Apart from some historic tomb towers across the valley from the ring road, Shamaxa's only real sight is the big, sturdy active Juma Mosque (Shirvani str) located a kilometre from the centre. The original mosque on this site was supposedly the second oldest in the trans-Caucasus. Excavations of its 10th-century incarnation can be seen in the grounds where a little nodding-donkey pump has nothing to do with oil - it draws water for the congregation's ritual ablutions.
Grand Mosque is a very large, attractive if simple cuboidal stone structure. It was built in 1902 on the foundations of a 10th-century predecessor, itself founded on the site of an ancient pagan sunworship-pers' temple. The 'new' mosque was burnt in April 1918 along with many people who had hidden inside dunng inter-ethnic conflict. A local man who lost two grandparents in the blaze, told that a group of Armenians fired on the mosque with cannons, but that the 2m-thick stone walls held out. The mosque ruin was left as a shell until the late 1970s, restoration in the 1990s was undermined by floods in 2000. Some excavations of the older mosque complex can be seen in the forecourt.
The powerful, bare stone interior columns exude a feeling of great antiquity and the imam, dressed in fine white gown and mufti hat, is generally very happy for visitors to look around. Shoes should be removed, bags left with the guard and women are expected to cover their hair.
The pumping mechanism that scars the excavation site is not a bizarre oil strike, but produces the water for worshippers to perform their pre-prayer ablutions. Two blocks from the mosque is a museum dedicated to Shamakha's favourite son, the poet Sabir.
The History Museum is particularly poor and there's little else to see in the town centre, except perhaps the distinctive old 'Universam' department store.
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.