Despite a certain Soviet grandeur, the main touristic reason to come to Azerbaijan’s pleasant second city is as a staging post for Xanlar and Göy Göl. Today Gəncə lags very considerably behind the capital in almost all senses. Yet, as it self-indulgently celebrated in 2006, the city has 25 centuries of history behind it and was formerly a much more important cultural centre than Baku.
Most proudly it was home to the national bard Nizami Gəncəvi (1141–1209). However it was levelled by earthquakes and razed by the Mongols in 1231. It rebounded somewhat as capital of one of Azerbaijan’s many independent khanates in the late 18th century, before falling into the Russian orbit from 1804. Thereafter, the whole city shifted its centre of gravity to coalesce around the Russian fortress-town of Elizavetpol. From a building that is now the city’s agricultural institute, the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was declared in 1918 and Gəncə served for a few months as the short-lived republic’s first capital, until Baku was recaptured from the Bolsheviks.