Baku in Azerbaijan

Thursday, 13 December 2018

My final overseas travel in 2019 took me to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan – west side of the Caspian Sea, north of Iran, south of Russia. A three hour flight from Dubai, the jumping off point for almost anywhere in the world these days.

▲ Baku certainly has architecture to spare, particularly the Flame Towers which overlook the old city and are brilliantly lit at night.

▲ Along the Bulvar, the waterfront promenade, there’s the Death Star, under construction at one end. I took this photograph from the Maiden Tower, the symbol of old Baku inside the Old City walls.

◄ At the other end of the Bulvar is the Crescent Moon, the construction is not so far along, but eventually these two modern symbols will mark the two ends of the walk.

▲ Then there’s British-Iraqi starchitect Zaha Hadid’s curving white creation, the Heydar Aliyev Center.

▲ Inside there was a display of those big limousines that big rulers like to ride around in, the old Communist-era creations are particularly impressive.

▲ It’s not only shiny and new, the Old City, is surrounded by a fine old city wall. It’s particularly impressive at night. I stayed at the Sultan Inn in the heart of the old city.

▲ Just outside the city walls this fountain behind the Filarmoniya building is a popular meeting place.

▲ It’s close to where I met Mehvash (middle), a visiting teacher working in Dubai, and Gani (right) our local walking tour guide. We ended up in a coffee bar near Fountain Square, the prime meeting place in Baku.

Cats seemed to own the territory in Cyprus and they’re nearly as prevalent in Baku and, as in Cyprus, they all look well fed and groomed. They’re definitely not half starved strays. Cruising down Istiqlaliyyət küçəsi on our walking tour this tabby seemed to have taken its position on a boutique windowsill purely because it perfectly matched the dress in the window.

▲ I didn’t get far out of Baku during my short visit, but I did visit the fire temple at Suraxani. It’s a curious mix of Hinduism and Zoroastrianism and this is not the actual temple, it’s a model in one of the temple display rooms.

Back in town I checked out the Historical Museum which is incredibly dry and tedious, absolutely over-stuffed with displays which you would have to be a serious enthusiast for minor details of Azerbaijani history to have any interest in. As a result museum staff outnumber visitors at least 10 to 1. Serious attention is paid to how disgracefully the neighbouring nation of Armenia behaves.

▲ If you haven’t seen enough to understand exactly how appalling the Armenians can be relax, there’ll be a lot more about Armenian atrocities in the next room. It’s not a good idea to mention Nagorno-Karabakh while you’re in Azerbaijan. It’s rather like Transnistria, the sliver of the old USSR sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine which I visited earlier this year. Except the Azerbaijanis are much more bad tempered about it.

▲ The museum is actually housed in the mansion of HZ (Hacı Zeynalabdin) Tağıyevin who was born in 1821 (or 1823 or even 1838, depending on the source) and died in 1924. He was one of the great Azerbaijani oil barons and his fine mansion is a reminder that once upon a time Azerbaijan was responsible for 50% of the world’s oil output. The other half came from Texas. Oil is still the backbone of the country’s economy today. A number of the rooms including the oil man’s art nouveau bedroom are reminders of that oil wealth and they’re definitely the most interesting part of the museum.

▲ Near Fountain Square is the Ali & Nino Bookshop, Ali & Nino is a recently rediscovered Azerbaijani tale which became an international bestseller and is available at the bookshop in numerous languages including English.

◄ Also near that central square and facing the Nizami Literature Museum is a statue of Azerbaijan’s great poet Nizami. His classic love story Layla & Majnu,  (the Romeo & Juliet of the East according to Lord Byron), recently interpreted in music and dance by the Mark Morris Dance Group backed by the Silkroad Ensemble at the Melbourne Arts Festival in Australia. Yes it’s also the inspiration for that Eric Clapton classic Layla.

▲ A Layla & Majnun carpet – my final stop in Baku was at the very modern new carpet musum, at the Death Star end of the Bulvar.