I arrived to Baku before the sunset; the big sun was shining like an egg yolk in front of me. The international airport of Baku is situated almost 20 km. away from the city center. The heat, the dust and the oil odor welcomed me in Baku.
I didn’t have any idea about Baku before coming here and I was thinking that the city looks like to any other oil-rich cities of the world. I was mistaken: when the taxi entered to the city, new buildings – in old french styles, appeared (later on, I was informed that only the facades of the buildings were being renovated, ie, this was only a make-up! Nevertheless that makes feel well any first time visitor in this city.) I first noticed out a big cultural center complex, Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, built in 2012 by the famous architect Zaha Hadid. Then the traffic has become heavier as long as we approached to the city center.
Flame Tower is one of the newest buildings of Baku, where our hotel was also located. If you have a chance to stay in Flame Tower or have a drink in the pretty coffee house of this hotel, you have a bird’s-eye view of the city and the Caspian Sea. At night the city is fully ligthed up.
Next day, we took a funicular from the park which was situated in front of our hotel for going down to the old city. The funicular is free but you have to wait almost 20 minutes. Once in the center of the city, we witnessed once again to the richness of Baku; even the underground passages were covered with good quality marble. The shops selling luxury brands were also telling me that I’m in one of the raising economies of Asia.
The city center of Baku is surrounded by an old citadelle dating back to 12thcentury. You enter into the Old City (or Köhne Sehir, as the locals call it) and you’re lost: you leave all the luxury of the city behind you and you find yourself with buildings smelling history. For my part, I imagined as if I was a local living in the medieval ages, at the period of Shirvanshah maybe. The Shirvanshah Palace is a good starting point to understand the history of Baku.
Qiz Kalasi (or Maiden Tower) is one of the symbol monuments of Baku. There are lots of mysteries about this tower. First of all the historians are not sure about its age although most of them agree that it can be dated back to the 10th century. Then, nobody is sure about the function of this tower: was it made for the protection of the city? Or, was it a scientific observatory?And of course, there are many legends about it; now I remind one of the most classical legends: the King had imprisoned his daughter for protecting her, the girl couldn’t live in the prison and threw herself from the castle to the Caspian Sea. That’s why it’s called Maiden Tower.
In order to remove the melancholy of Maiden Tower, the best solution is sitting under the big and old plane tree in the open air tea house next to the tower and order an Azeri tea. Tea is delicious and together with it you will be served with different kinds of jams, all delicious too!
But I keep the big surprises for the end! I discovered two precious treasuries in the Old City. The first one is the Miniature Books Museum. In this small museum, you will be amazed by the lilliput books from all over the world. You can even see the smallest book of the world, or the oldest smallest book of the world, which is a copy of the Coran dating back to 17th century. The Russian lady who is the manager of the museum welcomes each visitor and explains in detail each book. The entrance to the museum is free.
The second big treasury is the Nizami Museum of Literature, situated at the center of the city. Nizami is one of Azeri greatest literature figure. The museum is located in an old and palatial building. At first it doesn’t look like as a touristic place, but once you enter here, you discover a real treasure! This is not only a literature museum, it’s also the national history and art museum. It has a huge collection of miniatures, pictures, carpets and antique objects and the guide – who accompanies you during your visit, tells you the history of these lands, their cultures, their poems and their literatures. It’s a place which should be visited not only by the literatute lovers but by everybody who wants to learn the culture of Azerbaijan. At the end, you would surely understand why Azeri language seems so soft to the ear, why all Azeri people are so kind!
I think that Baku had a special place in my ‘visited cities’ list….I even think that it’s my most precious discovery of the year 2014!