Khinalig - medieval mountainous village

Date of Submission: 15/06/2020
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Reserves Management Center under the State Tourism Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan
State, Province or Region:
Guba District
Coordinates: 41.185208, 48.122736
Ref.: 6480

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Khinalig village is the highest residential area of Azerbaijan. Located at the highest level in the Great Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan, this village is inhabited by the Khinalig people, who are considered Caucasian minorities. Archaeological findings and historical studies prove that the village’s area was inhabited for about 4 thousand years ago, dating back to Bronze age. A few scientific investigations of the area allow the connection between Khinalig’s past and the Caucasian Albania. In addition, this mountainous area is very rich with paleontological materials revealing marine fossils in high mountainous area. Khinalig people speak their own unique language.

The houses in Khinalig and their distinctive and typical structure make Khinalig an example of a village with a prominent view. Land-colored, flat-roofed houses form an ensemble on a mountain slope where the roof of one house is used as the front door terrace of another house. This unique medieval architectural typology reflects the cultural and social life of the Khinalig people who have a traditional nomadic lifestyle. Khinalig village is surrounded by mountain summer subalpine meadows and rivers: it creates favorable conditions for nomadic peoples’ living in summer, but the harsh climate pushes the people towards the downloads in winter.

The village of Khinalig is also characterized by breathtaking views. Surrounded by mountains and green valleys during the summer, Khinalig is a place of incredible natural landscapes.

To protect the village, the Azerbaijani government declared the area a cultural-historical and ethnographic reserve in 2007. Khinalig State Cultural-Architectural and Ethnographic Reserve is state-owned institution with its management team and the state-funded budget.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The village of Khinalig combines several values in a distinctive manner. Its unique cultural, traditional, historical, ethnographical, geographical and architectural values deliver a strong base for considering the site for Outstanding Universal Values. Consequently, this splendid site can be bestowed an OUV in different categories for its various components.

The themes that are referred to under each OUV criteria for Khinalig village are well thought and justified within ICOMOS’s Thematic Framework. The following themes from ICOMOS Thematic Framework are considered:

  • Expression of Society; Interacting and Communicating (language, social systems)
  • Creative responses; Rural settlements
  • Movement of Peoples; Nomadism and transhumance

Criterion (iii): Khinalig is a living community that bears a unique testimony to the cultural traditions of high mountain people from Great Caucasus mountains since immemorial times.

To the south of the Caucasus Mountains, at an altitude of 2,300m, there are Khinalig people, who also name themselves Kettids. The Kettids belong to Shahdag ethnic group that scientists suggest being part of the Caucasian Albanian tribes in the past. Surrounded by the mountains, Khinalig was isolated from the rest of the region. As a result, together with other autochthon peoples living at the slope of Shahdag mountains (Kryzs, Haputs, Alik, Jek, Buduq peoples), the Kettids preserved their unique language and ethnocultural traditions, rarely found in other parts of the world.

Khinalig is one of the best-preserved examples of transhumance - nomadic culture that has disappeared in many parts of the Caucasus region due to modern changes. Each year, a part of Khinalig people move to the lowlands to feed their livestock in the winter and return to Khinalig in early spring. They still carry on this nomadic animal husbandry. Consequently, the village is a testimony of the millennial tradition that coincides with the early stages of human economic and social development. This also proves that the architecture of the village is a complete manifestation of the social and economic needs of the old nomadic people as well.

Criterion (iv): Khinalig is an outstanding example of historical rural settlement preserving specific architectural solutions.

Khinalig homogeneous architecture is a unique expression of the indigenous peoples' lifestyle in the Great Caucasus Mountains. It reflects the lifestyle of nomadic people which evolved over the centuries in Great Caucasus Mountains. This is demonstrated by town planning adapted to the topography of the area, architectural features and schemes, materials and construction techniques used.

The architectural design has historically been designed to protect the village from its enemies and for inhabitants to effectively use the limited space for economic and social purposes (someone’s roof is someone’s yard to use for various purposes). While the first floor is used for living, the ground floor is used for livestock.

The architectural solutions in the village also created social consolidation of the people in winter times: the houses had physical connections (connecting doors) with each other which allowed neighbours to visit each other without going outside.

This unique historical architectural design is now jeopardized because of modern developments.

Criterion (v): Khinalig is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement and land-use which has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.  

Khinalig’s architectural structure reveals the continuous dwelling and building traditions of local Khinalig people living in harmony with the surrounding natural environment. The village is certainly an outstanding example of old settlement in alpine zone of the Caucasus where nomadic farmers found an exceptional architectural solution, interacting perfectly with the environment and topography. This living culture has become now vulnerable under the impact of irreversible social-cultural and economic change of modern life.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Khinalig village is the last regional remain of the typical mountainous village in the Caucasus with flat-roof houses and river stone as a main construction material forming a unique architectural structure. The property is still in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity. Khinalig is a living witness of Caucasian mountainous traditions that survived through the centuries and represent the genuine architectural style.

The property has fully retained its physical integrity which assures Khinalig village’s full function as a settlement place for a nomadic mountainous people. There are many documents and historical evidence bearing testimony on the authenticity of this settlement in Azerbaijan. The video and photo archives found from XIX and XX century resources, are giving undoubted dating points for the evolution of the lifestyle, architecture and local culture in this settlement. Other sort of documents consists of contemporary histories and primary sources, and travelers’ accounts. In addition, the residence buildings were repaired in several periods, and each part displays the style of its time. The construction materials and the techniques give no doubt about the authenticity of architectural and artistic styles used in the construction of the whole complex of the medieval rural settlement.

The settlement of Khinalig has preserved its authenticity in various aspects and has kept the main features of its architecture for more than several centuries thanks to its remote location and its permanent use by the local nomadic herders. Moreover, Khinalig people have effectively transferred all their old and authentic traditions to future generations. Only a few historical and cultural ensembles in the Greater Caucasus region have preserved its intact and authentic elements without major structural damages.   

Khinalig’s unique architecture of flat roof-style houses forms an ensemble which is preserved in the original location and which is developed in the middle ages. Although there has been a reduction in the number of this style houses in Khinalig in the last decades, main part of the village has retained its old-style houses that helps to reflect its traditional appearance and character. Moreover, no significant change is observed in the system of paths and roads and traditional land-use patterns including public fountains in Khinalig.

The Khinalig village constitutes an important historical evidence and strong reference for the people of Khinalig. It plays a consolidative role for this small community comprised of 1500 individuals with their own unique language in the world and their cultural-ethnographic elements. The Khinalig people have inhabited in this area since the ancient times and has a strong sense of community. Traditional social systems and lifestyle customs have been remaining and the flat roof-style houses and their associated historic environments remained unchanged. While the conventional collaboration among Khinalig people have helped to maintain flat roofs in good conditions, relevant restoration practices and principles are and will be applied in cases of need. Special attention is paid to the use of traditional materials and techniques in the restoration to maintain the originality of the property. Thus, it should be noted that the Khinalig-style houses retain their authenticity from the perspective of form and design, as well as materials and substance.

Comparison with other similar properties

Khinalig is a living example for typical Great Caucasus mountainous village. Castel-like placement of the settlement on the river bench reveal fortification demands of mediaeval mountain villages. The limited space on the protected hill led to the formation of extremely dense stepped building fabric preserving a medieval feature. Historical traces of old settlement prove the old history of the village. Moreover, the focus point in Khinalig is the preserved typology giving an explicit testimony to medieval mountain village structure. Thus, local river stone ornamental wall cladding and wood structures (column & beam) represent unique style of dwelling houses of Great Caucasus mountains. Another important focus here is Khinalig minority people who has protected its social and cultural representation through ages in Great Caucasus mountain. Khinalig and surrounding areas have evidences proving ancient settlement (kurgans and cemeteries) as well as geological rocks carrying important messages about the evolution of Earth (marine fossils in the mountain), which is not yet studied scientifically. Since Khinalig indigenous people have been moving from high-lands to low-lands for centuries observing ancient settlement remaining, they have formed myths and stories, originated in their interactions with other peoples and tribes located on their transhumance route. As it is the case for some other minorities spread on the highlands of the Greater Caucasus, the Khinalig people still call themselves the descendants of Noah.

An example for such a wonderful place can be Lapponian Area in Sweden - a UNESCO World Heritage Site where is home for a distinctive minority – very small indigenous Saami people who is practicing seasonal movement of livestock as Khinalig people who is under impact of irreversible change. But Khinalig people has preserved the urban solution adapted admirably to the topography of the mountain and river valley which is not comparable with this.

Khinalig village’s morphology, architectural typologies are similar, for some features, to the mountain villages (Khurush, Kubachi) in the south of Dagestan (Russia), Masule and Palangan in Islamic Republic of Iran.