If you arrive from Georgia via Lagodekhi, then sleepy Balakan will be the first Azeri town you'll see. The town's commercial centre is around the bazaar. However, the town's only sight, a fine 19th-century mosque, is 1km further west, two blocks south of the prominent Heydar Bagi gardens. The imam generally allows visitors to climb the mosque's unique brick minaret for a fine view over the town.
Getting There & Away
Shared taxis to the Georgian border depart from MMOil Petrol station on the main roundabout, 200m north of the bazaar. Ponderously slow marshrutkas to Zaqatala (30 minutes) leave from a small side road off Heydar Aliyev kuch, two long blocks west of there. The bus station is 2km east of the main roundabout with a service to Baku (8,5 hours) at 8.30am and several more between 10pm and midnight. There are also buses to Sheki (three hours) at 8.20am and to Ganca at 9.30am.
History of the Balakan rayon
Archeological finds including many historical monuments and kurgans in the region speak of early human inhabitation. Balakan was a part of Caucasian Albania. The Ers also inhabitaed this region along with the rest of North-West Azerbaijan. A Greek writer of the time who authored books on the battle between the Roman troops and Caucasian Albanians on the bank of Alazani (Qanix) river in 65 AD., described the locals as calm, prideful and full of courage. Etymology of names such as "Getovlar" (similar to Hettax), Hunbulanchay (similar to Huns), Ingiloy (similar to Gellah) and others confirm habitation of the region by early nomadic Turkic tribes. In the 7th century Balakan was invaded by Arabs and Balak?n settlement was destroyed. After the Arab rule was overthrown in 9th–10th centuries, Balakan established its political and economic links with Shaki. Both provinces developed sericulture as their primary industry.
In 1803 the Balakan Rayon territory was incorporated into the Russian Empire and was administratively a part of Georgia until 1842, after that it was a separate oblast. In 1844 the Char-Balakan Military Region was founded. From 1860 to the end of the Russian Empire it was a part of Georgia within the Tiflis Governorate.
When Democratic Republic of Georgia was established, Balakan was a part of Zaqatala District, one of Georgia's eastern provinces. After the Soviet occupation of Georgia in 1921, Zaqatala District was handed over to Azerbaijani SSR by the Bolshevik Government.
Among the historical monuments are the 9th century Albanian church 18 km away from the administrative center of Balakan, Peri castle dating to 7th–8th centuries in Qullar village, 17th century mosque with a 45 meter minaret in Balak?n city, Nokho Cave in the Qubek gorge pertaining to the Iron Age, ruins and pilgrimage site from the 5th–8th centuries located 2 km west of Mahamalar village, 1st–2nd century BC necropolis 1 km north of the same village, mosque built in 1780 and an underground water storage facilities from the 18th century in Qullar village, a 19th century fortress and 18th century mosque in Mahamalar, a 14th century mosque in Katex village, 17th century four-edged castle and two tombs, a 14th century mausoleum in Tulu village, mosque built in 1910 in Ititala village, 14th century temple in Hanifa village, 16th century mosque in Xalatala and temples in Mazimchay, ruins of a settlement from Middle Ages on Maklakan mountain.
If you're planning a trip to Azerbaijan you may be interested ▶ Azerbaijan highlights - For those who prefer to go unbeaten path, to explore less visited places and check national charisma of this small country in Southern Caucasus on the edge of Europe.