48 Hours in Baku
Don’t tell anyone that you haven't visited Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. They won’t believe or understand you. Today it is the place everyone is talking about. So, if you are not lazy and don’t have faith in "old" sources about the exclusively oil city on the Caspian Sea, then book a ticket with confidence. Probably, you will hardly want to return...
Baku is never the same and even if you visited the city a year or even half a year ago, it doesn’t matter at all. The city changes daybyday. Therefore, it's worth to travel to Baku, regardles of the season of the year. Baku will imbed in your mind with its ancient architecture, aligned with futuristic works of the world's modern and renowned architects, an unending line of the coastal boulevard, a bundle of modern boutiques, which is the best capitals of the world can’t always boast of, the excellent cuisine, peculiar only to Azerbaijan, and, undoubtedly, the color of tints, beginning with bloomy pomegranates, carpet silk and a rave of colors from local painters.
You become aware that absolutely nothing has left from the former Union Republic immediately after your arrival. The modern airport will meet you with sophisticated technologies and facilities that are in keeping with the world's best traditions of design. You can rest in Sheraton Hotel, swim in a swimming pool, and visit SPA around the airport; but not for a long time, because it’s just the beginning.
Choose your route to the city centre along Heydar Aliyev Avenue, exactly that way will allow to start the first encounter with marvelous Baku, a diverse and hospitable city.
The modern Expo-Center, Buta concert hall, groomed areas, multicolored bridges… the first impression is not a deceptive one.
An Olympic Village is situated close to a huge stadium which is built this year. Up to 8 thousand athletes from every part of the Europe will be accommodated here. According to a result of balloting, it is Baku that will host the first European Games in the world. The competitions will be held from 12th to 28th of June, but the sporting mood is already in the air to the utmost. New stadiums, cycle tracks, support centers. Just a little bit later, the highway will lead you to the new symbol of the modern Azerbaijan — Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre. It is a rare sight. Patulous white waves make a perfect form. The architect is enviable — Zaha Hadid herself. The Cultural Centre includes a congress centre, a museum, exhibition halls, administrative offices. It should be surely visited at least to understand how it is possible to be built and made work at all. Perfect acoustics and innovative technologies determine the Centre as the place to hold the leading events in the country and international symposiums. We will certainly visit it again…
At the enterace of the central part of the city you will be greeted by a giant sail — the Donald Trump office block. It is a beautiful construction when observed at night. Perfect illumination and a fine design will certainly make you turn around more than once to make sure again that you haven’t imagined anything.
The next stop may be the Museum of Modern Arts. One can talk of it for a long period of time. You should better visit it yourself. There you can see the early genuine works created by Picasso's hand.
Point of attraction: Icheri Sheher
Skyscrapers are growing rapidly everywhere like mushrooms after the rain in Baku. Old Baku is missing and disappearing under this powerful pressure. It is strange how several old districts could have survived. But not only to survive, but also to provide themselves with their own Mayor's Office and come under UNESCO protection.
We are entering the Old City or Ichery Shekher, how it is actually called. "City in the city" got the status of the historical and architectural sanctuary and it is surrounded with a rampart called "Icheri Shekher".
The first record of that Baku stronghold dates back to the XII century.
The dilapidated ramparts preserved a multiple of unique memorials: the complex of Shirvanshah palace with the burial vault, Divanhane, the mosque; "Giz Galasi" (the "Maiden Tower"); mosques and minarets, remains of caravansaries, bathhouses. Buildings of the old stronghold are of special kind. Due to the lack of territory, buildings were erected "wall to wall" from the old times. There are no gardens, the yards are extremely small and divided with "straps" of narrow streets, alleys and blind streets.
When the Shirvanshahs moved their capital from Shamakhi to Baku in the XV century, mass building began in Icheri Shekher. During that period the pearl of the stronghold — Palace of the Shirvanshahs — was built. In the past that residential quarter formed the entire city of Baku and today it is one of the most populous places in the city, but it is its minor part. Popular Soviet films were filmed in local streets, among them: "The Diamond Arm" and "Amphibian Man". Maybe, it would be said too much that it is one of the most beloved places for residents of Baku themselves. The atmosphere is inexpressible. Where else can one touch the ancestor's legacy so close but there?
There is a plenty of hotels on the territory of the Old City.
But reservation should be made well in advance. Those who wish to stay there are uncountable.
Don’t forget to smile, greet and wish a good day. Residents of Baku love foreigners and react to attention with much reverence. Don’t be surprised if they invite you on a visit. It is in all sincerity. You should definitely pay attention to balconies and doors. A legend is hidden behind each of them. And countless lanes still keep secrets of their spirits. When being at a hotel, make inquiries about how to get on an excursion to Fuad Akhundov, if you are fortunate, of course. That man knows all secrets of Baku streets, palaces, gardens and even those spirits.
If you are a fan of arts, you are so lucky. Art galleries, sculptor's studios and carpet weaving workshops are subtly hidden, but their doors will open before you immediately, it only takes your desire to do it. Make sure to remember the beloved address of all residents and guests of Baku, Kichik Gala 84.
There lives a remarkable artist, who walks barefooted even on the frozen Himalayas. His works can be found in the world's best galleries, private collections of Presidents and people of influence, but you have only to see and speak with him, and you will feel the special warmth and affinity of souls. Rumors are flying that Ali Shamsi knows the language of the Sea. In any case, his Sea and Women come out to be of special beauty. If he only likes you, he will present you with his work, sketched right in front of your eyes. Kindness and generosity are the main qualities of Baku residents. All of them without exceptions.
It is a sin to leave the Old City without trying the local tea. It must be black with keklik otu (thyme) and drunk during half an hour. You will remember it long after. However you try, you will never manage to brew it the same way. Locals are unlikely to reveal to you their secret, passed on from one generation to another.
Souvenir shops have a special place in Icher Sheher. You must bargain even there where they sell hand embroidered silk, antique silver and hand embroidered carpets, at that don’t be afraid to bargain sternly and decidedly. You can become an owner of a silk carpet, a national shawl (kelagai), decorated dishes, and all this at a reasonable price.
For a Dessert
Take your time to continue your "Baku adventures" without refreshing. You won’t have to rush all around the city to find a worthy restaurant. Like every modern megalopolis, each Baku district can offer any cuisine to fit any taste and budget. It should be noted that Azerbaijan cuisine belongs to the category of national endow. So, without trying the real kebab, qutab, shakh-pilaff, piti, kufta-bozbash, lavangi, dushbara, khangal, sturgeon, you will scarcely make a full image of the country.
There are many key words: restaurant "Otdykh", "Chanag Gala", "Khan Gisi", "Turaji", "Gorodok" and a dozen of restaurants beyond the city centre, but they are cheap and offer the most delicious kebab. Don’t think much, just remember the names and any taxi driver will take you there. Probably, the interior will not surprise you, but this will be the taste you will remember for the whole life. There are a lot of people, as Baku residents prefer exactly those places to meet good old friends.
By the way, about taxi. Traditional taxi-cabs became the symbol not only of London, but Baku as well. An article in the competent American edition Forbes states as follows: "The chosen dark-violet color perfectly matches Baku – an ancient city, situated on the coast of the Caspian Sea, on the Silk Road."Azerbaijan is the world's biggest customer of legendary cabs, so, feel free to take a cab and a helpful taxi driver will take you to any address for quite a reasonable price according to a counter.
Want to dress nicely, have a good dinner with national exotica and listen to the heartfelt music? Restaurants-museums "Shirvanshah", "Art Garden", restaurants "Sumakh", "Nakhichevan", "Zogal", "Sakhil", "Karvansaray", "Bekh Bekh Club", "Mangal". Expensive, tasty and in a respectable way.
Breakfast takes a special place in Azerbaijan life. It is the whole tradition and rituals. They say how to serve tea in a proper way and with what items, how fresh and warm bread must be, where honey must be brought from. That is why foreigners realized long ago that they may not take breakfast at a hotel, but "run" for a proper breakfast in the city. For example, in "Tendir" situated in "Icheri Shekher" (Old City) you will be served hot bread cakes, baked in a tendir (stove), and in "Mado" you will be surprised with a variety of cheese, cream (gaimag) and incredible sweet tea.
Being a multinational and multinational city, Baku offers cuisines of different countries. If you wish foie gras or eskargot snails in a typical French atmosphere with a Frenchman chef, welcome to the brasserie "Paris Bistro"; if you want to try Caspian sturgeon, beluga or lamb ribs that were cooked following the Scandinavian recipe, you should definitely go to "Fillet House". Japanese, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Lebanon cuisines…, but Turkish and Italian cookeries are represented greater than all other foreign cuisines. But after coming to the home place of incredibly diverse Azerbaijan cuisine you will hardly want anything else.
To get acquainted with Baku "glamour" life, the best choice is to go to the pedestrian street Port Baku Mall. It is not only the elite accommodation with Lamborghini, Bentley, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Mazeratti, Aston Martin resting at night in its basement, but also fashionable offices, as well as Emporium Port Baku, a famous department store. Unique format is the plan of a Japanese designer. The place can offer the most actual tendencies in fashion, design, music and arts. Latest collections of clothes from leading brands and young designers, unique brands of perfumery and cosmetics, collection music and special publications about art.
Prada, Dsquared, Fendi, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Givenchy, Balmain, Michael Kors, Victoria Beckham, Roberta Furlanetto, Mary Katrantzou, Faith Connexion, Rag and Bone… the list is endless.By the way, "louboutins" can be bought for the same price as on the web-site.Without markups.
Modern establishments are situated nearby."Harbours", "Pivnaya Apteka", "Baku cafe" (gluten/sugar free), "Budda Bar".Parties are excellent.Select the your best costume and have a good mood.Baku residents know how to rest elegantly and you will easily plunge into the city's night life.
At nightfall you should take a stroll through the National Park (Seafront).Be patient.It is always crowded and noisy.No wonder, everyone rushes to the sea before going to sleep.The Seafront is one of national endows.It is preserved, improved and loved.It is divided into two areas: Old Area and New Area.Its length is almost 6 km.Shortly its length will be increased to be 14 km. Works are in full swing…
Take a powerboat to make a trip across the Old Area, row with a gondolier along the improvised Venice, admire foreign baobabs and "burrs", which are several hundred years old, listen to "dancing fountains", dance in "Pasifico" or just sit at the sea. The straight road will take you to the International Mugham Center. The shape of the Center reminds of a part of a tar — one of Azerbaijan musical instruments that accompanies a mugham performer.
The mugham art constitutes an important part of the oral heritage of Azerbaijan professional musical culture; it is deeply rooted in the cultural tradition and history of Azerbaijan people. Mugham festivals are events of international scale thanks to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. It is mugham that is taken by Azerbaijan people as one of the main national endows that makes the basis of self-consciousness and moral perfection. Mugham is not music, but a whole philosophy, each note of which contains a key to Azerbaijani’s soul. Each performance is an eternal and catching search for the truth.
One of the favorite khanendes (performer) of absolutely all Azerbaijanis is Alim Qasimov. A new stage of mugham development is connected with him. Monthly concerts in Europe, Russia, USA, Canada, Japan, Great Britain reject the stereotypes that "there" we are hard to be understood. Alim created practically a new genre — his concept of magham, almost a new "religion", out of control and abstracted…
Neftchilar Avenue is parallel to the entire coastline.Just there luxury hotels Four Seasons, Hilton, Park Inn, Marriott are neighbouring with each other in a friendly manner, Kempinski (the second one) is being built at the moment and you can also find the magnificently arranged the Government House of Azerbaijan.
The construction of a new area of the boulevard was completed in the run-up to the Eurovision musical contest taking place in Baku in 2013. Here you can always rent a bicycle and drive to the Museum of Carpet (another unique and modern structure) or have a panoramic view of the city from Baku Eye (Ferris wheel), admire the world's second greatest Flag and, if you are fortunate, visit Crystal Hall to a concert of another world star.
Earlier construction was carried out in the principle that the Maiden Tower could be seen from all high points, it is replaced with unique "flame tongues" — Flame Towers today.
The highest towers, seen from any point of the city, are masterpieces of futuristic architecture. According to the poll of skyscrapercity.com, an influential forum about urban planning, Flame Towers illumination was the best in the world. The towers themselves are covered with led screens that reflect movement of fire, observable from the farthest points of the city. Visually an effect of giant torches is created, underlining the main idea of the towers — Azerbaijan coat-of-arms — flame tongues. One of the most luxery hotel, Fairmont is situated just there. The view is unique. Baku is spread before the eyes.
You can get from the boulevard to Fountains Square in a few minutes. It looks like Moscow Arbat. The adjacent street is popularly called Trade Street, despite the absence of any street trade for a long period of time and the change in its name to Nizami.
Any case if you don’t know, don't hesitate to ask. They will explain, take you to the required place, advise, give time and try to help as much as possible. People in Baku speak three languages at the same time: Azerbaijani, Russian and English. While people from the older generation remember Russian, modern young people speak perfect English.
Fountain Square offers many lower-income brands of clothes, it also has a passage to the Russian Drama Theatre, the Theatre of the Young Spectator, the Puppet Theatre, the Opera and Ballet Theatre.
The first oil wells were made in Baku at the end of the XIX century – the beginning of the ХХ century. Theatres, cinemas and entertainment centers were erected along with the oil wells. Lucky millionaires built their own beautiful houses and mansions spending their own funds.
Setting the task of examining "old" architecture of the city, remember the following names; all of them are placed at a walking distance from each other, you only need to find time and cameras, of course: The Ramazanovs’ House (1985) belonged to a merchant Hadji Mamedkyarim Ramazanov. It was built in the national and romantic style.
Baku's Evangelical and Lutheran Church was built in the middle of the XIX century for Baku residents of German and Swedish origin. A German Adolf Eichler was its architect. The Nobel brothers (Emmanuel Nobel) contributed to the construction of the building.
The School for Girls of Z. Taghiyev (1898 – 1901). The author of the project for the Taghiyev’s School for Girls was I.V. Goslawski — the main Baku architect in 1892 – 1904. The building was built in Gothic style. In those years such school was the first school not only in Baku and Russia, but in the entire Islamic world. On the 5th of November, 1896 the building was officially given to the School for Girls. During 1918 – 1920 the Parliament of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was located in the building.
The building of the Executive Power of Baku (1900 – 1904) "Baksovet", "Mayor's Office". Baroque motives were used during the construction. Red multicolor bricks and color marble were brought from Italy to decorate the building facade. The architect built the duma building symmetrically, adhering to the classical compositional design. The coat-of-arms of Baku has been kept in the building to the present day.
The building of the Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre was designed by H.G. Bayev. It was built as an opera theatre for money of brothers–millionaires Mailovs. In 1959 the building was named the Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre.
The Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall was designed as the "Building for Public Gatherings" ("Summer Centre for Public Gatherings"). The architectural design was the imitation of the famous casino in Monte-Carlo.
The Palace of Happiness was built by Baku millionaire Murtuza Mukhtarov for his wife Lisa. The author of the project was Jozef Ploshko who has built in the French Gothic style.
The Ismailiyya Palace was built by Baku millionaire Musa Naghiyev in commemoration of his dearly departed son Ismayil. The architect of the building, constructed in the Venetian Gothic style, was Pole I.K. Ploshko.
One of Baku millionaires completed the building of Isa-bey Hadjinsky after having lost a bet only for 3 months. An unknown Italian architect resorted to Gothic, Baroque and Modern styles during the construction. This is one of the first high-rise buildings of Baku executed in Classical style.
The architectural building of Taze Bei bathhouse is situated in the centre of Baku. The bathhouse is in Eastern architectural style and it is notable for its interior. The Taze Bei bathhouse meets the highest requirements and the cultivated taste and it is one of the most beloved places for resting and healthcare of residents and visitors of our city.
The Taza Pir Mosque with its rare beauty is one of the most uncommon constructions in the entire East. This monument is considered to be a religious centre not only for Azerbaijan, but for the whole Caucasus.
All buildings in the city centre are almost witnesses of a long history. As you have already understood, they have been keeping family secrets of oil magnates Naghiyevs, Nobels, Asadullayevs to this day, and just there history was made and dramatic events took place. All architectural monuments in the city are dated, restored and protected by the State.
Only a few such architectural "monuments" are left in Baku, that’s why they should be paid special attention, if possible.
Outside the city
You should plan some tours at the out of the city during your staying in Baku. Because the main miracles of the city are located there. The way is not too long and rewarding. Memories will stay with you till the rest of your live. One of the interesting place is Gobustan. It is one of the first sites of primitive people situated on the territory of Azerbaijan. Before feasting your eyes on walls with ancient drawings and subjects, visit a museum and request a guide. If you are lucky with weather and there is no rain, drive up to a ridge of mud volcanoes. Their number is exactly half of all available on the planet.
Then drive to the world’s only preserved fire worshipper’s temple Ateshgah.
Parsis, that is fire worshippers, throughout the world consider their duty to bow to this place. The temple has a fire altar in its centre with tiny cells along its wall; look into each of them and don’t forget to read inscriptions. Earlier, pilgrimages were organized to that place.
Spend some time to visit the Gala ethnographic museum (stronghold) situated in a small village with the same name twenty kilometers away from the centre and only several kilometers from the airport. In the museum in the open air you will learn much about history and everyday life of Azerbaijan people.
Finish your day on Yanar Dag ("burning mountain") where flame is bursting out from under the ground (natural gas) and sparks spill all over a hill. That unique phenomenon is preserved only in Azerbaijan. By the way, they serve excellent tea and tasty jam there.
If you are tired and not ready for the next trials and adventures, book a room at Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel. There is fantastic Spa, its own beach, morning yoga, and the best branches in the city.
Before going to sleep you will surely remember your tour adventures, acquaintance with new, amazingly hospitable people, you will try to think of how to drop in a market to buy a bottle of doshab, pomegranate juice and the tastiest tomatoes in the world before departure, imagine how nice it would be to take a swim in the warm Caspian Sea, breath in the odor of blooming magnolia, bask in the sun, learn a few words with a long melodious accent, and stand still once more with the sound of stunning azan (call to prayer)...
You will understand that Baku is the city of children's smiles, scorching sun, sincerity and kindness while your staying. According to these features Baku looks like Dubai, Paris, Naples, San Francisco…
And suddenly, you think that it is more likely you don’t properly know anything about thiscity and this country at all, you want to get back as soon as possible...Even if there is no congress... just for fun, just to that place… again…