Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. Baku is located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. Baku lies on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, alongside the Bay of Baku. At the beginning of 2009, Baku's urban population was estimated at just over two million people. Officially, about 25% of all inhabitants of the country live in Baku's metropolitan area. Baku is the sole metropolis in Azerbaijan.

Old Baku 1Baku is divided into twelve administrative raions and 48 townships. Among these are the townships on the islands of the Baku Archipelago, and the town of Oil Rocks built on stilts in the Caspian Sea, 60 kilometres (37 miles) away from Baku. The Inner City of Baku, along with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the Lonely Planet's ranking, Baku is also among the world's top ten destinations for urban nightlife.
The city is the scientific, cultural, and industrial centre of Azerbaijan. Many sizeable Azerbaijani institutions have their headquarters there. The Baku International Sea Trade Port is capable of handling two million tonnes of general and dry bulk cargoes per year. In recent years, Baku has become an important venue for international events. It hosted the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, the 2015 European Games, 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, the F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix since 2016, hosted the final of the 2018–19 UEFA Europa League, and will be one of the host cities for UEFA Euro 2020.
The city is renowned for its harsh winds, which is reflected in its nickname, the "City of Winds".

icheri sheherIcheri Sheher, Baku

Sometimes called the Old Town or the Inner City, Icheri Sheher is a unique historical ensemble right in the center of Baku, at the heart of the city. Ancient Baku was founded where Icheri Sheher is today, which used to be right on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The buildings are built out of limestone, cut locally and polished to a smooth surface, so most of the buildings share the same colors, and the roads are narrow and winding, making Icheri Sheher feel a bit like a maze.
Icheri Sheher is the oldest inhabited part of Baku. It was declared a historical and cultural reserve in 1977, and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. Three sides 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.
People have lived in Baku since the Bronze Age, though its development really took off when it became the capital of the Shirvanshahs in 1385. Though Baku’s most famous sight, Maiden Tower, predates the Shirvanshahs, this is when the famous fortress walls were built to be as strong and intimidating as they are today, and when many of Baku’s most famous monuments were built. 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 caravanserais to house these travelers.
For many centuries, Baku did not extend beyond Icheri Sheher. The territory isn’t large, just 21.5 hectares, and it was completely surrounded by two thick fortress walls. Everything the city residents needed could be found inside these walls, and the rulers of the city even lived alongside their subjects. Shirvanshah Palace is the jewel of Baku, where the shahs used to make their home, and the palace is surrounded on all sides by crowded houses, since everyone wanted to build their houses inside Icheri Sheher. Outside the walls, people were more vulnerable to attackers, and there were mostly farms but no city residents.
Many of the buildings are old, with the oldest ones dating to the 1400s, and some being positively modern. Most buildings are made of the same color limestone, so the most defining part of each building is the balcony. Balconies were traditionally made of wood, since it was rather expensive to bring wood to Baku. People would build wood balconies to show off their wealth to anyone passing by their building.
For several centuries, from the late 1300s to right around 1500, the Shirvanshah dynasty made Baku its capital. Shirvanshah Palace was built during this time, as were some of the older buildings, including some of the oldest mosques. Even after the Shirvanshahs moved their capital back to Shamakhi, building continued, with new mosques, new houses, and new marketplaces being built one on top of another.
With the oil boom at the end of the 1800s, Baku started expanding beyond Icheri Sheher. First, the outer fortress walls were demolished, and the moat between the two walls was filled in. Then, buildings started being constructed outside the walls, and Baku rapidly grew to reach its current sprawling size. Many buildings inside Icheri Sheher have survived to this day, though some have been destroyed and rebuilt. People still live in Icheri Sheher to this day, and about 3,000 people total call Baku’s Old City home.


The Shirvanshahs ruled the area now known as Azerbaijan for almost 700 years, building and developing the region. For most of their reign, which started in 861, the shahs made their capital in Shamakhi, but from 1382 to 1500, they lived in Baku. During this time, the defensive fortress walls were built around the city, and the rulers built the Shirvanshah Palace, where they lived.

There were several parts to the palace, including a room to meet guests, a harem (where the women lived), several mausoleums, a mosque, and a bathhouse. Today, the main parts of the palace are used as a museum, displaying items that would have been used and worn in the Middle Ages in Azerbaijan. Much of the palace has been restored, since there was extensive damage done once the Shirvanshahs moved back to Shamakhi, and especially once war arrived in Baku in 1918.

Qiz QalasiGyz Galasy

The most magnificent and mysterious landmark in Baku and in Icheri Sheher is the Maiden Tower, or Gyz Galasi in Azerbaijani. Because of its unique shape and design, Maiden Tower has become the unofficial symbol of Baku. At 28 m (92 ft) tall, it’s a distinctive landmark, and quite a presence in Icheri Sheher. Since the Caspian Sea is 28 m below sea level, and the bottom of Maiden Tower is at the water level, it means that when you are standing at the top of the tower, you are actually at sea level.
The cylindrical tower was constructed on a rocky ledge that jutted into the Caspian Sea, though the seashore has been extended and Maiden Tower is now located 200 m far from the water. The walls are made of thick brick, and the tower contains a total of eight levels. The top can only be reached via a winding staircase, but the view from the top opens to a beautiful panorama of Icheri Sheher, the Caspian Sea, and the rest of the city. The walls of Maiden Tower have their own secrets. There is a deep well, reaching 21 meters (69 ft) into the ground, and which holds water to this day. There are also the remains of clay pipes in the wall, which may have been used for water, but also could have been used to remove sewage.
The Maiden Tower’s age is still a subject of disputes. Some say that the tower was built in the 12th century, as an inscription on the side of the tower dates it to this time period and names the architect as Masud ibn Davud. But other historians think that this plaque and inscription appeared later, to fix a hole in the brickwork. Having studied the lime mortar and the color of the stones used to build Maiden Tower, some say that the tower could have been built as early as the 8th century CE (as similar buildings were made in Gabala at the same time), but no later than the 10th century CE (since the stones used to build the Maiden Tower and a mosque from this time are nearly identical). Still others say that, when you look at the construction, it’s clear that the bottom half is much older than the top half. The bottom half was built in the 5th-6th centuries, and the top half was completed in the 12th century.
Even more complicated is the use of the tower. It was poorly suited for defense, because of its small size, and since the windows are not suitable for warfare. Most likely, Maiden Tower was built as a Zoroastrian temple, since in those times, people were not buried. Their bodies were left in an exposed place, and birds came and ate the flesh and left the bones. We do know that Maiden Tower was an important stronghold during the Shirvan dynasty, in the 12th century, and that it was used as a beacon in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A local legend says that the tower got its name when a girl was given for marriage, though she didn’t want to get married. She asked her groom to build a tower for her, hoping to distract or dissuade him. But he did not change his mind while building the tower, so the girl climbed to the top and jumped to her death in the sea.
According to another legend, Maiden Tower is near the spot where St Bartholomew, one of the 12 apostles, was executed. Bartholomew arrived in Baku in the 1st century CE to preach Christianity, but his doctrine was rejected and he was executed near the walls of the Maiden Tower. The place where he was executed is marked with a small chapel, which is clearly visible in an 1890 photo of the Maiden Tower.
Today, Maiden Tower holds a museum, with exhibits that show daily life in the 18th and 19th century, plus how Baku and its architecture have grown and developed. The tower has undergone several recent renovations, and today is located in the center of a large square and marketplace. Since 2000, Maiden Tower has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Ateshgah 1Ateshgah Temple

The Temple of Eternal Fire - Ateshgah - is an authentic Azerbaijani exotic. It is well-known practically all over the world. It is located 30 km from the center of Baku in the suburb of Surakhany. This territory is known for such unique natural phenomenon as burning natural gas outlets (underground gas coming onto surface contacts oxygen and lights up). The temple in its present state was constructed in the 17th-18th centuries and built by the Baku-based Hindu community related to Sikhs.
However, the history of the Temple is even longer. From immemorial times this was the holy place of Zoroastrians- fire worshippers (approximately beginning of our era). They attributed mystical significance to the inextinguishable fire and came there to worship the relic.
After the introduction of Islam, the Zoroastrian temple was destroyed. Many Zoroastrians left to India and continued their worship there. However, in the 15th -17th centuries the Hindus-fire worshippers, who came to Absheron with trading caravans, began to make pilgrimages to Surakhany. The Indian merchants started to the built temple, and the earliest part is dated from 1713. The latest part, the central temple-altar, was built with the support of merchant Kanchangar in 1810. During the 18th century, chapels, cells and a caravanserai were added to the central part of the temple. The temple even has carved inscriptions in Indian lettering.
In the early 19th century the Temple acquired its present-day appearance. Ateshgah is a pentagonal structure with a castellation and entrance portal. In the center of the yard, at the altar-sanctuary executed in the form of a stone bower, is a famous well, from which beat the “eternally” burning gas. From the angles of the center, more towers are located, surrounded by a yard with cells.
The Ancient Zoroastrian Temple Ateshgah, BakuThe Ancient Zoroastrian Temple Ateshgah, BakuThe Ancient Zoroastrian Temple Ateshgah, Baku
Above the entrance portal is a traditional guest room or "balakhane". Near the temple, there is a big pit where they used to burn the bodies of dead Hindus in the sacred fire.
In the mid-19th century due to the movement of the surface the natural gas yield ceased. Pilgrims interpreted it as the punishment from the gods and left. Ateshgah as a place of worship existed until 1880. Today this ancient Zoroastrian temple has been opened for tourists attracting them with artificial fires.

QalaGala Museum

Forty kilometers from Baku there is Gala, the well-known open-air historical and ethnographic museum. The museum, founded in 2008 at an archaeological site located in the same-name village, is dedicated to the history of the Absheron Peninsula. There, you can see how the Azerbaijani lived, what they ate and drank and how they managed a household over the period from the XVI to XIX centuries.
The territory of 1.2 ha hosts old-time houses – portable tents made of animal skins, subsequently replaced by stone and beaten cobworks with cupolas, an ancient blacksmith shop, market, pottery, bakery, threshing mill and other interesting medieval buildings. You can see, touch, and take picture of all of them. You can even try to bake bread in a common oven, weave a carpet, muddy in pottery or feed camels, horses and donkeys, peacefully resting in their stalls.
Many monuments and exhibits were brought to the Gala Museum from different corners of the Absheron Peninsula; they were renovated or fully reconstructed. All together, they help to get an idea of the life of the medieval people in Azerbaijan.
It is interesting to know that scientists have found the evidence showing that the first settlements on the site of Gala village appeared much earlier, at least 5,000 years ago rather than in the Middle Ages. Rare exhibits of antiquity as well as cave paintings of primitive people with pictures of hunting and ritual sacrifice, also found their place in the richest museum exposition. The Gala Museum territory hosts also several exhibitions, where the tourists can see ancient household items, glassware, jewelry and other interesting exhibits cased in glass.
A guide, whom is best to hire in the museum, will help you not to get lost in the maze of the history of the Apsheron Peninsula.

Xalça MuzeyiAzerbaijan Carpet Museum

Carpet weaving in Azerbaijan appeared a long time ago: it is the oldest type of applied art in the region, a fact that has been proven by numerous archaeological findings from around the country.
It was a gifted carpet master, a National Artist of the Azerbaijan SSR Lyatif Kerimov, who first had the idea to make a museum dedicated to carpets. Thanks to his efforts, the first museum specializing in the study and protection of Azerbaijan’s ancient carpets was opened. Work to collect exhibits and items began in 1967, and in 1972, the first visitors could see the rare exhibits collected in the museum. The original museum fit perfectly, as the ancient carpets perfectly complemented the interior of the old Juma Mosque in the heart of Icheri Sheher.
Even since the beginning, the museum housed not only carpets, but also other Azerbaijani art. Today, there are more than 14,000 exhibits, including rare carpets, exquisite jewelry, clothing, embroidery, delicate glass pieces, wood and felt. The first floor of the museum has flat-weave carpets and various examples of applied arts, including bags and saddles for horses. The second floor is pile carpets from the different regions in Azerbaijan, showing off the unique patterns and designs of this country. The third floor is all about modern designers, the history of the Carpet Museum, and a children’s room.
The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum presents different schools and techniques from around the entire country, as well as covering various historical states and the development of carpet weaving. Among the exhibits are a spectacular Tabriz rug, called Ovchulug, and a Karabakh rug, the Dragon Carpet, both of which were woven in the 17th century, as well as the Khila Afshan carpet, woven in the 18th century in the village of Khila. Beyond just the exhibits, the people who work at the museum work to preserve and popularize the ancient art of carpet weaving by holding discussions, workshops, exhibitions, and symposiums, often with the support of UNESCO.
In August 2014, the museum got a luxurious new building, which itself is in the shape of a rolled carpet. The new Azerbaijan Carpet Museum was designed by the Austrian architects Franz Janz and Walter Mari.
Pieces from the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum have been exhibited in more than 50 countries, on almost all the continents of the world. Today, the museum is a large scientific center that attracts researchers and lovers of arts from around the world.

H.E. MerkeziHeydar Aliyev Center

Designed by the illustrious architect Zaha Hadid, since opening in 2012 the Heydar Aliyev Centre’s astonishing curved, wave-like shape and innovative use of space have made it an iconic landmark in Baku and beyond. But besides its extraordinary appearance, inside you'll find a world-class exhibition and museum complex with a great range of permanent and temporary curations exploring the best of local and global art and culture, as well as a stylish cafeteria, state-of-the-art auditorium and even an impressive collection of vintage cars.