Above Xinishli village, 2km west of Shamaxi’s bazaar along Rasulzade str, rises a distinctive hill. On top of which once stood Gulistan Castle, the 12th-century residence of the Shirvanshahs. Remnant stones are pretty minimal but views are sweeping.Gulustan Fortress, also known inaccurately as Qiz Qalasi (Maiden’s Tower), formerly enclosed the residence of the Shirvanshahs and later the Shamakha khans. The first recorded fortifications here wee the iron gates erected between 1043 and 1049 by Shirvanshah Gubad. Though many of the walls have collapsed and stones have been removd for house building. One can still sense the impregnability of the hilltop position. The views are lovely. Beneath the tallest remnant chunk of tower at the fortress’s western end is a small hole, the now blocked entrance to a tunnel which led to a subterranean labyrinth. Locals remember playing in these tunnels as children. One of the tunnels wa said to lead almost a kilometre down to the small ravine
where a stream cuts the castle hill from the neighbouring Pir Derekos mount.
The tunnel entrance at that end is still open though it takes a short but steep scramble to find it. With a torch you can crawl some 40m inside before claustrophobia and cave-ins block further progress.The easiest way to the top of the castle is by the fairly smooth track from near Xinishli village. It was in Xinishli that archaeologists found several important relics including the approximately life-size stone idol which stands cross-armed in Baku’s Historical Museum like a giant headless Oscar. Other interesting finds include grave jewellery that dates back to the 4th century BC and a more recent Kupe amphora containing the skeleton of an apparently murdered man whose skull had beeen punctured by a nail.The deep well-like hole on top of the castle hilltop was also the result of recent, albeit freelance excavations. As usual, locals believe that the diggers waltzed off with great caches of gold, though there’s absolutely no proof. The ‘other’ hill, directly across from Gulustan on the Shamakha side is considered holy in a way that is typical of the Azeri brand of animist-Islam. The hill ws topped by a Zoroastrian fire temple and ceremonial area 2000 years ago. Today there’s the small Pir Derekos hilltop mausoleum.