Meet Azerbaijan: what to see in Baku and the surbubs

January 25, 2019

by Lira Kayumova

Azerbaijan is not а big country located close to Turkey, Iran and Russia. The capital city is Baku – one of the oldest and greatest cities of the Middle East. Baku is located at the coast of the Caspian Sea. I didn’t appreciate the city beaches and decided not to swim in the quiet dirty Sea in spite of the hot weather. But locals assert that you need to know just the right places.
In past Azerbaijan was one of 15 republics of the Soviet Union and Baku was the important industrial scientific and cultural centre of the USSR. After the crisis that was caused by the dissolution of the Union Baku is reviving economic activity and working on the investment and tourist attractiveness. It hosted Eurovision 2012, the first-ever The 2015 European Games, Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe 2016. And in the near future – The 2020 UEFA European Football Championship.

 the Old City and the Flame Towers

The old and modern appearance of Baku

Architectural aspect of Baku is super eclectic. Sparkling skyscrapers, soviet Khrushchev’s blocks of flats and medieval buildings with oriental colour harmonize in the most inconceivable way. From the Top of the wavy and unclear to me Heydar Aliyev Center you can see the futuristic Trump Tower Baku. The Shirvanshah Palace that is located in the oldest part of the Old City (İçərişəhər) has beautiful views of the Flame Towers – the most recognizable and the highest buildings of Baku. By the way, the aforementioned Heydar Aliyev Center has become a winner in Design of the Year 2014. In a park in front of that architectural masterpiece, there is (I think the only in the world) the art composition “I Love Baku”, which is impossible to approach. A security guard looks after the possible disturbers carefully and suppresses any attempt to come to it. Flame Towers look like three tongues of fire and the night illumination makes an illusion of flame. The Carpet Museum and Baku Crystal Hall are worth to be visited!

the promenade in Baku

Certainly, every that modern building impresses and tempts the implementation of any architectural dream but the Old City enchants and carries you to the world of magic lamps and flying carpets. There is no way to get your mind out the soundtrack for the Disney animated feature film, Aladdin. Arabian ni-i-ights like Arabian da-a-ays etc well you know. Endless narrow streets change into labyrinths of side-streets, turnings, passageways and stairs. Those streets lead you to the places where you didn’t think to find yourself. And it happens again and again even when you are absolutely sure you go the right way. İçərişəhər was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in December 2000. It’s really must be seen in Azerbaijan. Tens of mosques, khan’s palaces, medieval bath-houses, carpet bazaars, towers and gates – everything bewitches and amazes imagination which isn’t accustomed to views of the eastern architecture. The Old City attracts Russian tourists by another reason. It’s the location for the film The Diamond Arm – one of the most popular and favourite among Russia Soviet comedies.

the Old City of Baku

narrow streets of the Old City narrow streets of the Old City narrow streets of the Old City

The environs of Baku

If you decide you were impressed not enough after Baku trip you should get to know the traditional culture better. Also, you can get to mountains for example to Shaki or Lahij. People get to Shaki for the sake of looking at the Palace of Shaki Khans that is one of the pearls of Azerbaijan construction techniques. And rather for watching how sunlight goes through huge stained-glass windows and keeps colour tracery on the floors and walls of interior rooms. Having visited Shaki you can be sorry only about the fact that photo and video shooting aren’t allowed in the Palace. And Lahij was included in an international touristic route called “the Silk Road”.

the Palace of Shaki Khans  A window of the Palace

 Shaki

Food, people and religion

A separate line should be noted Azerbaijan cuisine. Dolma, dovga, pilaf, piti, baklava, halva (google it) – all dishes are delicious. The chief ingredient of almost every dish is meat but vegetarians can find some food that doesn’t contrary to their way of life and ideas. Any time, day or night and any places Azerbaijanians drink tea. It’s the most popular beverage in the whole country and moreover a symbol of respect to guests.
Azerbaijanian people are very hospitable friendly and responsive. They rightly can be proud of it. When they are talking to tourists Azerbaijanians usually ask a question “How do you like Baku?” answering by themselves “People are very good here”. And yes, they will offer a cup of tea to you every time.
There are a lot of tourists in the city. Russian and English languages are popular. The young intelligent person claiming for the prestigious job in Baku is considered to speak Azerbaijanian, Russian and English fluently. Nowadays generation is the political literate and patriotic nation, whose main goal is emigration to Europe at all costs.
Islam is the head religion of the country. Azerbaijanians are very tolerant and loyal people to representatives of other religions and cultural convictions. But of course, there are certain rules of conduct which were caused by Muslim canons. For example, if you are eager to kiss your lover at any cultural heritage site, maybe on the Maiden Tower, you aren’t supposed to do it. Most likely you’ll have to pay a fine. It’s not OK to walk in shorts for men and in short skirts for women. So women should be careful in choosing places where they want to go. Historically there are such places where of girls and women’s presence is not pertinent. It’s not difficult to solve the problem – you look at the window if you see other women you come into. Surely you may not keep these local rules. Residents of Baku had got used to tourists and a girl in the men’s teahouse doesn’t scandalize anybody. But it’s a good thing to be respectful to the habits and traditions of the country where you are.

 The Bibi-Heybat Mosque

My recommendations

Baku is an appropriate city for a budget trip. Price for one night was about 10 Euros in a hostel in the centre of the Old city in summer 2018. Of course, it depends on your appetite but dinner from pair national dishes may be less than 15 Euros per person in any cafes on the Nizami Street. And if you are a young attractive woman you have all chances to economize on food greatly because almost every Azerbaijan man considers that his duty is treating you to lunch and/or dinner. But you should be ready for a proposal to have breakfast together else. A ticket for public transport is about 20 cents. By the way, you have to buy a Baki kart for the metro and most buses. You can buy or supplement it in a special machine on any subway station. If you can’t buy it for any reason helpful Azerbaijanian will relieve you. They help you to pass through a turnstile by their card. By the way absolutely for free. The best time for visiting Baku is spring and autumn. In the fall there are many unusual festivals in the country, for example, the Pomegranate Festival. The Azerbaijani summer is terribly hot and winter is horribly windy.

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