardens.Poured paints, richness of relief, variety of niches, balconies and portals do surprisingly rich spatial harmony of the kept quarters of the old city.
Up to now some monuments of monumental architecture were also kept. Especially, it is necessary to note a three-tier building of Real College one of the most famous educational institutions of Southern Caucasus. Built in 1901-1908, it still amazes with its proportions, monumentalism of forms, a skilful combination of national and European architectural traditions. Nearby are located buildings of city hospital of Dzhamgaryans, Mayramyan single-gender school for females, constructed with all canons of the Armenian national architecture.
Considerable interest also cause the ruins of caravanserai nearby the central area of Shoushi.
The Market Area located In the central part of a fortified city -one of the most interesting places for tourists' visits. The area on a crossroads of two central streets is surrounded by buildings of the medieval market of Brothers Tarkhanyans and the Top mosque. A two-storied building of the market is the remarkable sample of civil architecture, it is a rectangular court yard surrounded by set of arch galleries where were placed trading rows, and premises of merchants. One of the premises of the medieval market has been allocated, by existed tradition, for the lodgers adhering to Islam.
Now constructions of the medieval market of brothers Tarkhanyans are restored and operate on their direct purpose. Here craft workshops, souvenir benches and various boutiques are opened.
The memorable spring monuments and the impressive samples of small-form architecture have been constructed in the various parts of the city. Each one about the size of a small room, they are constructed of pure-trimmed limestone and richly decorated by a groove on a stone. All of them fit harmoniously into the general atmosphere of Shoushi. The memorable inscriptions, eaves and beautiful portals give them a special grace, as a result travelers get especial admiration when visit them.
The first two spring monuments were constructed in 1871, and after construction of the new city plumbing by the patron Tadevos Tamiryan in 1896, a total of twenty monuments were present in Shoushi. Nearly half of them have been restored and kept up to date.
Hunot Gorge is one of the most beautiful places in Karabakh. The rocky gorge is three meters long and almost 250 meters deep. It is full of dense forests and represents a unique natural and historic-architectural complex. Deep in the gorge there is a unique natural feature, a grotto, which can only be entered by passing through a veil of waterfalls.
There, can be found the ruins of the medieval village Hunot, including numerous watermills, three stone bridges, a church and fortifications that played an important role in the defense of Shoushi. Inhabitants of the neighboring villages still utilize the arch bridge that was constructed in 1720. On the western sope are visible defensive constructs and ancient caves that served as dwellings for people during prehistoric times. It is possible to descend into the gorge via the stone ledges of the Jdrdyuz plateau (Hippodrome) located in the eastern part of the city. From there you can see the delightful panorama of Shoushi.
MUSEUM OF HISTORY OF SHOUSHI
The historical museum of local folklore keeps a large collection of artifacts of Shoushi and its surrounding areas. It is located in two charming private residences of the middle of XIX century. The materials illustrating the history of the city from foundation to present day are exhibited here. A separate hall is devoted to the military operation on the liberation of Shoushi on May 8, 1992. The museum periodically updates its collection with new exhibits.