SUMMIT TO SEE

Azerbaijan 2014 | TOURISM & SPORTS | PHOTO ESSAY: GABALA

Gabala is a remarkable region in northern Azerbaijan, with a vivid history and a promising future.

Enveloped by the High Caucasus range, the rayon of Gabala and the surrounding regions are intensely beautiful; a topography of precipitous rock faces and pure highland streams, with waterfalls and small lakes scattered generously throughout the territory. It is flanked to the north by the Russian province of Dagestan, with the masses of its mountains descending south to reveal the storied ruins of old Gabala and its dynamic, modern equivalent.

At a formal ceremony in June 2013, Gabala was declared the Cultural Capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States, in recognition of its long contribution to the history of Azerbaijan and the region. Its function as one of the principal cities of Caucasian Albania, prior to the introduction of Islam to the region, is demonstrated by the presence of churches in nearby Nic and Oğuz. The main historic site is old Gabala, situated 20 kilometers west of the new town center, which boasts the remains of the city fort, only rediscovered in 1959.

The city's modern past is more relevant, however. Following its renaming from Qutqaşım to Gabala in 1991, national and regional leaders have made firm efforts to establish the name as a tourism brand. Aside from its renowned natural beauty, facilities for a range of sporting activities have been developed. Tufadag Resort and the surrounding mountains offer skiing and rafting opportunities, while the Gabala Shooting Club's 52-hectare area allows both recreational and competitive practice amenities. The latter is part of the larger Gabala Sports Club, in which a range of martial arts practitioners and soccer players are trained.

Gabala is also emerging as a magnet for events, for example the summit of Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (CCTSS) in 2013, and 2014 will mark the occasion of the city's sixth International Classical Music Festival, among others. A quarter of the 16 hotels boast five-star service, and the area is served by Gabala International Airport and regular flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg, in addition to domestic flights to Baku and Nakhichevan.