Why the capital of Azerbaijan is coming into focus fast

Why the capital of Azerbaijan is coming into focus fast

Daily Mail reports in its article Get ready to bet on Baku: Why the capital of Azerbaijan is coming into focus fast - and it's bringing the bling about Baku and its most attractive sides.

The ancient capital of Azerbaijan on the Silk Road is modernising fast. History there is aplenty: the Old Town is a medley of alleys contained within a medieval wall. When oil first became big around 1900, Baku boomed, throwing out boulevards and erecting theatres as though it were Paris. Now it's boomed again — and how. Its model is Dubai.

This is the Land of Fire. Supposedly, it's where the Titan Prometheus was chained after having disgraced his status as an immortal by giving fire to humanity. At Yanar Dag, north of Baku, a hillside is permanently on fire due to the seepage of natural gas. The spontaneous appearance of flames attracted fire-worshipping Zoroastrians for centuries, and they built a temple at Ateshgah. Perhaps, to some purists, the Flame Towers are a tiny bit in-your-face, ever so slightly bling. For my money, they're so OTT that they somehow come out the other side. They're splendid.

So is the Carpet Museum.Carpets are highly prized in this largely Muslim land where, in the remote mountains, some families still live a nomadic existence.

Photograph the Flame Towers at dawn, when their curving flanks are modelled by the rosy light. At night, like the rest of Baku, the population Flame Towers are transformed into a spectacular light show. Everything flickers, dances. The otherwise boring football stadium looks fabulous. Nowhere does night-time quite like Baku.

Even the petrol stations are glamorous. But that's Baku, where of course shops include Bulgari, Tom Ford, Swarovski crystal, Lamborghini.

Much of this development has happened in the past five years. Remember the Eurovision Song Contest? Possibly not, but Azerbaijan, the host country in 2012, does. It pointed Baku towards the future, kicking off a splurge of development which is bewildering to the natives, who remember the featureless landscape before the buildings came. For the traveller, it has brought a crop of international luxury hotel brands. I can't, however, claim to have experienced them myself. Coming here to research a novel, I asked the excellent Imaginative Traveller to find a modest guest-house — little realising how literally they would take me at my word. The modesty comprised a room with the quirk of an internal window opening into the room next door. The window was high up in the wall, but, when opened, it allowed the least sound from one room to penetrate into the other. Oh, it was good for my soul - and clean. Everything in Baku is. In the morning, elderly women are out with their brooms made from twigs, sweeping up every last autumn leaf -of which, since the Old Town is ringed with parks, there are quite a number.

The Old Town itself is spotless: almost too much so for lovers of charm and character. The architecture has been over-restored. What hasn't changed is the robustly flavoured, lovingly served food. I steered clear of international cuisine and missed nothing. Dishes are of the kind that should be eaten on chairs spread with sheepskin - much mutton, accompanied by what would elsewhere be considered Mediterranean vegetables, stewed until about to decompose into flavourful ratatouille. Soups are good, baklava irresistible. Honey, served for breakfast, is the best you'll ever find. Bread is apparently held to be sacred.

Baku may be on the verge of being blinged out, but it's got some of its priorities right. 


Vestnik Kavkaza

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