In his book “Azerbaijan since Independence”, Svante E. Cornell writes: “If Azerbaijan had to be defined by a single word, that word would have to be “crossroads” – an observation made by the greatest historian of Azerbaijan, Tadeusz Swietochowski. …Azerbaijan is both European and Asian at the same time.
Azerbaijan’s importance is much greater than its small [territorial] size.” The fatherland of Heydar Aliyev plays indeed a fundamental role in preserving Islamic Culture and Architecture, it is a cradle of civilization, home of Gülüstan Monument, Noah’s Mausoleum and of Momine Khatun Mausoleum; in the same vein the ‘Land of Fire’ has become a special place where visitors appreciate unique urban developments, natural beauty and impressive hospitality in Azerbaijan’s oldest cities, national parks, carpet museums while tasting some of the traditional wine of Kurdamir and the creamy goat cheese of Jalilabad. While sitting in front of the statue of Sabir in Baku, a highly courageous XIX century Azerbaijani poet whose wit and wisdom reflects the acclaimed patriotic movements and hardships of the Azerbaijani people; for me it is impossible not to write about some of the historic landmarks, cities and districts that reflect a deeply rooted multiculturalism environment and impeccable Architecture in the Azerbaijani society. The beautiful mountainous landscapes of the Caucasus, impressive cultural heritage, and unique Islamic Cultural sites are the highlight on every major city and district of Azerbaijan, some of them are: Kurdamir District, Ganja City (the birthplace of Meskheti Ganjavi), Lankaran City, Lerik District, the City of Gazakh, Jalilabad District and Salyan District.
The historic city of Ganja is the second largest urban metropolis of Azerbaijan; it is the capital of poetry and lyrics in Eurasia. Ganja is the birthplace of Nizami Ganjavi (the icon of Azerbaijani multiculturalism and religious tolerance); Meskheti Ganjavi (the most important lyrical poet of antiquity); Hasan Mashadi Huseyn oghlu Aghayev (the Deputy Speaker of National Assembly of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic) and Nigar Khudadat qizi Rafibeyli (a distinguished Azerbaijani writer and the former Chairwoman of Azerbaijan’s Writers Union). The city is also an important financial hub where Its International Bank was chosen by Euro Money Magazine as one of the best institution of banking services among the Central Asian Countries.
Ahmed Razi, a XV century Persian geographer would write the following about Ganja: “I have not seen a place such as Ganja anywhere else in the world. It has always a fresh look and an attractive musky scent. Its water is rosewater and its land is equal to saffron.” The advent of Islam and its powerful influence in the architecture, visual arts and literature have made Ganja a special town, a genuine tourist destination, where the Sasanian Empire of Iran and Eastern Mediterranean World have concocted with Islamic Culture certain salient historic and architectural landscapes that were inspired by the predominant faith in the region. Moreover, the architecture environment of Ganja, shaped by religious and contemporary monuments; the Juma Mosque of Ganja, Six Large Ancient Gates of Ganja, Ganja Regional Scientific Center, Ganja Central Mosque paired with the striking natural beauty of Goygol Lake, perhaps would be the perfect setting for Isabel Allende’s forthcoming story to be dedicated to Azerbaijani culture and women, as a well known outspoken advocate who pays tribute to the sacrifices of women, intertwining mythology and realism on her novels.
Tourists will find comfortable accommodations at the Ganja Hotel, one of the oldest destinations in the city. This hotel is equipped with forty five comfortable rooms including: two VIP rooms, seven suites, five premium and 60 standard rooms. The hotel has a top level restaurant were special European and National cuisine have earned an international reputation.
The Kurdamir District, founded in 1930, has an extensive territory of steppes where a diverse animal habitat includes: wolves, foxes, jackals, pheasants, ducks and geese. The word ‘Kurdamir’ means “Kur” (in reference to Kura River) and “Damir” (Iron), this is a region (known in the earliest times as Shirvan Province) with deep historical roots of Azerbaijan (189 km north-west from Baku). Kurdamir has a majestic and a fertile soil; it has been a very attractive site for visitors with an emphasis on tourism of adventure. Summer in Kurdamir is hot and dry, it has a steppes’ climate, while it is located at the left banks of the Kur River. It is worth mentioning that the Vineyards of Kurdamir are very famous, many British travelers have reflected their best impressions about this part of Azerbaijan, it’s most famous grape vine is “Shirvanshahly”. Moreover, Kurdamir has earned a great reputation with its centuries’ old tradition of carpet-weaving, making “Shilyan” the most popular carpet in the world; that is woven in the village of Shilyan. Delicious Cuisine on its restaurants and impressive hospitality among its people; makes Kurdamir a cherished city of the Caucasus. Some of the most traditional plates are served at the “Garabag” Restaurant, only 5 km west of the city center.
Passing the Kura River banks, the visitor’s eyes will be enlivened by the beautiful landscape of Naftalan, with a worldwide reputation for its oil based medical treatments that have been carried out since the 1920s. More than two thousand research papers and books have proved the effectiveness of Naftalan’s natural resources of healing and treatment of many diseases.
According to Archaeological sources the city has been a major commercial center in the XI Century AD. Marco Polo has visited Naftalan while its oil has garnered a special reputation from the Near East all the way to China and India, traded by caravansaries to many regions of Eurasia. In the early 1900s a German company was established to export Naftalan’s oil to Europe. Further Research on the oil of Naftalan is currently taking place at the Azerbaijan Medical University and the National Arthritis Center. Today, the number of hotels and resorts in this region has grown thanks to the dynamic tourism policy that is implemented by the Government of Azerbaijan.
The City of Gazakh is a special place where visitors will appreciate listening to traditional Azerbaijani songs. Only a few years ago Gazakh was established as the capital city of Azerbaijani Folklore. The City of Gazakh was founded in the VIII Century by a Military Commander Marvan ibn Mahammad. According to G. Voroshityasel, an investigator of ancient Azerbaijani language, “Gazakh is a very old town. Documents written in the IX – X centuries make reference to Gazakh that the city had existed 1,270 years ago.” In late XV Century, Gazakh Sultanate was established and it included Garabag beylerbeyi, under the rule of the Safavid Dinasty.
The District of Gazakh is also known for its carpets; they are absolutely beautiful and certainly decorate the royal palaces of Norway and Denmark.
The designs and patters of these carpets are included in the paintings of famous Italian renaissance artists, including: Pinturicchio, Carlo Crivelli and Domenico di Bartolo and in the works of Dutch painter Jan van Eyk. The carpets of Gazakh are exhibited in major museums around the world, the Hermitage, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the Berlin Museum of Art, the Budapest Museum of Decorative Arts and many others.
While going further south the nature becomes brighter and more colorful; the steppes of Salyan District have many interesting attractions. The district is home to the Shirvan National Park which is inhabited by 20,000 gazelles and many other rare mammals. Next along the way is Bilasuvar with its ancient fortress of Shahriyar. Moreover, the district of Jalilabad, is very famous for its organic cheeses and wines. The district of Masally has an abounding land with springs of fresh and healing waters. The well-known resort Istisu (“hot water”) will persuade international visitors to fall in love with Masally District of Azerbaijan. Not far from here is Lankaran, Azerbaijan’s “fruit capital”. Special climate conditions provide to the locals the opportunity to grow subtropical crops such as tangerines, persimmons, pineapples, guavas and lemons. In Lankaran District there are also located the famous plantations of tea that have no difference in quality and flavor from classical Indian or British brands. Lankaran lands were part of the ancient Atropatena, the surroundings of Lankaran are ideal for those who want to go back in time, as it is the only place in the world, where tourists will visit forests that have taken shape thirteen million years ago. Nearby Lankaran there are many natural attractions: Yanar – Bulag (Burning Water), Yanardag (Burning Mountain) and Lake Vilash. The fantastic iron trees, chestnut oaks, the Caucasian hornbeams, alders, figs, boxwoods, ferns – make this district a special place where more than a thousand species of unique plants have been growing for centuries.
Lerik District, a land of centenarians, is located only 40 km from Lankaran. It is home to fifty people who have crossed the century old age. Scientists explain this phenomenon by unique conditions provided by the Caucasian highlands. As a matter of fact, in Lerik there is also a museum of those who lived for over a hundred years, where the guides will mention the local shepherd Shirali Muslumov who lived for 168 years.
Each cultural and natural domain in these districts of Azerbaijan represents unique pictorial languages, cultural peculiarities and architectural masterpieces. In Azerbaijan, tourists will experience a reflection of a wealth of literary works including those of Nizami Ganjavi, Hafiz and Sa’di, who have provided a tremendous pictorial expression of Azerbaijan multiculturalism in their verses and harnessed a continuously refined Islamic culture that is vivid until today from the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan) to Absheron District.
Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study
Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study, an exhibition designed by New York-based firm OLI Architecture, has opened in the Palace Museum. Located in the center of the 72-hectare complex in the Forbidden City, built in the fifteenth century, the museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts, calligraphy, paintings, and porcelain. Working closely with curators at The Palace Museum, OLI Architecture has created a space that brings together art and objects spanning from antiquity to contemporary art within the historical architecture.
Housed in the Meridian Gate Galleries, Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth centers on the evolving role of the scholar throughout Chinese history, exploring the relationship to the court, to other scholars, the natural world, and the universe. The exhibition brings together 105 works ranging from antiquities to contemporary art, including books, scrolls, vases, sculptures, paintings, screens, cups, and seals. Alongside the art, the displays also include materials such as brushes, ink, and paper ranging from the 6th to the 21stt centuries. The three gallery wings are divided into three chapters: “Chapter One: Sanctuary of Literature and Music,” “Chapter Two: A Channel for Enlightenment,” and “Chapter Three: A Bond of Companionship.” These chapters deal respectively with the themes of a spiritual haven; self-cultivation and the bond between humanity and nature; and the appreciation of the finitude of life against the infinity of the universe.
The exhibition encourages a dialogue between heritage objects and modern artworks. For instance, an eighteenth-century plaque bearing the words ‘Chamber of the Five Classics’ in the Qianlong Emperor’s hand, that typically hangs in the hall that served as the imperial study, is prominently displayed at the beginning of the exhibition. The Five Classics include some of the oldest surviving Chinese texts and are the central works of Confucianism.
Contemporary artists represented include:
- Liu Dan (b. 1953) an ink painter trained in traditional style ink painting, he lives and works in Beijing, China.
- Xu Bing (b. 1955) is a multimedia artist known for his calligraphy and printmaking, who divides his time between New York City and Beijing.
- Xu Lei (b. 1963) an ink painter heavily involved in China’s 1980’s New Wave movement who currently serves as the Art Director of Beijing’s Today Art Museum.
- Bai Ming (b. 1965) a ceramicist and painter who teaches at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Young Ho Chang (b. 1956) an award-winning architect and researcher who is currently a professor of architecture at MIT. Hiroshi Okamoto, Founding Partner of OLI Architecture, remarks, “Our office often works with contemporary art and artists. It was a challenge to design this remarkable exhibition with pieces from famous contemporary artists paired with such rare and prominent antiquities. When we started the project the idea of the scroll and the ephemerality of paper became a central concept. Where the art and antiquities were displayed on a transparent softly glowing surface which flowed from the vertical to the horizontal at the datum of a scholar’s table height giving the viewer an intimate experience.”
World Economic Forum Announces 2023 Crystal Award Winners
Artist Maya Lin, acclaimed soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming and actors and humanitarians Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba are the recipients of the 29th Annual Crystal Award, the World Economic Forum announced today. The winners will be honoured at the opening session of the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on the evening of Monday, 16 January. The award celebrates the achievements of leading artists who are bridge-builders and role models for all leaders of society.
The Crystal Award is presented at Davos each year by Hilde Schwab, Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the World Economic Forum’s World Arts Forum. The cultural leaders receiving the 2023 Crystal Award are bridge-builders. They connect us to each other; they help us reflect on the human condition and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking.
Maya Lin receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her extraordinary creative talent in combining science, art and architecture and her exemplary leadership in the promotion of nature and environment. Lin has fashioned a remarkable interdisciplinary career through her highly acclaimed art and architectural works, showcasing sustainable design and emphasizing a stronger connection to the land and nature.
From her first public work, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., Lin has been committed to focusing attention on the key issues of our time: women’s rights, civil rights, Native American history and the climate crisis. In 2016, on awarding Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Barack Obama said her Vietnam Veterans Memorial “changed the way we think about sacrifice and patriotism and ourselves”.
Lin’s latest memorial, What is Missing?, is experimental and multidisciplinary in nature. In this work, Lin uses science-based artworks to raise awareness of the current mass extinctions of species, while emphasizing that by protecting and restoring habitats and reforming our land-use practices we could significantly reduce emissions and restore and protect biodiversity
Renée Fleming receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her leadership in championing the power of music and its relation to health, community and culture.
Renée Fleming is one of the most acclaimed sopranos of our time and a leading advocate for research at the intersection of arts, health and neuroscience. She launched the first ongoing collaboration between the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. It also led the NIH to recently award $20 million in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years. The Renée Fleming Foundation is now partnering with the Foundation for the NIH to develop a toolkit for standardizing music and health clinical research for brain disorders of ageing. Fleming has presented her programme, Music and the Mind, around the world.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba receive the 2023 Crystal Award for their leadership in addressing food security, climate change and environmental conservation.
Actor, filmmaker and humanitarian, Idris Elba, and his wife, the model, actress and humanitarian, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, were appointed UN Goodwill Ambassadors for IFAD in April 2020. As IFAD Goodwill Ambassadors, they focus on issues related to food security, climate change and environmental conservation. The couple recently visited an IFAD-supported project in Sierra Leone, where they met farmers who received support for rice production and assistance with rural finance after the Ebola crisis.
The late Queen Elizabeth II awarded Idris Elba with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2016 and the Prince’s Trust, founded by King Charles in 1976 – which Elba credits with helping to start his career – appointed him as its anti-crime ambassador in 2009
Elba supports causes related to poverty, HIV/AIDS, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, health and education. He worked with the UN and the Department for International Development in the UK during the Ebola health crisis and filmed campaigns in support of UNICEF, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. He has recently created a number of youth-focused campaigns to promote education and learning and discourage violence.
Sabrina Dhowre Elba works with a variety of civil society organizations, including Farm Africa, raising funds to help farmers across eastern Africa, and Conservation International on environmental issues. She promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. She chairs the European board for Global Citizen and has been a keynote speaker at leading global events.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elbaare board members of Conservation International.
Crystal awardees are part of a large community of cultural leaders in Davos.
Growing demand for oriental cuisine in India
Recent years have witnessed the mushrooming of oriental restaurants serving ‘authentic’ Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian and of late Vietnamese cuisine (in certain instances it is not so authentic!). It is not just expats or members of the diplomatic community of these countries residing in India, but even the Indian consumer, in not just metro cities but even tier 2 cities, who is always up for some lip-smacking cuisine from East and South-East Asia.
In metropolitan cities – especially Mumbai, the National Capital Region (NCR) region and Bengaluru — apart from several other cities, it is true that several Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai restaurants serve East Asian and South-East Asian cuisine of a high quality, which is truly authentic.
It would be pertinent to point out, that for long restaurants located in five-star hotels were the preferred choice for consumers willing to spend on some authentic oriental cuisine. That is no longer the case with a number of stand-alone restaurants (some in the fine dining category) mushrooming in recent years in not just metropolitan cities, but tier two cities as well.
If one were to look at Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian stand-alone restaurants in India, there is certainly scope for more authenticity. It is also important, for restaurants specializing in one oriental cuisine, to focus on one cuisine – while a few popular dishes from other cuisines are perfectly acceptable – a mish mash of dishes from across the orient while specializing in one cuisine is not advantageous.
There is no doubt, that it is important to cater to Indian taste buds, it is also important to bear in mind, that a lot of Indian consumers who have travelled and have a good knowledge of different cuisines are looking for authentic cuisine.
A number of oriental restaurants, which claim to serve authentic oriental food and specialize in one particular oriental cuisine end up serving a mish-mash of different Asian cuisines. While there is nothing wrong in the same, it is important then to position yourself as a restaurant which serves a blend of dishes from across the orient. It would be pertinent to point out, that as far as Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean cuisine is concerned, the Indian consumer – especially in metropolitan cities – has numerous choices.
Here it would also be important to mention that many oriental restaurants have managed to strike a balance by catering to local palette, while also ensuring a degree of authenticity and providing a mix of dishes from the orient at a reasonable price. It is also important for stand-alone fine dining restaurants to realize, that if they are excessively over-priced, they will lose their competitiveness if there are other options available to the consumer.
In conclusion, there is a growing demand for East Asian and South-East Asian cuisine in India. As mentioned earlier, it is not just expats or members of the diplomatic community, but a large number of Indians who are well travelled who are willing to spend on good oriental cuisine. It is important however for restaurateurs and chefs to remain in sync with changing trends in the market, and to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market.
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