Behind the high mountain range, the deep gorges and dense forests, stands Shusha – a city as whimsical as an Eastern fairy tale, and as wondrous as the nature surrounding it; a parable passed from mouth to mouth. This is the heart of Karabakh, this is the soul of Azerbaijan. On a rock that rises to the sky, Shusha hides sometimes behind thick cloud, like a beauty behind a scarf, to avoid immodest gaze. It is calm, beautiful and proud to be inaccessible. But for most of the year, its beauty is there for the eye. Its air is crystal clear. It is no coincidence that the city’s name translates from Azerbaijani as “glass”. This is when its rising, stone-paved streets, white-stone palaces, mosques enhanced by slender minarets and parks with shady trees, open up to visitors. And this jewel of Azerbaijani architecture stands within the high walls of a mighty fortress. Shusha is a special city. Unlike many other settlements, it did not appear spontaneously at a caravan crossroads, but was built by the will of the great warrior Panahali Khan. The motive was not profit the founder of the Karabakh khanate was already rich – but he needed a symbol of his state’s independence, an impregnable citadel that intimidated enemies, a place of respite from toil and worry, a spacious house for his family to live in safety and his children to grow. This is how Shusha appeared – very modern by the standards of the late 18th century, and distinguished from other Azerbaijani cities. No better or worse, it was different. As the magazine “Vestnik Kavkaza” wrote in 1903: “The city of Shusha resembles European cities of the Middle Ages.” Of course, there were shops, bazaars and quarters for skilled artisans in Shusha too. But their owners and workers were not the face of the city, they were not the centre of attention, although the Shusha carpets, Shusha silk, weapons and jewellery they produced were well known and valued throughout the Caucasus. Most of all, Shusha was famous for its musicians and poets, its singers and composers. Perhaps no other city of Azerbaijan had so many literary societies or, as they were called, “literary majlises (assemblies)”. Nowhere else has music been held in such high esteem. People in every household here played some kind of folk instrument, and families quite often established themselves as well-tuned bands. Famous singers and incomparable performers of mugham lived here. The author of the first opera in the East was born here. Shusha people have made a huge contribution to the culture of both Azerbaijan and, indeed, the world. However, it would not be right to portray Shusha as a kind of literary and musical Eden, isolated from the rest of the country. Together with the rest of Azerbaijan, it has endured all the hardships and ordeals that have befallen the Azerbaijani people – enemy invasion, epidemics, famine, brutal reprisals against dissidents and, finally, almost three decades of Armenian occupation, following the first Karabakh War. Those bleak years saw the destruction of almost all the historical, cultural and religious sites, the killing or expulsion of its Azerbaijani inhabitants and the city itself being transformed into a barracks for occupying Armenian soldiers. But now Shusha is free. The enemy fled before the lightning strikes of the returning Azerbaijani army. The invaders were driven from the walls of Panahali Khan’s city. And even though it will take more than a year to restore Shusha to its former beauty, this work will undoubtedly be done. In fact, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev plans to make the city even more beautiful so that Shusha’s appearance is equal to its status as cultural capital of Azerbaijan - assigned to it by the head of state. And yet, although the city will bloom again, becoming a centre of culture and tourism, acquiring new museums, art galleries and concert halls, restaurants and hotels, the old Shusha will not be consigned to history. This book is intended to preserve those memories and to let readers know what this city used to be like.