Baku’s Old City

1041 Reviews

Star Travel Rating

4/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

Date of travel

June, 2023

Product name

Sightseeing in Baku - Part 3 - The Old City

Product country

Azerbaijan

Product city

Baku

Travelled with

Couple

Reasons for trip

Culture/Sightseeing

Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, has both a medieval walled city and, as befits a country known for its oil production, a modern area with contemporary, stunning architecture. At 92 feet below sea level, it’s the world’s lowest lying capital in the world, and largest city below sea level.

We stayed in the city for four nights and had both organised tours and free time.

Baku’s UNESCO-listed Old City is ringed with stone walls which protected the fortress. It was easy to spot which parts were original and which had been restored and at one point, there appeared to be two, parallel walls near to each other. Sections of the wall displayed the tools of war including a large catapult.

As well as wandering the cobbled streets with caravanserais, mosques, restaurants and souvenir shops, we visited three specific sites.

Maidens Tower – the actual construction date of the 29 metre stone tower, is unclear, but the current tower was built over a former Zoroastrian temple as instead of burying the corpse, they traditionally laid it out on a purpose built tower (dokhma or ‘Tower of Silence’) to be exposed to the sun and eaten by birds of prey such as vultures. A metal spiral staircase, followed by nearly 250 even stone steps, had a series of landings with information on the different aspects. At the top, plastic safety shields prevented us from jumping off, and also made it hard to take photographs of the views of both the Old City and Baku Bay. On the side of a nearby building hundreds of swift nesting were arranged in the shape of the bird.

Palace of the Shirvanshahs – this was the seat of Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty during the middle ages and, having entered through a ceremonial courtyard, we found a throne room filled with artefacts including beaten copper work, and coloured glass windows made by craftsmen from small wooden parts without glue and nails. We toured the various rooms which were on two levels as the servants lived on the ground floor, but were unable to see the Tomb of the Shirvanshahs’ family Mausoleum or bathrooms as a TV crew shooed us away. Outside was a huge stack of colourful pear-shaped armudi glasses used for tea.

Museum of Miniature Books – was presented with the Certificate of the Guinness Book of Records in 2015 as the largest private museum of miniature books. The 38 numbered display cases contained a vast array of books from around the world grouped by country which included children’s books donated by the Princess of Thailand as the rounded letters of the Azeri alphabet resemble those of Thailand. A helpful lady showed us the photograph of the collector, Zarifa Salahova, and left us to look round, interjecting at certain times to show us items of interest including the complete works of William Shakespeare. As a huge fan of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, I was pleased to see a shelf dedicated to them. As some of the books were incredibly tiny, whilst others were just small, I tried to establish the definition of ‘mini book’ which appeared to be something to do with them being less than 7.5cm but this may have been lost in translation.

The best way of exploring the maze of similar streets, is to just amble at will and see where you land.

Helen Jackson

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