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, and largest city below sea level.
We stayed in the city for four nights and had both organised tours and free time.
Upland Park – there are three ways to get to Baku’s highest point. On our first visit, our driver dropped us off, and we walked down endless stone steps back into the city, but on our second visit, we took the 30-seater funicular, for the 10-minute ride – great value at 1 Manat (50p) each way. Once at the top, there was plenty to see and do, so decided against the third option of walking up.
View Point – with panoramic views of Baku Bay, we found it a great way to get an overview of both the industrial port and city, and compare the low-level old city and modern high rise. We enjoyed spotting several of the city’s distinctive buildings including a commercial and shopping centre in a petal shaped building (think Sydney Opera House), the Carpet Museum, whose design resembles a rolled up carpet, and the horseshoe-shaped, Crescent Moon Building.
Flame Towers – regardless of where you are in Baku, it’s hard to miss the three flame towers: three, blue glass skyscrapers, the highest at 33 storeys. However, visiting Upland Park allows you to get up close and see the reflections in the glass. The three towers incorporate the Fairmont Hotel and both residential and commercial space. At night, illuminations on the towers transition every two minutes between giant flames, the colours of the Azerbaijani flag, a flag-waving figure, and giant tanks of water being filled.
Martyrs’ Lane or Alley of Martyrs – one side of a path leading to the view point is lined with graves of those killed in the 1990 clashes with the Soviet Union’s Red Army in Azerbaijan’s struggle for independence, and also some of those soldiers “martyred” in the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia. The first tomb was that of married couple Fariza and Ilham Allahverdiyev: Ilham, was shot dead by troops and Fariza committed suicide after hearing of his death. The path leads to the Eternal Flame, standing on an eight-pointed star and over the flame, there is a golden tomb with a glass dome.
Alley of Heroes – after seeing a TV programme, Art Treasures of Baku, I wanted to visit the lesser-known site, Alley of Heroes: a cemetery for Azerbaijan’s most public figures including prominent scientists, artists, economists, politicians, national heroes and heroes of the Azerbaijani Soviet Union. Tall pine trees created shady paths through the rows of graves, each with impressive statues: a man sat at his piano, cigarette in hand, a singer arms outstretched as if about to burst into song. At the back of the cemetery were the more somber graves of the former president, Heydar Aliyev and his wife.
If it’s your first visit to Baku, I’d highly recommend making this area your first destination.