Ganja is Azerbaijan's third largest city, with a population of around 335,600. The city has been a historic and cultural centre throughout most of its existence. Until 1804, it was the capital of the Ganja Khanate; after Qajar Iran ceded it to the Russian Empire following the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813, it successively became part of the Georgia Governorate, Georgia-Imeretia Governorate, Tiflis Governorate, and Elisabethpol Governorate administrative divisions. After the dissolution of the Russian Empire and the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic, it became part of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, the Azerbaijan SSR of the Soviet Union and since 1991, the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Even though some sources from medieval Islamic time attribute the building of the town to a Muslim Arab ruler named Muhammad ibn Khalid al-Shaybani, modern historians believe that the fact that the name Ganja derives from the New Persian ganj ("treasure") and in Arabic source the name is recorded as Janza (from the Middle Persian ganza) suggests that the city existed in pre-Islamic times and was likely founded in the 5th century. According to some sources, it changed hands between Persians, Khazars and Arabs even in the 7th century. The area in which Ganja is located was known as Arran from the 9th to 12th century; its urban population spoke mainly in the Persian language.
According to medieval Arabic sources, the city of Ganja was founded in 859–60 by Muhammad ibn Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mazyad, the Arab governor of the region in the reign of the caliph al-Mutawakkil, and so-called because of a treasure unearthed there. According to the legend, the Arab governor had a dream where a voice told him that there was a treasure hidden under one of the three hills around the area where he camped. The voice told him to unearth it and use the money to found a city. He did so and informed the caliph about the money and the city. Caliph made Muhammad the hereditary governor of the city on a condition that he would give the money he found to the caliph.
Foundation of the city by Arabs is confirmed by the medieval Armenian historian Movses Kagankatvatsi, who mentions that the city of Ganja was founded in 846–47 in the canton of Arshakashen by the son of Khazr Patgos, "a furious and merciless man".
Historically an important city of the South Caucasus, Ganja has been part of the Sassanid Empire, Great Seljuk Empire, Kingdom of Georgia, Atabegs of Azerbaijan, Khwarezmid Empire, Il-Khans, Timurids, Qara Qoyunlu, Ak Koyunlu, the Safavid, the Afsharid, the Zand and the Qajar empires of Persia/Iran. Prior to the Iranian Zand and Qajar rule, following Nader Shah's death, it was ruled locally for a few decades by the khans/dukes of the Ganja Khanate, who themselves were subordinate to the central rule in mainland Iran and were a branch of the Iranian Qajar family.Ganja is also the birthplace of the famous Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi.
The people of Ganja experienced a temporary cultural decline after an earthquake in 1139, when the city was taken by king Demetrius I of Georgia and its gates taken as trophies which is still kept in Georgia, and again after the Mongol invasion in 1231. The city was revived after the Safavids came to power in 1501, and incorporated all of Azerbaijan and beyond into their territories. The city came under brief occupation by the Ottomans between 1578–1606 and 1723–1735 during the prolonged Ottoman-Persian Wars, but nevertheless stayed under intermittent Iranian suzerainty from the earliest 16th century up to the course of the 19th century, when it was forcefully ceded to neighbouring Imperial Russia.
The siege of Ganja Fortress in 1804 during the Russo-Persian War (1804–1813) by the Russian forces under leadership of general Pavel Tsitsianov.
From the late 18th century, Russia actively started to increase its military into Iranian and Turkish territory to the south. Following the annexation of eastern Georgia in 1801, Russia was now keen to conquer the rest of the Iranian possessions in the Caucasus. Russian expansion into the South Caucasus met particularly strong opposition in Ganja. In 1804, the Russians, led by General Pavel , invaded and sacked Ganja, sparking the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813. Some western sources assert that "the capture of the city was followed by a massacre of up to 3,000 inhabitants of Ganja by the Russians". They also claim that "500 of them were slaughtered in a mosque where they had taken refuge, after an Armenian told the Russian soldiers that there might have been "Daghestani robbers" among them".
Militarily superior, the Russians ended the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813 with a victory. By the Treaty of Gulistan that followed, Iran was forced to cede the Ganja Khanate to Russia. The Iranians briefly managed to oust the Russians from Ganja during the 1826 offensive during the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828, but the resulting Treaty of Turkmenchay made its inclusion into the Russian Empire definite. It was renamed Elisabethpol (Russian: Елизаветполь) after the wife of Alexander I of Russia, Elizabeth, and in 1868 became the capital of Elisabethpol Governorate. Elizavetpol was an uyezd of Tiflis Governorate before 1868. The Russian name was not accepted by Azerbaijanis who continued to call the city Ganja.
Elizebethpol (Ganja) was one of the main sites of the Armenian–Tatar massacres of 1905–07. In 1918, Ganja became the temporary capital of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, at which point it was renamed Ganja again, until Baku was recaptured from the British-backed Centrocaspian Dictatorship. In April 1920, the Red Army occupied Azerbaijan. In May 1920, Ganja was the scene of an abortive anti-Soviet rebellion, during which the city was heavily damaged by fighting between the insurgents and the Red Army. In 1935, Joseph Stalin renamed the city Kirovabad after Sergei Kirov In 1991, Azerbaijan re-established its independence, and the ancient name of the city was given back. For many years the 104th Guards Airborne Division of the Soviet Airborne Troops was based in the town.
In November 1988, the Kirovabad pogrom forced the local Armenian population to leave the city.
Reconstruction in the 21st century has led to dramatic changes in the city's urban development, transforming the old Soviet city into a hub of high-rise, mixed-use buildings.
In 2008, Ganja Mausoleum Gates were built on the basis of sketches of ancient Ganja gates made by local master Ibrahim Osmanoğlu in 1063
In 2020, during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Ganja came under bombardment by Armenian armed forces several times, killing 32 civilians and injuring dozens more.On 11 October, a residential apartment block in Azerbaijan's city of Ganja was destroyed overnight in an Armenian missile strike, killing 10 civilians and wounding 34 others.The Armenian MoD denied that this came from its territory, while Artsakh stated that Armenian forces had targeted and destroyed the Ganja military airbase on Ganja International Airport, which they alleged was used to bombard Artsakh's capital Stepanakert and also stated that the Azerbaijani population were given warning to move away from military facilities to avoid collateral damage. Subsequently, both a correspondent reporting from the scene for a Russian media outlet and the airport director denied that the airport, which was not operational since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had been shelled. On 17 October, 21 civilians were killed and more than 50 injured when an Armenian SCUD B ballistic missile hit a residential area in Ganja .
Ganja, located 400–450 meters (1312 to 1476 ft) above the sea level, lies on the Ganja-Gazakh plain in the Kur-Araz lowland in the west of Azerbaijan, 375 km (33 mi) away from Baku. It is situated at the north-eastern foothills of the Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges on the Ganjachay river.
The city borders on the administrative rayons of Goygol to the south, west and north-west and Samukh to the north-east.
Ganja has a cool semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification: BSk).
Today, Ganja is divided into 2 rayons (administrative districts). The mayor, presently Niyazi Bayramov embodies the executive power of the city. Ganja includes 6 administrative settlements, namely Hajikend, Javadkhan, Shixzamanli, Natavan, Mahsati and Sadilli.
Kapaz District (Kəpəz rayonu) was established on 21 November 1980 according to the decision of Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan SSR. The district consists of 2 administrative territorial units and 6 administrative settlements. It has an area of approximately 70 square kilometers (27 sq mi) with the population of 178,000.
Nizami District (Nizami rayonu) was also established on 21 November 1980 according to the decision of Supreme Soviet of Azerbaijan SSR as Ganja region of Kirovabad city. When Ganja's historic name was restored and the city was renamed as Ganja instead of Kirovabad in 1989, the district was also renamed as Nizami rayon. The district consists of 2 administrative territorial units. The area of the district is roughly 39 square kilometers (15 sq mi) and population is 148,000.
Ganja is the third largest city of Azerbaijan after Baku and Sumqayit with about 335,600 residents. The city is also inhabited by a large number of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia and IDPs from the Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas. Their number was estimated to be more than 33,000 in 2011.
Lezgi people in Ganja number around 20,000.
In addition to Persian and Turkic-speaking Muslims, the city has had a numerically, economically and, culturally significant Christian Armenian community. The city's traditional Armenian name is Gandzak (Գանձակ), which derives from gandz (գանձ), a loan word from Old Iranian, which means treasure or riches. The founder of the Hethumid dynasty, Oshin of Lampron was an Armenian nakharar and lord of a castle near Ganja who fled to Cilicia in 1075 during the Seljuk invasion of Armenia.
The city's historically important Armenian figures include:
Mkhitar Gosh, 12th-century philosopher, author of the Code of Laws that was used in Armenia, Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Armenian diaspora communities in Europe
Kirakos Gandzaketsi, a 13th-century historian
Vardan Areveltsi, 13th-century polymath
Grigor Paron-Ter, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1613–45
Karo Halabyan, Soviet architect
Askanaz Mravyan, secretary of the Armenian SSR Communist Party
Abram Alikhanov and Artem Alikhanian, physicists
Sergei Adian, Soviet mathematician
Albert Azaryan, artistic gymnast and Olympic champion
The urban landscape of Ganja is shaped by many communities. Religious diversity has however greatly decreased over the last decades, with the emigration of most Armenians, Slavs, Jews and Germans. The religion with the largest community of followers by far is Islam. The majority of the Muslims are Shia Muslims, and the Republic of Azerbaijan has the second-highest Shia population percentage in the world after Iran.The city's notable mosques include Shah Abbas Mosque, Goy Imam Mosque, Shahsevenler Mosque, Qirikhli Mosque and Qazakhlar Mosque.
There are some other faiths practiced among the different ethnic groups within the country. The other faith worshipping places include Alexander Nevsky Church, German Lutheran Church, Saint John Church and Saint Sarkis Church. Before the Kirovabad pogrom in 1988 a significant community of Armenian Christians existed.
According to the State Statistics Committee, as of 2018, the population of city recorded 332,600 persons, which increased by 31,900 persons (about 10.6 percent) from 300,700 persons in 2000. 162,300 of total population are men, 170,300 are women. More than 26 percent of the population (about 86,500 persons) consists of young people and teenagers aged 14–29.
The economy of Ganja is partially agricultural, partially tourist based, with some industries in operation. Ore minerals extracted from nearby mines supply Ganja's metallurgical industries, which produces copper and alumina. There are porcelain, silk and footwear industries. Other industries process food, grapes and cotton from the surrounding farmlands.
The city has one of the largest textile conglomerates in Azerbaijan and is famous for a fabric named Ganja silk, which received the highest marks in the markets of neighboring countries and the Middle East.
People are mainly employed in manufacturing, education, transportation, service sectors and catering. Det.Al-Aluminium is the largest employer operating in Ganja, followed by Ganja Auto Plant and Ganja Winery Plant 2.
Traditional shops, modern shops and malls create a mixture of shopping opportunities in Ganja. Javad Khan Street is the traditional shopping street that is located in the old town. Constructed between 2014 and 2017,Ganja Mall is considered the city's largest mall. Other shopping centers include Khamsa Park, Taghiyev Mall and Aura Park.
Ganja is one of the famous tourist destinations in Azerbaijan with its historic buildings such as Nizami Mausoleum, Ancient gates, Juma Mosque, Imamzadeh, Tomb of Javad Khan, Chokak Hamam, Shah Abbas Caravanserai and Ugurlu Bay Caravanserai.
Other tourist and entertainment spots include Javad khan street, Triumphal Arch near Heydar Aliyev Center, the Bottle House, Flag square, Hajikend resort zone. Goygol National Park with the sceneries of lake Goygol, lake Maralgol, Mount Kapaz and Mount Murov are located near Ganja.
In 2016, Ganja was selected as the European Youth Capital by the final decision of international jury at the General Assembly of the European Youth Forum. Ganja became the first city to win the title of European Youth Capital among the former Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) and non-EU cities. It was an event with a budget of 5.7 million euros, projected to boost tourism by about one-fifth.
Some of the city landmarks include Gates of Ganja.
As of 2012, the city along with Baku and Lankaran participates in Earth Hour movement.
Ganja State History-Ethnography Museum is the oldest museum in the city, with over 30,000 artifacts. The city is also home to Nizami Ganjavi Museum, which was built in 2014. The museum contains a research section, a library, a conference room, and corners for guests and tourists' relaxation.
Other museums include Heydar Aliyev Museum, House Museum of Mir Jalal Pashayev, Memorial House-Museum of Nizami Ganjavi, Memorial-House Museum of İsrafil Mammadov, Ganja branch of Museum of Miniature Books, "Ganja Castle Gates – Archaeology and Ethnography Museum" monument complex, Cultural Center named after Mahsati Ganjavi, Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Mirza Shafi Vazeh.
Ganja State Art Gallery was established in April 1984 according to the decision of Council of Ministers of Azerbaijan SSR. The Gallery is headed by the carpet-artist Faig Osmanov.
Ganja is primarily known for its Azerbaijani and Islamic architecture, but its buildings reflect the various peoples and empires that have previously ruled the city. During the Ganja Khanate period, the Khans proceeded to make an indelible impression on the skyline of Ganja, building towering mosques and houses from red bricks.
Among the oldest surviving examples of Islamic architecture in Ganja are the Nizami Mausoleum and Shah Abbas Caravanserai, which assisted the Shahs during their siege of the city. The area around and inside the mosques, contains many fine examples of traditional architecture like Chokak Bath.
The Ganja State Philharmonic was established in August 1990 according to the decision of the Ministry of Culture of the Azerbaijan SSR. On 21 January 2012, president Ilham Aliyev laid the foundation of the Ganja State Philharmonic. The facility includes a 1,200 concert hall, an open-air cinema theatre, a drawing gallery, an urban center and an observation tower. The new building of the Philharmonic Hall was put into use in 2017. The Goygol State Song and Dance Ensemble, the Orchestra of Folk Instruments and the Ganja State Chamber Orchestra operate under the Ganja State Philharmonic.