BAKU, THE CAPITAL OF AZERBAIJAN, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 07.06.2016

Azerbaijan, “our brother country,” which is located in the Caucasus and has earned our love due to our similar cultures, is an independent republic formed after its separation from the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan, according to its language means “Eternal.”

When we made a 4-day vacation plan to the city of Baku, capital of this brother country, what surprised and disappointed us most was learning that Azerbaijan required us to obtain visas. Azerbaijan doesn’t require a visa for green passports but normal passports unfortunately require them. If you are going to Baku by plane you can get your visa from the airport; but if you are going overland you must get your visa beforehand, because borders other than the Haydar Aliyev International Airport do not issue visas.

Baku, or “Bakı,” is located on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It has a population close to 2 million and is known as the “City of Winds” amongst its people.

It is possible to see Baku’s city center on foot and places away from the center can be easily reached by public transportation, including subway, buses, and taxis. Because oil is pumped from the Caspian Sea, the prices of oil and taxis are lower than ours in comparison. The subway system was built during the Russian period; some subway stations are decorated just like the ones in Moscow, turning them into works of art.

Azerbaijanis are very interested in cultural activities, and Baku in particular has many activities in this area. You can see places such as cultural centers, concert halls, theatres, operas, art galleries, exhibitions, and libraries in almost all districts of the city.

Their cuisine is also quite similar to ours. It can be said that the Azerbaijani cuisine is influenced heavily by Turkish and Iranian cuisines. Dishes such as rice, dumplings, stuffed vegetables, kebabs, and baklavas are some of the familiar tastes. I would especially advise you to try their original dishes called Dushbara.

The city of Baku is divided into 3 districts: (1) The historical district where the old city settlement is located, (2) the district built during the Soviet era, and (3) the new district where the modern structures are located.

Amongst the first places to see within the city is the “Inner City,” which achieved a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Inner City is the historical district of the city and is surrounded by city walls, located at the center of Baku.

Within this old city which you can cover on foot lies the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, built during the reigns of Shirvanshah Sheykh Ibrahim and Sheykh Khalilullah during the 15th century. You can see the inside of the palace for 2 AZN with a ticket (The currency of Azerbaijan is the Manat. 1 AZN is approximately 0.6 EUR).

The Maiden Tower (Qız Qalası), which lies in front of you once you exit the Inner City from its gate by the seaside, was built during the 12th century. It was used as an observation tower during that time. The tower has a height of 27 m. The view of the Caspian Sea from the tower is magnificent, of course. Entrance to the tower costs 2 AZN.

The large avenue which lies in front of the Maiden Tower is Baku Boulevard. The park stretching alongside the boulevard on the shores of the Caspian Sea is apparently the second largest national park in Europe. Inside this park you can find a section with botanical trees brought from various places around the world, many entertainment venues, cafés, restaurants, the Carpet Museum (Xalça Muzeyi), and even a mall. You can also take in view of the beautiful seafront with a tourist train which travels end to end.

On the other side of the road in front of the carpet museum, which is at the end of the seafront, you will see a funicular train. The funicular takes you up to the martyrs’ cemetery of the Turkish and Azerbaijani soldiers that lost their lives fighting against the Armenians at Karabakh, called Martyrs’ Lane. I would advise you to take this free train and visit the cemetery, take in the city’s sights from the observation hill, and then visit the Flame Towers right next to the cemetery, which gives the city a modern impression. The towers, built like waves of fire, give the city a quite different look during the evenings when they are lit.

The flapping Azerbaijani flag quite far ahead on the Caspian shores may attract your attention. Apparently, the size of this flag and its 162-meter-high post gave it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest flag in the world. The interesting structure on the shore of Flag’s Square is the venue where the Eurovision song contest took place.

Some other places you should see are the Taza Pir Mosque, Martyrs’ Lane, the National Art Museum, the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Rostropovich Museum, the TV Tower, Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall, the House Museum of Nariman Narimanov, the Dom Soviet, the Tagiyev History Museum, Nizami Avenue (the nicest avenue of the city), Targovaya Avenue, Fountain Square, the Haydar Aliyev Cultural Center (which attracts attention with its intriguing architectural design), and the Ataturk Center which lies on Taylan Alibarbayov Avenue.

The Haydar Aliyev Cultural Center reminds you of a scene from a science fiction movie with its snow-white futuristic structure. The design of the structure is the work of the world-famous architect Zaha Hadid. There are exhibitions and projections inside and colorful snail and rabbit statues outside; you will surely enjoy visiting this place.

If you wish to experience the lifestyle of the Azerbaijani people, you should have a coffee break at one of the classy cafés at Fountain Square. This is an enjoyable and lively square where you can see people from various places at almost every hour of the day. You will see how similar the lifestyle of the Azerbaijani people is to ours from a cultural and physical perspective.

If you see everything you wish to in the city there are places that you should visit in the near vicinity too, of course. Examples include The Ateshgyakh Temple located 30 km away in the Suraxanı region, Yanar Dag, Qala, and Artem Island.

Baku is a great option for those that wish to take a break from the city atmosphere to see different places.

As an end note, I would advise you to make a vacation plan during a sunny period to be able to fully enjoy the parks and cafés around the squares; the cold weather of Baku isn’t similar to ours, and visiting during a cold time can become torturous.

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Özlem Şakiroğlu


Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal