BAKU AND VICINITIES
If the shape of Azerbaijan on a map is similar to a bird flying towards the sea then the bird's "beak" would be the Absheron peninsula with an ancient and ever young city situated on its southwest coast. The city is Baku - the capital of Azerbaijan. COORDINATES:
Latitude: 390 39' N- 400 03' N
Longitude: 490 ??.39' E - 490 39' E
The population is 2000000. Even though administratively Baku is separated from Absheron suburb settlements (in a total number of 32), historically they are indivisibly linked to the capital both in cultural and economical as well as in geographical terms. Due to this, the whole Absheron peninsula including the capital is called "Big Baku".
Absheron and Baku feature major transport lines: International Airport n.a. Heydar Aliev, a big port in the Baku Bay (the biggest on the whole Caspian Sea), Baku Railway station and highways connecting the capital with the rest of the country.
Major oil and gas pipelines also originate on the peninsula. Baku is a key point of the international transport corridor (Europe-Caucasus-Asia) TRASECA, in the framework of which Azerbaijan participates in restoration of a historical route, the Great Silk Road.
CLIMATE. The Absheron Peninsula is located 29 m below World Ocean level. The climate of Baku and Absheron is of temperate warm semideserts and steppes with Absheron-specific winds. While bringing refreshment in summer the northern wind "Khazri" is chilling in winter; on the contrary, the southern "Gilavar" is heating in summer but attenuates the cold in winter. In general, however, the climate of present Baku was substantially softened by gardens and parks, lovingly cultivated by Baku citizens. While at the beginning of XX century it was often impossible to go outside due to blinding dusty winds, today's Baku has evolved into a warm and comfortable city.
MINERAL DEPOSITS - oil, gas, building stone (limestone - "badamdash"), salt, sand, lime. Salt lakes at the Absheron include Masazir, Gala, Beyuk-Shor and Hodzhasan. There are some of the oldest oil wells in the world where people would draw oil from with buckets and the first industrial oil wells on the Absheron.
MUD VOLCANOES - A FINE MYSTERY OF NATURE. Azerbaijan is the first among the world's countries by quantity and diversity of mud volcanoes. Among 800 mud volcanoes known in different countries on Earth 400 are located within the boundaries of the South Caucasus oil-and-gas basins and among the latter 300 are located on the land of Azerbaijan, within its Caspian area of water and on numerous islands.
All known types of mud volcanoes on the world are represented in Azerbaijan. This is a genuine natural stock and laboratory of mud volcanoes. Due of this, in the last years Baku has become a center of international scientific forums on mud volcanism, geodynamics and seismicity.
Mud volcanoes also attract a great number of tourists visiting our country. Desert and rocky landscapes of Absheron with its volcanoes remind of the youth of our planet, of the ages before the advent of humans, or moon landscapes. However, the volcanoes in Azerbaijan are alive, active…
GOBUSTAN PETROGLYPHS - AN OUTDOOR MUSEUM. Prehistoric rock drawings - petroglyphs - are an art "archive" of the human evolution on Earth. The "articles" of such archives are the first transmissions from the human "I" to the outer world. There are a few of such outdoor "archives" in Azerbaijan. One of them, the largest, is located in Gobustan, at the Baku State Reserve of History, Ethnography and Arts, near Baku. It is a rocky massif on the bottom of the southeast part of the Great Caucasus Range, near the Caspian Sea and a modern highway built on the ancient Shirvan road.
A great number of rock drawings, dwellings, ancient settlement sites and mounds have been found here. D. Rustamov and F. Muradova, a married couple of archeologists who devoted 35 years to the research of Gobustan maintain that the most ancient group of Gobustan petroglyphs is the most optimistic and in spite of the basic form of self-description presents a very informative picture of the human life in the dawn of the development of humanity. They studied about 20 rock dwellings and settlements, excavated around 40 mounds and revealed 300 new rocks and stones with drawings. However, the stones of Gobustan are not only witnesses of the most ancient ages of human life. They reflect the history of the region during the period of over 15 thousands of years, from the Lower Paleolithic to The Middle Ages.
The first researcher of Gobustan who introduced this unique place to the world science in 1939 was archeologist Izhak Dzhafarzade.
By now, over 4000 petroglyphs (rock drawings in the style of wooden engraving) have been found and studied. Among these there are pictures of hunt, fishing, domestic life, group dances, various symbols including solar (fylfot, spiral, cross), constellations, men and women (interestingly, women hunted along with men), pictures of animals - gazelles, aurochs, lions, goats, pictures of reed boats, two-wheeled carts, human traces. There are remains of unique "plates" - depressions carved in stones and even ornamented. There are also unusual "musical instruments" - stones producing loud sounds, each stone with its own timbre. This is the "Gaval-Dash", the tambourine stone.
The rocks of Gobustan also retain the evidence of the presence of Roman legionnaires crossing this attractive region in the 1st century BC. A rock has been found here with the carved inscription in Latin written by Roman centurions of the XII Legio Fulminata. The inscription reads that the Emperor Domitianus Caesar Augustus Germanicus ruled in Rome at the time. Now Gobustan is nominated for the inclusion in the list of "World Legacy" maintained by UNESCO.
THE HISTORY OF ABSHERON. Favorable climate-geographical and geological conditions contributed to the fact that the Absheron was already inhabited 20000 years ago (e.g., an ancient human settlement site near the village of Yeni Surakhany). The whole peninsula is studded with ancient man settlement sites and mounds dated to the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. There are types of burial complexes with burials of anthropomorphic figures made of stone accompanied by plot pictures (villages of Dubandy, Turkani, Hashahuna, Mardakan, and Shuvelan) that are restricted only to the Absheron. More settlement sites have been found in Pirallakhi, on the lake of Zikh, in Binagadi and in Amiradzhani. This evidences that the whole Absheron was one of inhabited places in the most ancient times. However, geostrategic position of the peninsula attracted various invaders as well.
The largest settlement site on the Absheron is Mashtaga.
Here, aside of settlements dated to the Bronze and Iron Ages there are also posterior monuments: mosques: Bira Argutai (1414), Hodzha Aydamir, Gazikhana, Hodzha Kerbalai Khusein, (18th century); a mosques dated to the 13th-14th centuries with a 40 m tall minaret built later, a bath of 17th century, Ovdan (a lodgment dated to the 19th century), mausoleums: Agilbara, Hodzha Aslan, Gasanbek, Hodzha Aydamir (18th century). "Gala" if the Baku State Historical and Ethnographic Reserve located in the Absheron village of Gala. Remained in "Gala" are ancient mosques, old roads, ovdans, an ancient cemetery (15th century), baths and settlement sites dated to the Bronze Age. Gala is a typical Absheron settlement and is sometimes called "Icheri Sheher" of Azerbaijan.
Attracting a great interest among guests of Baku is the temple of Zoroastrians - Ateshgah (the house of fire) in the village of Surakhany (17th century). It is situated on a rock where natural emergences of gas on the surface have been burning for thousands of years. Near the village of Muhammedli one can observe an interesting natural phenomenon -the emergence of burning natural gases at the bottom of the mountains. The place is called Yanar Dag (The Burning Mountain"). In ancient times there were many such places in Azerbaijan.
Ancient, prehistoric tracts - complete analogs of the mystical road tracks in Malta have been found in every part of the Absheron. Many of them lead right to the sea vanishing in the depths…
In very ancient times the city became the first sea port on the Caspian coast. Both the boats of invaders and civilian trade caravans with traders traveling from Russia and European countries were plying one of the ancient naval routes along the Volga River to Astrakhan. From here they could travel further, to the southwest - across Georgia, to the Black Sea countries, and to the east - to Persia, China and India. If the whole Azerbaijan is a country on the virtual border between Europe and Asia then Baku-Absheron is one of its main gates, through which the residents of European countries would travel to unveil the lands of Asia. Also, residents of Asian and Far Eastern countries traveling to Europe did not pass Baku by. The place emerged as one of the branches of the Great Silk Road.
Some sources mention the city of Baruka located in the ancient Caucasian Albania. Scientists maintain that this is connected to Baku. Bagavan, Atesh-i-Bagavan, Bakukh, Bakuya, Bad-Kube, Baku, Baka - these are the ancient names of our city mentioned in various written sources of the antiquity.
In the period of Shirvanshahs State formation, Baku attained even higher importance. In the 12th century, after a powerful earthquake that severely damaged Shamakhi, the capital of the State of Shirvan, Shirvanshah Ahsitan I whose wife and children also died during the earthquake, relocated the capital to Baku.
Thus Baku became of the main city of the Shirvan State. Shirvanshah got a new capital, built the fortress walls of Icheri Sheher, and surrounded them with ditches. The population was occupied in crafts: carpet weaving, production of copper and bronze wares, weapons (many of them made their way to the museums of different countries in the world). Baku emerged as a strategic port on the Caspian Sea which favored its further prosperity.
Shirvanshahs built a powerful fleet on the Caspian Sea. During the reign of Shirvanshah Khalilullah the 1st (1417-1462) extensive building construction works were conducted in Baku; economy and culture were prospered, too. In 1501 Baku was captured by Shah Ismail Sefevi and during the reign of Shah Tahmasib (1538) the state of Shirvanshahs was incorporated to the state of Sefevids. After a collapse of the latter in the 18th century a new, independent Baku Khanate was established. At that time Russia began to intensify the development of its geopolitical strategies at the Caucasus with the territory of Baku being a crucial part of these strategies. In 1723 Peter I launched an expedition to the Caspian Sea. In the same year his armies occupied Caspian borderlands including Baku, Shamakhi, Shirvan, Derbent, and border towns of Iran. The wars between Russia and Iran ended in 1813 with the Gulustan peace treaty by which Azerbaijan was divided into the North and South parts. The North Azerbaijan was incorporated into Russian Empire while the South part went to Iran.
MONUMENTS OF BAKU. Among historical monuments of Baku the most exciting is the Old City - Icheri Sheher, surrounded by large fortress walls from three directions. There is a palace of Shirvanshahs with a complex of various structures: a burial vault, palace, mosque, Divan-khane, the Mausoleum of Seyd Yakhya Bakuvi (mausoleum of a dervish) - a court scientist. The palace was built by Shirvanshah Khalilullah I (1417-1462) and his son Farrukh Yasar (1462-1501). An interesting monument of antiquity is Juma Mosque with the inscription of Sultan Oldzhaytu (13th century). In the narrow streets of Icheri Sheher where the width of passages between houses are often reduced to the width of stretched arms, there are many little shops where one can buy ancient and modern wares of local craftsmen: carpets, ceramics, copperware etc. Here in Icheri Sheher, in buildings of the ancient caravanserais there are restaurants where one can taste the meals of Azerbaijani national cuisine.
Viewing the city from above, from the Upland Park of from the direction of the sea it is easily seen that the city's shape resembles an amphitheater on the slopes of rocky hills, it is like a bowl on the sea coast. Rising above at the edge of Icheri Sheher, near the big Baku Boulevard is one of the most famous historical-architecture monuments of the country, a symbol of Baku, Giz Galasy (Maiden's Tower)
Giz Galasy is dated to the 12th century, researchers maintain that the Tower was of military and defensive importance and was a part of the whole complex of defensive structures originating on the northern borders of Azerbaijan (at Derbent Fortress), Gilgichai Defensive Structures (a long wall, originating in the sea with many fortresses along its extent and ending in the mountains with a big tower called Chirag-Gala).
However, not all secrets of Giz Galasy have been revealed. For instance, there are facts supporting the view that the Tower was built in much earlier times. For many residents of Baku the Tower, a unique example of the history and architecture of the country, possesses not only cultural, defensive (astronomic) but also esoteric importance. City folklore contains many legends both about the Tower itself and about its name.
It has been speculated that on the Caspian Sea, not far from Baku, there was another tower of the same kind. However, only the following information can be considered reliable. In 1235 Shirvanshah Fariburz III built fortifications on the rocky islands of Bail bay (in the vicinity of the present Baku, the oldest region of oil production). There was a castle in a shape of an irregular rectangle with the length of 180 m and the width of 40 m. The castle was surrounded by fortress walls, 1.5-2 m thick and had a 15 m tall watch tower. Extending along the upper part of the fortress wall there was a 400 m-long inscription describing genealogy of Shirvanshahs dynasty. The inscription on one of the remained stones reads "Bender-i-Baku" (Port of Baku). It was a naval fortress guarding the approaches to the city since Shirvanshahs had a strong fleet already in the end of the 12th century. In the 13th century the fortress was besieged by Mongols who destroyed many of its structures with their battering rams but ultimately failed to capture it. The island with the castle was located 350 m from the city. After the earthquake in 1306 and subsequent increase in the Caspian Sea level the island with the castle became scuttled. During archeological excavations about 700 stones with inscriptions along with fragments and whole pieces of earthenware and copper coins of Shirvanshah Kershasb (13th century) were raised from the bottom of the sea. Some of the stones were later exhibited in the atrium of the palace of Shirvanshahs. The submerged fortress is now known as "Shahri Saba", "Sabail Castle" or "Bail Stones".
Nowadays Baku is a modern city with a delicate charming of the East and features of a modern megapolis. Here, in the capital, there are museums of: History of Azerbaijan, Literature, Musical Culture, Carpets, and Theater. There are also memorial Museums of: U. Hadzhibekov, the founder of modern Azerbaijani music, a renowned Azerbaijani composer Niyazi; composer and jazz performer V. Mustafazade, Baku-born world-famous musician M. Rostropovich, writers and playwrights G. Javid, Jabbarli, M.S. Ordubadi and a unique museum of miniature books.
There are also a number of exhibitions, concert halls, art galleries, theaters, sport complexes, stadiums, swimming pools, numerous hotels and restaurants.
Around Baku, along the whole perimeter of the Absheron peninsula there are a number of beaches. One can bathe and tan on the Absheron five months a year since there are many warm and hot sunny days. When the sun goes down and the heat of summer days fades away discos and night clubs begin their work on the beaches. At the service of tourist and vacationers are plentiful of hotels, resorts and health centers on the Caspian Coast.