The scenery on the drive between the Azerbaijan cities of Gabala and Sheki was spectacular: snow-capped mountains on the right-hand side and wide-open plains on the other. After 90 minutes, we stopped in the village of Kish to visit its Albanian church (this is Caucasian Albania, the Christian nation that once covered northern Azerbaijan, rather than the current Balkan’s Albania).
The church is set on high, and we left our minibus and transferred to a Soviet-era Lada for the drive up a long, cobbled narrow road. At the top, we had stunning views of the surrounding mountains and found beautiful gardens with colourful roses surrounding the immaculately restored, well maintained church.
We struggled to follow the church’s long and complicated history, dating back to 1AD, but we gleaned that these churches were always round in design.
Recent events were more interesting. Between 2000-2003, Norway financed a joint project with Azerbaijani scientists to study the church, and the historian Thor Heyerdahl began a tantalising theory that Scandinavian history could be traced back to the region now known as Azerbaijan. One of the reasons given is that the rock carvings of reed boats we’d seen in Gobustan earlier in our tour, closely resembled those in Norway.
In 2011, graves dating back to the middle ages had been found in nearby villages and the skeletons are now in the churchyard, below ground and covered with glass cupolas. The bodies were said to have been long (probably around 2.5m tall) with blonde hair and seemingly Scandinavian in appearance again strengthening the ideas of Thor.
The inside was small but packed with information in three languages about the links between Norway and Azerbaijan, and artefacts, including pottery, that had been recovered from the area.
It was lovely and peaceful as we virtually had the place to ourselves, and it was well worth the bone-shaking ride up and down the hillside.