The city of Baku is included to the division Baku
Presentation of the destination
A city teeming with bars and nightlife, with an incredible twelfth century walled city at its centre, Palaeolithic rock art in the arid Gobustan reservation, and the blue expanse of the Caspian Sea combine to make Baku a city of contrasts. Its oil and gas economy has supported the modernisation of the city, as well as an unusual attraction: a city built entirely on stilts fifty kilometres (thirty four miles) out to sea. As Azerbaijan’s capital city, Baku has a wealth of cultural and historic attractions. Visit the Baku Museum of Modern Art to encounter twentieth century works by Azerbaijani and international sculptural artists and painters, and head to the Carpet Museum to discover the intricate patterns and beauty of this craft throughout time. For first time visitors, tea in a historic Caravanserai in the old city is a must! Learn about the Persian, Arab and Russian occupation and independence, material culture, garments, and arms throughout the ages in Azerbaijan’s State Museum of History. Look out at night for the Flame Towers, three of the country’s tallest buildings which become a light show at night, with amazing led displays creating a realistic flame effect. One of the most unusual of the city’s features is a tiny one: a museum of miniature works of literature, from the Quran to works by Dostoevsky. English and Russian are spoken or understood by many locals.
Points of interests / things to see
Wander through the dozens of beautiful fountains in this square at the heart of Baku City, a short walk from the historic attractions of the Old City. The pedestrian only square, grassy areas, bronze sculptures and the unusual forms of the fountains themselves make this place perfect for some downtime between exploring the attractions of Baku. In the square you can enjoy fine dining, and browse through the bookstores, clothing boutiques, and souvenir shops. It is a popular place to meet up with friends for a drink and dinner in the evenings, and is particularly picturesque when the fountains and surrounding buildings are lit up. There are also several nightclubs around Fountain Square. The square is bordered by greenery and historic buildings such as the nineteenth century Saint Gregory’s Church and the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature. The Nizami Museum is an impressive building with architraves featuring sculptures of writers and poets. Explore the history of Azerbaijani Literature within, from manuscripts and books to the art and portraits of writers. Visit the Nargiz Shopping Mall for luxury items, and stop in for a coffee on its upper levels. From this birds-eye vantage point you have a great opportunity for people watching in the square below, and a view of the Flame Towers skyscrapers.
This incredible UNESCO World Heritage site has been added to over the centuries by the Arabs, Persians, Turkish and Russians. Parts of the buildings within the walled city have been dated to the seventh century, although the site itself has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic era. Step through the gates of the imposing fortress walls to discover this incredible part of Azerbaijan’s culture. Wander through the narrow alleys to discover eighteenth century residences, mosques and medieval inns where you can grab a bite to eat. Discover the Shirvanshah’s Palace, constructed for the city’s Persian rulers in the fifteenth century. It is almost a small city in itself, with a mosque, state hall, bath house, residential rooms, gardens and mausoleums. Look up as you enter the mausoleum to see the beautiful carvings above! The Maidens Tower was constructed in the twelfth century, at about the time the protective outer wall was built. It is a thirty meter high cylindrical shape which strangely mirrors some of Baku’s more modern architecture which feature waves and curves. Experts have not yet found consensus on what the structure was for but guesses range from a fire temple, to an observatory, to a mausoleum. Standing somewhat incongruously behind the Maiden’s Tower is the mansion of an oil baron built in 1912, complete with ornate limestone carvings.
This incredible wave-like building was designed by one of architecture’s controversial superstars, Iraqi-British Zaha Hadid. The building’s form is very organic yet modern, and with its enormous scale is a striking feature even amongst the numerous remarkable historic and modern architectural beauties of Baku. From every angle, the shape of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre seems to change and ripple. The exterior appears to bleed into the interior, welcoming visitors inside the light and airy structure. The whole experience is something like entering a very white, very shell-like space ship. The vast windows on the upper storeys give a stunning view over Baku. Outside, a reflecting pool, lake and lawns form a green and relaxing public space from which to view the city. The auditorium holds regular cultural events including opera, art and science exhibitions, and music by international performing artists. Learn about Heydar Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president from 1993 to 2003, at the centre’s permanent museum about his life and politics, including photographs, personal belongings, medals and military uniform. Aliyev is known best for steering Azerbaijan through the difficult transition to independence from the Soviet Union. The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre is also home to a library, a bookstore, a gift shop, restaurant and café.
This temple was built in the seventeenth century by Indian fire-worshipers on a site where natural gas leaked from the earth. This site is thought to have been previously used as a place of worship by the Zoroastrians before the advent of Islam in Azerbaijan. The temple is located on the Absheron peninsular on the Caspian Sea, and features a domed altar in a central courtyard. The altar’s position on a natural gas vent and careful maintenance meant that the fire in the well and four pillars was almost inextinguishable even in high winds. Arranged around in a pentagon around the courtyard are the rooms for travelling worshippers and monks. Hindus also came from far and wide to worship their fire goddess here, a fact revealed by the inscriptions left on the walls. Visit the stables and old caravanserai where guests could enjoy a hot meal after a long pilgrimage. Unfortunately after the natural gas that fuelled the temple’s altar began to be extracted, the temple fell into disuse, and lost its flame completely in the 1960s. After some restorations, and a connection to the city’s gas mains, the temple was opened as a museum in 1975. Wax figures of ascetics can be seen in the cells and caravanserai. The temple is located in the Surakhane district, thirty kilometres (nineteen miles) from Baku. Although there is a train station right outside the temple, it’s easier and safer to go by taxi.
Azerbaijan is well known for the beauty of its rugs, featuring the symmetrical interlaced geometric patterns perfected by Islamic artists. Rug making has been practiced in Azerbaijan since about the ninth century BC. Though none of the rugs in this museum is quite that old there are some with real historic value. Don’t miss the tenth century rug woven in Karabakh in Azerbaijan’s southwest. As the display of rugs mostly dates between the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, it is possible to see the evolution of the art form as well as the different styles from different locales as you walk through the museum. Of particular interest are the works of Latif Karimov, a multi-disciplinary artist who spent a life supporting artists and the arts, and without whose efforts the museum would not exist. Karimov’s bust sits proudly in front of his carpets, ceramics, jewellery and wood carvings. Other displays of material culture are also housed here including jewellery, embroidered saddlebags and horse blankets, traditional clothing and copperware from throughout the ages. During Azerbaijan’s time as part of the Soviet Union, the grand neo-classical museum building was built to house a Lenin Museum. There is a small fee for entry, but it’s good to be aware that museum staff will charge you per photo that you take. Also in this building are an art gallery, the Russian Museum, the Theatre Museum and Museum of Azerbaijani documenting Azerbaijan’s independence.
One of Baku’s most unusual attractions is the museum of miniature books, collected by a citizen of Baku, Zarifa Salahova. There are over six thousand books here. The smallest, produced in Japan, is only two by two millimetres, but can still be read with a large enough magnifying glass. You’ll also see a tiny seventeenth century Quran, and over three hundred works by the great Russian author Pushkin, including his epic poem-novel Eugene Onegin. The museum is open every day but Monday and Thursday and there is no entry cost. The museum can be found near the Shirvanshah’s Palace in the old city.
Baku’s main industry is oil and natural gas, and one of the world’s oldest fire-worshipping religions, Zoroastrianism was followed here because of the seemingly inexhaustible flames from natural gas vents. These vents have mostly been exhausted by the commercial extraction of gas and oil, however, on a hilltop outside Baku one of the last of these vents sends up a ten meter wide flame to light up the landscape at night. It is about an hour’s drive from the city centre, and is at its most impressive during snow, when it looks truly ethereal, and the warmth it produces is welcome. Stop in for a snack at the Yanar Dag café, where you can sit and watch the flames. There is a cheap entry fee to see Yanar Dag.
Palaeolithic rock art gives visitors an insight into humanity’s first steps as artists at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The carvings depict ways of life long lost, and the animals and plants that supported life in the area as far back as 40,000 years ago. Six thousand carvings have been discovered here so far, dating from prehistory to the middle-ages. This site gives visitors a stunning insight into the history of life in the Caucasus, and of human evolution. Also at Gobustan are the mud volcanoes where a build-up of gas has spewed out mud, forming a hill. There is also a large flat stone which, when ‘played’ with other stones gives out hollow tones like a metallic drum.
The suburbs on the peninsular are a hive of beachside resorts, waterparks, fine dining and nightlife, just a short drive from Baku. For luxury, the best beaches are Bilgah, north-east of Baku, and Novkhani, to the north-west. The hotels here boast pools and waterslides, restaurants and spa treatments. Mardakan to the east is known for its historic fifteenth century Tuba-Shakhi Mosque and thirteenth and fourteenth century castles, its golden beach and botanical arboretum. To the south of Baku are Shikov Beach with views of the oil rigs that are the economic lifeblood of the country, and Sahil beach where accommodation is cheap and cheerful.
Vacation rentals in Baku , Azerbaijan
How to get there ?
Fly in to Baku from Heydar Aliyev International Airport, and catch the shuttle bus or taxi to the city, but make sure you negotiate your taxi fare before you get in the cab rather than at the end of the ride. Cars are available for hire at the airport and if you’re thinking about travelling to some of the beaches on the peninsular and attractions in the surrounding villages such as the Fire Temple and Qala Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum it will be worthwhile having a car at your disposal. Trains run from Georgia and the Ukraine and also around Azerbaijan via the underground metro system. It can be tricky to negotiate stops for those who don’t read Azeri or Russian, but Metro staff are very helpful and since Eurovision was held here in 2012 speak English. Electronic cards must be purchased to ride the metro. Minibuses or matrushkas are the cheapest way to get around the city, but cabs can be a little safer. Fountain Square as a pedestrian only area, and the Old City are great to discover on foot. Make sure when you are crossing the road to use the underground passages so you don’t have to negotiate the congested traffic.
Hotels in Baku , Azerbaijan