At the most blue Caspian

At the most blue Caspian

By Kommersant


Baku-style melodrama


Any city craving for tourists has the usual set of showplaces, most of which are architectural monuments. For example, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Leaning Tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa. The skyscrapers of the pre-industrial age had both a utilitarian and a sacral purpose: they were supposed the show the man the grandeur of the Creator. The Maiden's Tower, or Giz Galasi, bears such symbolism in Baku. The fortress is located at the Neftchilar Avenue.


The cylinder-shaped tower is 28m tall on the southern side, 31m on the northern. Giz Galasi is situated on the slope of a giant rock, so it can easily be spotted from the Caspian coast. In May 1924, the Legend of the Maiden's Tower film premiered. If the early piece of Soviet cinematography was made at an at least tolerable technical level, the film would have been the first melodrama of socialist cinema. The plot is based on a legend that a young maiden jumped from the tower into the see, saving herself from marrying her father. The story about the suicide of a maiden in Giz Galasi probably took root in Baku with the help of Kurban Said's Ali und Nino novel published in 1937. The book says that Baku Governor Muhammed Yusuf Khan for his daughter, who he wanted to marry.


Historians have been debating the construction date of the fortress for a very long time. Some say that the lower wall 12m in length was built in the 800-700 BC, the upper one much later. Critics of the theory insist that the foundation was originally built to keep the tower the way it is today. Scientists are uncertain about the purpose of the tower. Some suppose that Giz Galasi had a defensive function, referring to the tower falls facing the sea. The holes, say their opponents, were meant for ventilation. According to a version, the Maiden's Tower is a cult structure of Zoroastrian fire worshippers. Before being dubbed Giz Galasi, the fortress was called the Zarathushtra Cabin after the founder of Zoroastrianism.

 

By the way, Azerbaijan has many references to Zoroastrianism. According to some local historians, even the word 'Baku' originates from Zoroastrianist 'baka', which means 'fire' and 'God'. Others are inclined to believe that the capital of Azerbaijan owes its name to the baka, or bakan, tribe that inhabited the Apsheron Peninsula in the 1200-500 BC.


The Maiden's Tower has a spring with pure water and an underground passage connecting the fortress with the Palace of Shirvanshah, a dynasty of Shirvan rulers (currently a part of modern Azerbaijan).


From Shirvanshah to Diamond Arm


The dynasty is first mentioned in the historical documents of 861. Ibrahim I of Shirvan, the most notable member of the Shirvanshah Dynasty, made a deal with Tamerlane, who wanted to conquer Shirvan, to keep its independence. In exchange, the Shirvanshah Dynasty promised to protect the northern frontiers of his empire. The events took place in the 14th century. Ibrahim started building the palace in 1411. His son Halilullah I continued the construction after the shah's death. The Shirvanshah Palace (Gyasr Street, 76, open at 10am - 6.30pm), just as the Maiden's Tower, is on the UNESCo World Heritage List as a bright symbol of the Old City, known as Icheri Sheher.

Russian viwers are familiar with the Old City as seen in the Diamond Arm. The character played by Yuri Nikulin tripped and shouted the famous 'Dammit' at Icheri Sheher. The Synyg Gala Minaret of Muhammad, dating back to 1078 can be seen in the episode: it is the oldest building at Icheri Sheher. The Old City covers 22 hectares, has 13 mosques, 4 caravansaries, including Multani, where Indian merchants used to stop. The old part of Baku was famous for its bathhouses, which were named after their owners, Gaji Gaib, Gasym-bek and Aga-Mikail. Osip Mandelstam said during his visit to Tiflis in 1920 that he got a mark in his passport at a bathhouse in Baku so that he would not think about washing again.


Trails of ancient man


Alexandre Dumas arrived in Baku from France in the late 1850s and told his readers that the Ateshgah Temple was only 26 versts away from Baku and that its eternal flame was kept ablaza using crude oil. The said temple is located in the Amirjany Village Surakhan District, 30km from Baku.


In 1713, rich Indian Sikhs visiting Shirvan built a temple over a Zoroastianist sanctuary. About a century later, merchant Kanchannagar built the central altar. The temple has the shape of a pentagon, its wall is jagged. The altar is located in the center of the inner yard. A rectangular pit can still be seen near the temple, it was used to keep the holy fire worshipped by Sikhs. In the mid 19th century, natural gas was repleted, the fire went out and the local believers took it as a divine punishment. Local Indians were ascetic, they believed that a soul was eternal, the body was temporary, so they were often engaged in self-torture. Ateshgag has not such community with strict rules today. In 1975, after restoration, the temple was converted into a museum (open at 9.00am - 6.00pm).

 

The outskirts of Baku have older monuments. Gobustan is 60km away. 6,000 hieroglyphas, the oldest ones belonging to the Mesolithic Age, were found at local mountains of Kichikdash, Jingirdag, Shongardag, Shykhtay and Beyukdash in 1939. Archeologists concluded that the climate on the territory of modern Azerbaijan used to be tropical: men performing ritual dances are depicted with loincloths. Scientists found signs of Roman Emperor Domitian's legion in Gobustan: an inscription in Latin made in the I century BC can be seen on Beyukdash. The Gobustan Reserve entered the UNESCO World Heritage List 8 years ago.


Burn, burn bright


Modern history can impress tourists too. For example, architecture. The Azerbaijani capital is one of the few post-Soviet cities where architects have all they need to show their worth. Those who visited the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, where Norman Forster was experimenting with all his fantasies, will understand what the author implies. Baku has cosmic architecture. For example, the Flame Towers look like fire flames. The three skyscrapers have a hotel, offices and apartments. They are 39, 37 and 34 floors tall. By the way, the skyscrapers are located on the Mehdi Huseynzade Street, they look better from afar, they are covered in LED screens showing fire and other motional pictures. They can be seen from all parts of the city.


Another impressive building in Baku is the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center named after the national leader of Azerbaijan. Architect Zaha Hadid, a star among modern architects, designed the center in the form of waves, associating with the Caspian Sea nearby, while the Flame Towers refer to fire, the symbolb of hydrocarbon riches of Azerbaijan. Besides architecture, the Heydar Aliyev Center is spectacular for housing several expositions about Heydar Aliyev's contribution to the development of the country, history of Azerbaijan, its ethnography. The Mini-Azerbaijan Museum resides there. The Center located on the Heydar Aliyev Avenue, 1, open from 9.00am to 6.00pm.


Azerbaijan, as any post-Soviet state, has a special feelings towards national symbols. Baku has a whole square dedicated to the state flag. The square built in 2007 should be visited to see the flagpole included in the Guinness Book of World Records: it is 162m tall, weights 220 tons. The flag weighs 350kg, it is 70m long and 35m wide.

It is pleasant to conclude the walk in Baku at the Primorsky Boulevard. It is the longest promenade on the Caspian coast, about 6km long. There are plans to extend it to 25km. It has two fountains, many attractions and cafes. And a beautifyl sunset on a summer evening. You can sit near the water, close your eyes and imagine times when cinema was black and white and Baku was a beautiful hospitable city of the enormous Soviet Union. It has not become any less hospitable, however.

What would you definitely recommend visiting in Baku?Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Politics magazine:- My favorite place in Baku is located near the Maiden's Tower on a hill at the entrance to the old town. There is a nice view of Absheron. You can see old houses there, and a part of the new seafront. In the distance you can see the world's largest Azerbaijani flag.Iosif Prigozhin, producer:-Azerbaijan is a unique special country. I often stayed there when I was a child.  Now Valeria and I always visit Baku with great pleasure. The Azerbaijani President has a good education, taste, good neighborliness and wisdom. He is developing his country like no one else in the post-Soviet space. I have a lot of favorite places in Baku. The city has become splendid. You cannot go there and not walk on the waterfront. The old town has a restaurant, where the roof opens and guests are under the starry sky. You also can't help walking alone on the seafront, the streets in the Old Town, where the episode of the movie "The Diamond Arm" was filmed with the famous phrase "Damn it!" There is a small cafe in the tandoor, where people bake bread. It is not far from this place. I have never eaten such bread anywhere else. Benevolence in Baku is everywhere. Our friends love us and they are awaiting us there. Therefore, Russians will always feel comfortable in Baku.Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Ties with Compatriots:- You need to see the new building of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Square of the State Flag, and the national flag, the size of which is equivalent to two football fields. As for the Baku 2015 European Games, they are historic. Like the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, initiated by Pierre de Coubertin. This event is marking a new page in the world European Olympic movement. Certainly, you need to see this event. Russian athletes will participate in many competitions.Iosif Kobzon, People's Artist of the USSR:- I often visit Baku. I have a respectful attitude towards Ilham Aliyev and his charming wife Mehriban, who has done a lot for the medicine and culture of Azerbaijan. I am thankful for the Forum of Spiritual Culture. They prove their tolerance not only in words, but in deeds they try to save the world from spiritual catastrophe. I do love old Baku. It is a stunningly beautiful place, where artisans sell their crafts and folk art items. I also like the tavern in the Old Town, where I listen to mughams. How they sing! It is incredible. Listening to them, you forget about everything, you have nowhere to hurry, you sit and enjoy the music. This is what Baku means for me: Mughams and artisans in the streets of the old city.Vyacheslav Fetisov, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, two-time Olympic champion:- It is the seafront, I think. It has been made great! It makes you have a rest and enjoy yourself there. In general, the city has changed remarkably. I think it is superior to Paris and even more modern. There’s a great atmosphere, and friendly people. I recommend visiting it. And the sports infrastructure meets all international standards.Andrey Dementyev, poet:- The whole of Baku is my favorite place. I've been there many times. The last two times during the 200th anniversary of Lermontov. The event was organized perfectly, as well as the 70th anniversary of my friend Polad Bulbuloglu. I love this city, because it is very intelligent, handsome, well-groomed. They remember their history. When I walk along the street, I see commemorative tablets of writers, artists. Those people whom I knew personally, I communicated with them, even had friendly relations. Baku is one of the most exciting and beautiful cities in the world for me. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pays special attention in order for the city to prosper and people to live there well. It is a great joy for me that the European Games are to take place there.What would you definitely recommend visiting in Baku?

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Politics magazine:

- My favorite place in Baku is located near the Maiden's Tower on a hill at the entrance to the old town. There is a nice view of Absheron. You can see old houses there, and a part of the new seafront. In the distance you can see the world's largest Azerbaijani flag.

Iosif Prigozhin, producer:

-Azerbaijan is a unique special country. I often stayed there when I was a child.  Now Valeria and I always visit Baku with great pleasure. The Azerbaijani President has a good education, taste, good neighborliness and wisdom. He is developing his country like no one else in the post-Soviet space. I have a lot of favorite places in Baku. The city has become splendid. 

You cannot go there and not walk on the waterfront. The old town has a restaurant, where the roof opens and guests are under the starry sky. You also can't help walking alone on the seafront, the streets in the Old Town, where the episode of the movie "The Diamond Arm" was filmed with the famous phrase "Damn it!" There is a small cafe in the tandoor, where people bake bread. It is not far from this place. I have never eaten such bread anywhere else. Benevolence in Baku is everywhere. Our friends love us and they are awaiting us there. Therefore, Russians will always feel comfortable in Baku.

Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Ties with Compatriots:

- You need to see the new building of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Square of the State Flag, and the national flag, the size of which is equivalent to two football fields. As for the Baku 2015 European Games, they are historic. Like the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, initiated by Pierre de Coubertin. This event is marking a new page in the world European Olympic movement. Certainly, you need to see this event. Russian athletes will participate in many competitions.

Iosif Kobzon, People's Artist of the USSR:

- I often visit Baku. I have a respectful attitude towards Ilham Aliyev and his charming wife Mehriban, who has done a lot for the medicine and culture of Azerbaijan. I am thankful for the Forum of Spiritual Culture. They prove their tolerance not only in words, but in deeds they try to save the world from spiritual catastrophe. I do love old Baku. It is a stunningly beautiful place, where artisans sell their crafts and folk art items. I also like the tavern in the Old Town, where I listen to mughams. How they sing! It is incredible. Listening to them, you forget about everything, you have nowhere to hurry, you sit and enjoy the music. This is what Baku means for me: Mughams and artisans in the streets of the old city.

Vyacheslav Fetisov, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, two-time Olympic champion:


- It is the seafront, I think. It has been made great! It makes you have a rest and enjoy yourself there. In general, the city has changed remarkably. I think it is superior to Paris and even more modern. There’s a great atmosphere, and friendly people. I recommend visiting it. And the sports infrastructure meets all international standards.

Andrey Dementyev, poet:

- The whole of Baku is my favorite place. I've been there many times. The last two times during the 200th anniversary of Lermontov. The event was organized perfectly, as well as the 70th anniversary of my friend Polad Bulbuloglu. I love this city, because it is very intelligent, handsome, well-groomed. They remember their history. When I walk along the street, I see commemorative tablets of writers, artists. Those people whom I knew personally, I communicated with them, even had friendly relations. Baku is one of the most exciting and beautiful cities in the world for me. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pays special attention in order for the city to prosper and people to live there well. It is a great joy for me that the European Games are to take place there.

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