A Journey Through Time in Baku’s Historic Inner City – Discovering Over 2,500 Years of Architecture, Culture and History Within Baku’s Ancient Walled City

  The inner city of Baku is sometimes called the old city and the old city, which are used to distinguish the outer city and the new city of Baku, and it makes sense to distinguish them in terms of space and age. Of course, from a defensive point of view, it can also be called the Acropolis, which is quite European.
  The inner city is the birthplace of Baku, from where the “Pearl of the Caspian Sea” Baku grew. From the 2,500-year-old Zoroastrian altar to the busy small market town of Baku Bay, slowly but surely. In the 12th century, the Persian Shirvan Dynasty built a city wall in the inner city of Baku, which became an impregnable castle. After that, mosques and caravan stations also began to take root. The Baku movement seems to be about to start its climax. But in the 16th century, it was looted by the Iranian Safavid dynasty. In the 19th century, the army of Tsarist Russia also followed suit. The inner city of Baku has experienced too many hardships. Until 1828, Baku, a city destined to be underestimated in the future, has been curled up in a small inner city space of less than 0.22 square kilometers. In the long history of more than 2,000 years, Baku is like a maemi, waiting for too long in the underground soil. However, this inner city is also like a time capsule: from the Maiden’s Tower of Persian civilization to the mosque of Islamic culture, the Shirvan Palace, from the camel caravan station during the Silk Road period to the European-style buildings in the oil boom era, they seem to be Travel through a long time, meet and freeze here.
  Today, there are 1,500 families living in the inner city. European-style residences, museums, restaurants, galleries, antiques and souvenir shops are scattered on the streets and corners without a trace, just like a girl from ancient times, with fashion and Exquisite scarves make the inner city more charming. The 50,000 tourists every day wash every bluestone on the road like an indefatigable tide. Walking through the streets and alleys of the inner city, you can understand the Silk Road, the advancement and retreat and integration of civilizations in West Asia, the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Baku landmark – the mysterious Maiden Tower

  The Maiden Tower is located in the southeast corner of the inner city. It was included in the World Cultural Heritage List by UNESCO in 2000 and is made of limestone. The base of the tower is built on a boulder, the tower is 28 meters high, and the interior space has 7 floors. From the Maiden Tower, you can see the whole picture of Oil Workers Street, Baku Bay and the inner city of Baku.
  Around the age, shape and use of this tower, various materials have different opinions, and even contradict each other, leaving many mysteries. Some archaeologists compared the color of the Maiden’s Tower with the Apsheron limestone on the Mohammed Ib Abu Bakr Mosque built in 1078-1079, and inferred the most conservative date for the Maiden’s Tower, that is, the 12th century AD. Apsheron limestone is also called seabed stone. The shells and sea sand deposited on the bottom of the Caspian Sea are slowly pressed into sedimentary rock by years and the pressure of seawater. As time goes by, it will gradually change from white and light yellow to dark at first. color. In the absence of written records, archaeologists often compare the colors of the limestone on the buildings to roughly date the monuments. However, judging by the color itself is still not convincing. Some archaeologists have discovered that lime mortar was used in the masonry process of the base of the Maiden’s Tower, and the process of using this lime mortar was found in buildings in the 4th century BC, so the earliest date of the tower is estimated to be the 4th century BC. However, the exact date when the Maiden Tower was built has always been a mystery.
  If the long-winded hypotheses and inferences are omitted, according to the latest official information in Azerbaijan, in the 4th century BC, the Maiden Tower was a fire temple of Zoroastrianism, and the remains of Zoroastrians were buried on the top of the tower; in the 12th century, the inner city of Baku became Shirvan The most important castle under Shah’s rule, the Maiden’s Tower was included in the Baku city defense system and was the main support point of Baku Fort at that time; in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Maiden’s Tower was also used as a lighthouse to guide the direction of ships entering the port of Baku; 1964 In 1999, the Maiden Tower became a museum open to the public until today.
  There are solid buttresses around the tower of the Maiden Tower. Looking down from the air, the Maiden Tower looks like a medieval key. There is an explanation that, on the one hand, it is used as a breakwater. Historically, the Caspian Sea water once overflowed the lower part of the Maiden Tower, and the buttresses resisted the impact of sea water; on the other hand, Baku is located on the earthquake zone, and the Maiden Tower benefited from the buttresses Supported and reinforced, it successfully resisted several major earthquakes that occurred in the 14th century and 2000.
  There are many legends about Maiden Tower. One of the versions is: In ancient Baku lived a very rich king, who specially built a huge castle by the sea for his only daughter. But the girl didn’t like it, she liked a poor man, and the king insisted on marrying her to the son of a rich merchant, not listening to his daughter’s entreaty. On the eve of the wedding, the daughter jumped into the sea from the tower with her loyalty to love. Since then, the tower has been called Maiden’s Tower.
  Such legends are often the favorite plots of artists and poets. In 1923, Zafar, the most famous playwright in Azerbaijan, wrote the long poem “Maiden’s Tower”, after which ballet scripts and Soviet films based on this poem were born.
  In the endless debates of future generations, the ancient maiden tower is like a young Persian woman in a black robe and a veil, silent. Her secrets will not be told to outsiders, only the mottled tower body, leaving traces of the years, proves her strength.
Symphony in Stone – Shirvan Palace

  The Shirvan Kingdom was established in the 9th century, and its ruling area is the central and southern parts of Azerbaijan. At the end of the 8th century, the Arab Empire enshrined the noble Shaibani as the lord. In 861, Shirvan declared independence. It lasted for nearly 700 years until it was destroyed by the Persian Safavid Dynasty in 1538.
  Known as a symphony in stone, the Shirvan palace complex is beautifully spread out over the inner city’s tallest hill. The entire building complex is divided into three parts according to the ups and downs of the terrain. The highest level is the Shirvan Palace and Kiwanhana, the middle level is the Said Mausoleum, and the third level is the royal mausoleum and mosque. Huge domes, minarets, unparalleled fine reliefs and magnificent masonry structures make Shirvan Palace the most outstanding representative of the Absheron school of Azerbaijani architecture.
  Shirvan Palace is considered to be the earliest building in the complex. The palace is a two-story structure connected by three spiral-shaped narrow stairs. The entrance to the palace gate is a small hall, and in the middle is a well-carved ventilation shaft between the first and second floors. Climbing up the steps from the left side of the hall, you will arrive at the main hall of the palace, where the former kings met and entertained guests with banquets. Passing through the hall and walking all the way in a clockwise direction is the king’s study and harem. There are 16 rooms on the second floor. The 27 rooms on the lower floor are servant rooms and warehouses, which are not yet open.
  The name of the builder of the Royal Mausoleum was discovered by accident: during maintenance in 1945, a female worker whose hair was a little messed up took out a mirror, and at the entrance behind her, there were two cashew patterns (flame decorations) that happened to be at the height of the mirror It was even, and in an instant she read the handwriting written backwards, and the designer’s name was hidden on the ornamentation-Maymar Muhammad Ali.

  Maimar left, leaving behind his masterpiece. He was unwilling to be forgotten by the world. After 500 years, his name became known to the world. It was due to cunning and fate, but how many people were buried in the long river of history.
The city defense system of the inner city – Abbas Shah Gate

  The northern wall of the inner city of Baku has the Abbas Shah Gate, also known as the Double Gate, which is made up of two side-by-side arches. The logo of the Shirvan Dynasty is engraved above the arch: two lions, a bull’s head in the middle, and a small circle on each side of the bull’s head. The bull’s head represents wealth, the lion represents bravery and protection, and the two small circles represent the sun and the moon.

Maiden’s Tower is located in the southeast corner of the inner city. The base of the tower is built on a boulder. The tower is 28 meters high and has a total of 7 floors. From the Maiden Tower, you can see the whole picture of Oil Workers Street, Baku Bay and the inner city of Baku.

Above the arches of the city walls of Baku are the emblems of the Shirvan dynasty: two lions, a bull’s head in the middle, and two small circles on either side. The bull’s head represents wealth, the lion represents bravery and protection, and the two small circles represent the sun and the moon.

Cannons on the walls of Baku. During the Shirvan dynasty, 2,000 warriors guarded the inner city.

  The changes of Abbas Shahmen are closely related to the city defense system of the inner city. The inner city of Baku in the Middle Ages used to have two walls, inner and outer. The height of the inner wall is 5-10 meters, and the thickness is about 3.5 meters. It was built in 1138 (now part of the city wall is visible, and the remaining height is about 80-100 cm). In 1608, the governor of Baku added an outer wall 10-12 meters away from the inner wall. A trench was dug between the two walls, and sea water was introduced from the side facing the sea.
  There are 70 (only 25 left) semicircular arrow towers with muzzles on the inner wall, equipped with 40 cannons. There are shooting holes and arrow stacks on the top of the city wall and arrow towers. The Ni Tower and the Maiden Tower in the south are important parts of the city defense system. The Jabba Hanni Tower is mainly used for ordnance and supplies. Under the tower, there is an underground passage leading to the outside of the city, which can launch surprise attacks on the besiegers.
  In the era of Shirvan, 2,000 warriors guarded the inner city. They wear helmets, armor on their upper body, breeches with wide crotch and narrow feet, and hold round shields. They distinguish friends from enemies by the color and pattern of the cloaks they wear. Weapons are spears, battle axes, short swords, javelins for throwing and molotov cocktails made of clay. By the end of the 15th century, Shirvanshah had equipped his warriors with muskets.
  In the 19th century, the city of Baku developed very rapidly. In 1886, the outer wall was removed, and the gate of the outer wall was moved into the inner city, and merged with the Shamaki Gate in the inner city to form today’s Abbas Shah Gate. At the same time, the governor of Baku ordered that all merchant ships entering Baku Bay must bring in no less than 1 ton of fertile soil and pour it into the ditch between the inner and outer walls, and the ditch was gradually filled. The outer walls and ditches, and the once tight city defense system just disappeared into the dust of history.
  There are still 16th-century cannons and restored catapults on the road on the north wall, and ancient bullet marks can also be found on the city wall. The rise and fall of a dynasty has its own destiny, but civilians and soldiers have to bear the cruelty of war with displacement and life and death. They can’t choose their own nation, nor can they choose to be born in peace or war. When the turbulent years roll in, everyone can’t avoid it.

Islamic baths in the inner city of Baku are usually semi-subterranean structures covered with domes with light holes.

A restaurant converted from a caravan inn.
Imprints of Islam – Bathing Culture

  The Maiden Tower is adjacent to the ruins of the 9th-century mosque to the north, and the ruins are separated by a path of less than 1 meter to the north, which is the Haji Garba bathhouse and the ruins of the ancient trading market. The Haji Garba Bathhouse was built in the 15th century. When some buildings in the inner city were demolished in the 1960s, the bathhouse and the ancient trading market were excavated at the same time, and are now open to the public as a museum.
  The bathroom is one of the important components of Islamic civilization. Believers are required to bathe several times a week. Islamic baths in the inner city of Baku are usually semi-subterranean structures covered with domes with light holes. There is a relatively complete water supply and drainage system inside, and some bathing areas are also equipped with a geothermal system using steam as a heat source for heating. There is a combustion chamber outside the bathroom, usually fueled by a block of off-white clay that contains petroleum. The bathroom is divided reasonably, with a dressing area, a bathing area and a rest room. The bathing pool is divided into a cold pool and a hot pool.
  In fact, during the long Middle Ages, the Arab region preserved and passed on the Greco-Roman and Persian civilizations, and has always been ahead of Europe in terms of science, technology and social civilization.
  For medieval Muslim women, the bathroom was almost the only meeting place. Women brought food, led children, and carried copper boxes containing incense, henna, basma (a dyed plant) and jewelry that sometimes weighed several kilograms, laughing and chatting with neighbors and girlfriends. For girls, the bathroom is a place for blind dates. They will wear the best jewelry, dress up, and come to the women’s bathroom. The matchmaker will help them discuss marriage, and the future mother-in-law will carefully observe the favorite daughter-in-law.
  The service items in the bathroom are far more than bathing, but also include massage and haircut. Each bathroom has a certain number of masseurs, while the barber is responsible for cutting hair, shaving, and blackening hair and beard. After bathing and massage, the bather will start to rest and relax, move to the rest area, have lunch, drink tea, and smoke shisha. It is very comfortable, and some people can spend the whole day or even spend the night here.
  On the east side of Abbas Shah Gate, there is a recently excavated bathroom site, which was restored by the Inner City Management Committee in 2022, and the original style of the Islamic bathroom can basically be glimpsed. There are a large number of Islamic baths or ruins in the inner city. People will be surprised to find that they are all near the entrances of the inner city. This is because the first thing that businessmen who have traveled a lot when they come to the ancient city is to wash away their journey. dust and exhaustion.

Silk Road Flower Rain – Caravan Station

  After passing the Haji Garba bathroom, go about 50 meters northeast, and there is a small alley. To the east of the small alley is the 14th-century Muldani caravan station, which mainly received merchants from northern India at that time, and to the west is the 15th-century The Bukhara caravan station mainly entertains merchants from Central Asia.
  There are four similar caravan inns in the ancient city, which were built in the 12th to 17th centuries. The plane layout of the inn is generally rectangular, and the layout is very similar to the Tulou in Fujian, China: the empty courtyard is used to house camels and trade goods, the two-story living area and warehouse surround the courtyard, and the high courtyard walls and thick gates are used to Defense against looting by robbers.
  The caravan station is a product of the trade route. Around 3000 BC, some trade routes had been formed in Central Asia, West Asia, South Asia and the Mediterranean coast, and a large number of caravan post stations were built along the trade routes. These post stations are often about 30 kilometers apart, which is exactly a day’s journey for caravans that use pack animals as their transport capacity. After Zhang Qian traveled to the Western Regions, the land Silk Road was gradually formed. Along the Silk Road, not only commodities that maintain the economic operation of various countries flowed, but also Eastern and Western civilizations and religions spread along the Silk Road.
  Baku is located on the commercial road, and once broke the monopoly of Byzantium by virtue of the Baku Bay and the narrow channel leading to the southern European plain along the Caspian Sea coast. From the 10th to the 15th centuries, the Shirvan Kingdom became the most important port and trade center on the Caspian Sea, and a large amount of goods were exported to Eastern and Northern Europe through the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. During the archaeological excavations in the inner city of Baku, gold and silver coins from the Greek, Roman, Parthian, Byzantine, Arabic, Seljuk, Mongolian and Iranian Safi periods were successively found, and silver dinams from Azerbaijan were also unearthed in Eastern European countries. The records of Arab travelers in the 10th century attest to the booming trade in the port of Baku at that time: in this bazaar, 1 million sheep were sold, and the payment was made by cheque.
  With the destruction of the productivity of the Eurasian continent by the Mongolian army, and the development of East Asian shipping in the Song and Ming Dynasties, the land Silk Road gradually declined. With the advent of the European Age of Discovery and the subsequent construction of railways, the ancient Silk Road was gradually submerged in the vast yellow sand.
  At the south exit of the inner city, there is a very hidden caravan inn in the 17th century, which is now changed to Muqam restaurant. The entrance of the restaurant is about 1 meter below the ground. There is an exquisite step in front of the door, which can be descended from both sides. There is a group of bronze sculpture caravans near the steps on the east side, as if they came from the 17th century. The restaurant has been renovated, and the ancient structure and style are basically unchanged, but some modern lighting and a huge glass roof hanging over the atrium have been added. In this way, even if the wind and rain are severe, you can sit in the atrium, sip tea, smoke a hookah, listen to the sound of wind and rain, and indulge in the old stone handrails.
“Oriental Paris” – European-style architecture

  After passing the Bukhara caravan station, further north is Gula Street in the inner city. Gula Street used to be a commercial street in the inner city. The layout of cities in West Asia is often similar to that of Chang’an Avenue. Residential areas, trade areas, and handicraft areas are all planned in different areas of the city.
  Gula Street is very narrow and not long, with Baroque-style multi-storey European buildings on both sides, built in the “oil boom era” opened at the end of the 19th century. The shiny stone pavement and the beautifully carved facades of the buildings on both sides allow you to travel from ancient Islamic civilization to modern European cities in an instant.
  In addition to the City of Wind, Baku has another name: the City of Cats. Lazy cats can be seen everywhere in the streets and alleys of the city. Cats are also represented in the carvings on the facades of buildings on Gula Street. Along Gula Street, about 100 meters away from Bukhara Post Station, on the west side of the road, there is an inconspicuous gray three-story European-style building. On the balcony on the second floor, two stone-carved children stood leaning on the railing to look at the balcony on the third floor above, and there were several stone-carved cats squatting on the railing of the third-floor balcony. The child’s expression is so lifelike, it is created in memory of a brave little girl who tried to rescue a cat trapped on the roof of the building and fell.
  This kind of Baroque style architecture that emphasizes exterior wall decoration accounts for a considerable proportion in the inner city. At the end of the 19th century, with the start of industrial exploitation of oil in Baku, Baku entered the era of oil prosperity. Large European capital poured into Baku’s oil industry, and a large number of European architects from Russia, France, and Italy also followed. Strong European style.
  The Izmayi Palace on the north wall of the ancient city is an outstanding representative of this period. It was built by oil tycoon Moussa Nagiyev in memory of his son Izmayi. Wealthy oil tycoons can easily make high profits through oil, but they can’t stop family tragedies from happening one after another. Two years after losing his daughter, the tycoon lost his only son. To commemorate his son, Nagiyev decided to build the Izmayi Palace. Nagiyev sent Polish designer Bloshko to Italy for inspiration, and Bloshko suggested choosing the Venice Palace as a model. In 1907, the construction of the Izmayi Palace began, and the shock it brought surpassed all the large-scale buildings in Baku at the same time, which was exactly the effect Nagiyev wanted. Izmay Palace is now the office of the Presidium of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences.
  To the west of the ancient city wall is the yellow and white Azerbaijan Philharmonic Orchestra Concert Hall. Across the street from the concert hall is the Azerbaijan Museum of Art. To the north of the ancient city is the blue and white Literature Museum. After passing the Literature Museum, Azerbaijan is not far away. wedding palace. These are outstanding Baroque and Gothic works in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They complement each other with the grand and exquisite European-style buildings on both sides of Petroleum Street, earning Baku the title of “Oriental Paris”.

Baku in film footage

  From Shirvan Palace, back to the west gate, there is a long slope to the south. On the west side of the slope are the lookout and arrow stacks of the city wall. The lookout is an excellent shooting location, where you can take pictures of the Baroque building of the Baku City Government, which used to be the seat of the Azerbaijani Parliament, and later the parliament moved to the New City viewing platform. .
  We walked down the stone-studded slope for about 100 meters, and saw a flag hanging beside the house on the left, with a picture of a snake wrapped around a wine glass drawn on the flag. In the Soviet Union, this is the symbol of pharmacies, implying that the medicine itself is poisonous and should be used with caution. However, this flag has nothing to do with the pharmacy. This is one of the filming locations of the Soviet movie “Diamond Arm”, and it is a holy place for tourists from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The hero of “Diamond Arm” falls down this slope and yells “Damn”, which happens to be the outlaw’s joint signal. The criminals helped the protagonist into the house, put diamonds and gold coins into the gauze and plaster wrapped around his arms, and sent him away. Afterwards, the protagonist fights wits and bravery with the criminals who try to snatch back the diamond secretly, and of course everyone is happy in the end.
  Due to the poor relationship between the Soviet Union and Western countries at that time, the old city of Baku was used as the filming location when filming scenes in Islamic countries. When it was necessary to film Western countries, Tallinn on the Baltic Sea was generally used as the filming location.
  The Soviet-era movie “Don’t Be Afraid, We’re With You” was shot a lot in the Caucasus mountains in northern Azerbaijan. In recent years, many Western films have also used Azerbaijan as their subject matter and location. The plot of “Dark Crisis” in the 007 series revolves around the oil pipeline in Azerbaijan, and the inner city of Baku and offshore oil drilling platforms are used as important filming locations. In 2015, Azerbaijan and the United Kingdom co-produced “Ali and Nino”, which can see the oil drilling area of ​​​​Baku and the mountain scenery of the Caucasus.
“Easter egg” cities waiting to be explored

  Conservation and restoration of the inner city of Baku has been quietly going on. Every time I go there, I can always find a few scaffoldings and isolation strips that are prohibited from passing through. The erosion of wind and rain and the trampling of crowds will cause damage to the monuments, and if they are not repaired in time, it will cause more serious consequences. The people of Baku carefully guarded the inner city.
  The development of the inner city of Baku is bold. There are a large number of restaurants, shops, hotels and imaginative statues scattered in the inner city. The gardens in the city are also constantly being developed and newly built. The inner city has become more colorful and colorful. Elegant and vibrant.
  Cherishing the tradition and facing the future is not only the policy of Azerbaijan’s urban planning, but also the policy of inner city protection. What is difficult is not development, but how to develop, how to perfectly integrate modern technology into ancient buildings, how to put scenery, new buildings, new elements and historical sites together in a natural and complementary way.
  To study the 2,500-year-old time capsule of the inner city, I am afraid that historians and archaeologists will not be able to fully restore it after spending their entire lives. There are still many undiscovered remnants hidden in the dark underground.

  When you have spare time, you can take mineral water, leave the traditional tourist route, and visit the streets and alleys of the city alone, to see the shells and sea sand pressed in the limestone of Absheron, and to drink water while stroking the fence iron bird. Turning around the alley, the soft blue of Baku Bay will suddenly appear at the end of the small alley down the hill. Every shot can be pictured, and every step is a scenery. Galleries, mosques and museums discovered by accident will bring little secrets and surprises hidden in eggs. Old women who have gone through vicissitudes sometimes recall the past with you and tell their stories. Slowly, the inner city will become clearer and fuller.
  It is also possible to do a visit to mosques from the 12th to the 17th century. You will find that the mosque is not always the original appearance, and its shape and scale have evolved along the way in the inner city. Just like this inner city, it has always cherished the tradition, and has always been facing the future.

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