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Things to do in Baku

Azerbaijan’s capital, dubbed by Lonely Planet as “the architectural love child of Paris and Dubai”, is one of the fastest changing cities in the world.

Baku is famed for its medieval walled old city, which contains the Palace of the Shirvanshah’s, a vast royal complex, and the iconic stone Maiden Tower. Surrounding this historical old town are beautiful stone mansions and luxury boutiques. Baku is a perfect blend of old Shirvan-Absheron architecture and modern architecture.The blend of the old and new works effortlessly. Here is the list of things you can do in baku;

View the Flame Towers and enjoy the light show

Flame Towers is a triple skyscrapers and the symbol of Baku. The three towers are constructed in the shape of flames and visible from nearly everywhere in Baku. Since the towers are representing flames, all three towers are not of same height. The height of the tallest tower is 182 m. The different towers consist of residential apartments, a hotel tower and offices.

The major attraction is the light show every evening when the facades of all the three towers are illuminated with thousands of led in different colors and patterns, plain color strips, National flag, people carrying the national flag and the most fascinating is the lights resembling flames upon the buildings.

Flame Towers
Flame Towers

The best place to watch is from Upland Park, from carpet museum and anywhere from the boulevard. Flame Towers act as a perfect representation of the country’s history and culture.

Visit the Upland Park

It’s the highest point in Baku where you can see the panoramic view of the city landmarks and an amazing view of Caspian Sea. The Upland Park can be reached by cable railway (funicular) from the boulevard or by climbing up the stairs next to funicular station.

But it would be better to enter the park right from the top – from the square, which houses the country’s parliament, alley of martyrs, and the Flame Towers. This place can be reached by both public transport and taxis. There is a mosque at the entrance. The whole area is clean and green.

Shahid`s Alley is on the slope of the upland park. The primary purpose of the Martyrs alley is to commemorate those who died in conflict, especially the Nagorno-Karabakh wars and the victims of Black January 1990.

Martyrs alley
Martyrs alley

On the lowest alley there were buried the soldiers and upper alley there were buried the officers who died in action during the Nagorno Karabah War in 1992. All alleys converge at the Eternal Flame of the Upland Park. This park is also known as Dağüstü Park.

Amazing view of Flame Towers is also available from this place. There is quite picturesque way down parallel to funicular rails. The stairs are all lighted up in night

Stairs to upland park
Stairs to upland park

Explore the Icheri Sheher 

Icheri Sheher or inner city is the historical core of Baku. Ancient Baku was founded where Icheri Sheher is today, on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Balconies of old houses
Balconies of old houses

Three sides of the Icheri Sheher are surrounded by a thick fortress wall, with one side open to the Caspian Sea. Originally, there were two fortress walls to protect Baku, plus a wall between the sea and the city, though the outer wall has since been destroyed, and even the inner wall has fallen away in some parts. The cobblestone streets inside the walled city are narrow and winding. Most of the buildings looks similar in color and made up of limestone.

Icheri Sheher
Icheri Sheher

For many centuries, Baku did not extend beyond Icheri Sheher and it was completely surrounded by two thick fortress walls. Baku held a strategic position on the trade routes between Iran and Russia, and the Silk Road brought wealth and riches to the region, allowing rulers to build public buildings like bathhouses and mosques, and caravanserai’s to house these travelers.

Icheri Sheher walls
Icheri Sheher walls

The old city along with Maiden Tower and the Shirvanshahs’ Palace is part of UNESCO’s world heritage listing.

Visit the Palace Of The Shirvanshah’s

Shirvanhahs’ Palace, which was built in 15th century by the Shirvanshah kingdom, holds an important place in Azerbaijani history. It is described by UNESCO as “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture”. It is located in the Inner City of Baku (Icharishahar) .

Shirvanshah's palace
Shirvanshah’s palace, Image © : Diego Delso [https://creativecommons.org]

Shirvanshahs literally means “the kings of Shirvan”. Shirvan was the main territory which now occupies modern day Azerbaijan and the first capital’s name of the kingdom. The Shirvanshahs ruled the area now known as Azerbaijan for almost 700 years. Around 12th century they moved their capital from Shamakhi to Baku. During this time they build the defensive fortress walls around the city and the Shirvanshah Palace.

The Palace was not built once, but were built at different times. A new buildings was added up when there was requirement. Shirvanhahs’ Palace comprises of a palace building, two mosques, mausoleum of the king Khalilullah buried with his mother and sons, bath house (“hamam”), east gate (Murad’s Gate), stone friezes and Sufi philosopher and scientist Sayid Yahya Bakuvi’s mausoleum.

Tomb burial vault, Shirvanshah's palace
Tomb burial vault, Shirvanshah’s palace

Shirvanhahs’ Palace, along with the Maiden Tower and the Old City, is bunched together in Baku’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Climb the Maiden Tower (Giz Galasy)

Maiden Tower (“Gyz Galasy”) which is situated in the Old Town facing City Boulevard and the Caspian Sea, is one of the most recognized landmark and symbol of Baku. This is a unique 8-floor structure (97 Ft High) with majestic 4-5 meter thick walls built on a rocky promontory which functions as a museum.  Museum is contained within the levels of the tower. It is believed that the tower was completed in the 12th century as part of the walled city of Baku. It is one of Azerbaijan’s most distinctive national emblems, and is thus featured on Azeri currency notes.

Maiden Tower
Maiden Tower

No one is entirely sure about the original purpose of the tower or when it was built. It could possibly be a temple of Zoroastrism, as the tower is built in “buta” shape which resembles an image of fire. In 12th century it was used as a fortress of Shirvanshah’s for defensive causes.

Locals call the Maiden Tower as “Giz Galasi”. The name Giz Galasi is better translated as “Virgin Tower”. There are various mysteries legends and local folklore related to Baku Maiden Tower. The most famous of these tales tells the story of a king’s daughter who took her own life by jumping off the top of the tower to escape from a marriage of strategic convenience. According to the legend, this is how the tower acquired its name. Another reason for calling “Virgin Tower” may be due to its military impenetrability.

The Maiden Tower along with Old City and the Shirvanshahs’ Palace is part of UNESCO’s world heritage listing.

See the collection of tiny books at Miniature Book Museum

The Baku Museum of Miniature Books is the only museum of miniature books in the world. The Miniature Book Museum was opened in 2002 by Zarifa Saahova. She opened the museum in hopes to inspire young generations to read more. Her collection consists of more than 6500 books from 64 different countries. The museum holds thousands of miniature-sized books, broadly classified into macro-mini, miniature, micro-mini and ultra-mini micro.

 Miniature Book Museum
Miniature Book Museum

The museum consists of 15 sections based on the different regions of the world. The collection is available in many languages, including Russian, Azeri, German and English. The collection also includes religious books from around the world.

Miniature books
Miniature books

The oldest book in the museum is a copy of the Quran, which was published in Saudi Arabia in 1672, while the smallest book (6mm x 9mm) is the Russian book “The Most Miraculous Thing,” which can only be read by using a magnifying glass.

In 2015 the Museum of Miniature Books was presented the Certificate of the Guinness Book of Records as the largest private museum of miniature books.

Visit the architectural wonder Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center

Heydar Aliyev Center is the most recognized architectural landmarks of modern Baku and is recognized worldwide for its unique architecture. The building was designed by Zaha Hadid. The building won the London Design Museum award in 2014.

Haider Aliyev Center
Haider Aliyev Center

The building is designed with the theme of fluidity. The overall shape of the building resembles a wave-like ascension from the ground towards the sky followed by gradual descent down to the earth. The building’s shape is an eternal cycle, connecting the past with the present. Continuity and fluidity are the features that have also driven the design of the interiors making a harmonious link between the exterior and the interior.  Extending on eight floor levels, the center accommodates a 1000-seat auditorium, temporary exhibition spaces, a conference center, workshops, and a museum.

Inside there are seven different museum expositions (history of Azerbaijan, music, models of the most important buildings in Baku), art works, painting as well as a museum of old cars.

Take an evening walk at City Boulevard

Baku Boulevard (also known as National Park) is approximately 3.5 km long stretch along with Caspian Sea which starts from Freedom Square continuing west to the Old City and ends at National Flag square. Baku Boulevard is a tree-shaded promenade park that’s ideal for sea views at any point, has boat rides, tea houses, restaurants, a carpet museum, fountains, rare trees and even a ‘little Venice’ lagoon complete with gondolas.

Baku Boulevard
Baku Boulevard

Sea side sitting and walking area is very clean. The whole stretch is excellent and spacious for people to relax, walk and children to play. The best time to go here is at evenings as you’ll not only get the fresh breeze coming from the sea, but also observe the beautiful Baku city lights and lightings of flame tower from any location along the boulevard.

Garden and play area at Baku Boulevard
Garden and play area at Baku Boulevard

Stroll the Nizami Street

Named after former Azerbaijani poet, Nizami Ganjavi, the 3.5 kilometer street is one of the most famous shopping streets in Baku. The pedestrian only segment begins at the Fountain Square and ends at the Rashid Bedhudov Street which is around 0.5 KM. While shopping is the main activity on Nizami Street, the architecture is also a huge draw. The buildings feature a number of different architectural styles which changes from the baroque, neo-gothic and neo-renaissance facades.

Nizami street
Nizami street

Through Nizami Street is fascinating and exciting during the day, but do make a point to come back for a night time stroll. The area is brilliantly illuminated & decorated by lights.

Nizami street shops
Nizami shopping street

Hangout at the Fountain Square

The name of the fountain square derives from the presence of dozens of fountains throughout the square. This square is pedestrian only and the area stretching from Nizami Street to the eastern walls of Icheri Sheher. The square is a public gathering place, especially after business hours and during the weekend. It is an attractive tourist destination with many boutiques, restaurants, shops, hotels, children play area with small rides and is one of the must-see Baku attractions.

Fountain Square
Fountain Square

Explore inside Carpet Museum

Carpet weaving in Azerbaijan appeared a long time ago, it is the oldest type of applied art in the region. Due to importance of carpet weaving in Azerbaijan history and carpet culture in everyday life, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum was established in 1967. The museum first opened in a former mosque in Ichari Shahar known as the Juma Mosque. It was the first specialized museum of carpets in the world.

Carpet Museum
Carpet Museum

In 2014, the museum got a new building, which itself is in the shape of a rolled carpet. Located by the seafront, this building is eye catching and photogenic. There are seven carpet producing regions in Azerbaijan with their own weaving technology, materials and all are represented in this museum. The museum function not only as an exhibition center but also as a center for research in the field of carpet weaving.

Visit the National Flag Square

National Flag Square (Azerbaijani: Dövlәt Bayrağı Meydanı) marks the western end of Baku Boulevard. Officially opened in 2010, the square is a symbol of national pride. A giant flag measuring 70 by 35 meters flies on this pole. At 162 meters-high it was the tallest unsupported flag pole according to the Guinness Book of Records until the record was broken by Tajikistan.

National Flag Square
National Flag Square, Image © : Genyo01 [https://creativecommons.org]

You can also find the National Flag Museum at the same location. The museum features flags and emblems of states and khanates which existed in the territory of Azerbaijan, constitutions of Azerbaijan adopted in past years, postal stamps, banknotes, orders, medals, the flags kissed at inauguration ceremonies by national leader Heydar Aliyev and President Ilham Aliyev, the flag of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and ceremonial costumes.

View the iconic Baku Crystal Hall

Baku Crystal Hall is a multi-functional indoor venue arena located on the coast of Baku near National Flag square. It was built to host the finals of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. Its name comes from the diamond faceted exterior which is inlaid with arrays of dynamic LED lights that create a series of unique lighting effects at night.

Baku Crystal Hall
Baku Crystal Hall

Visit the History Museum

Established in 1920 The National Museum of History of Azerbaijan is the largest museum in Azerbaijan. It was once the family mansion of Azerbaijani oil magnate Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev. The building now serves as historical museum and it will take you to the main historical periods up to the recent history of Azerbaijan.

History Museum of Azerbaijan
History Museum of Azerbaijan

Visit the National museum of Azerbaijan literature

The National museum of Azerbaijan literature was established in 1939 and named after a 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. It is located next to the Fountains Square and near the entrance of Icheri Sheher. This museum is one of the greatest and richest treasuries of Azerbaijani culture.

National museum of Azerbaijan literature
National museum of Azerbaijan literature

The museum features an elegant façade with six pointed arches above six sculptures of poets and writers. Each major poet has a hall inside the museum, displaying memories, sculptures, portraits, and other regalia. This three story building housing over 3,000 manuscripts, rare books, illustrations and miniatures.

Visit the Heydar Mosque

One of the grand architectural projects of recent times in Baku is the Mosque of Heydar Aliyev with four minarets, construction of which was completed in 2014. The mosque is built in the architectural style of Shirvan-Absheron and this is the biggest mosque in Azerbaijan. The facade of the mosque is made of stone and interior decoration is made of marble and wood. At night the mosque is beautifully illuminated. This mosque lies on the outskirts of Baku but easily accessible by bus or metro.

Haider mosque
Haider mosque

Visit the Taza Pir Mosque

The Taza Pir Mosque was the first religious building that white stone was used in its construction in Baku city at that time. It has a large worship hall, gold plated minarets and the minarets and dome made of marble.  Three years after opening, the mosque was closed in connection with the 1917 October Revolution. Bolshevik-ruled Baku turned the mosque into a cinema and later a barn. It started functioning as a mosque again since 1943.

Taza pir Mosque
Taza pir Mosque, Image © : Sefer azeri [https://creativecommons.org]

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