Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, has the distinction of being the world’s largest city which lies below sea level.   This ‘city of winds’, as its name suggests, is strategically poised between the two continents of Europe and Asia.  

BakuFlickr/Niyaz Bakılı

One of the most beautiful cities of the Caucasus, its location of being straddled in a desert ringed region is negated by its beautiful promenade along the western coast of the Caspian Sea, with its rejuvenating green and brilliant blue hues.

An intriguing blend of the cultures and life styles of both East and West, Baku is rapidly striding towards modernization and is emerging as a truly cosmopolitan metropolis. Gleaming cars of the latest models can be seen zipping past shiny modern buildings and, the more, traditional Soviet building blocks.

The city of Baku has two parts, the downtown area and the old inner city. The Old City is a virtual treasure house of history.  Along with the iconic Maiden Tower, and the grand Shirvanshah Palace, the Old City has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  What is commendable is that despite the changing face of the city due to increasing urbanization, it still retains its old world charm. The winding alleys, mosques, stone buildings and remnants of defensive fortifications in the fascinating Old City vibrate with its history and give us an insight into the tumultuous past and cultural heritage.  

The downtown area of Baku has undergone infrastructural changes and has emerged as a bustling capital city and modern business centre. Of late, several international events, cultural shows and games have also been hosted in Baku. Along with its many historical attractions, Baku boasts of a vibrant night life as well, and captivates visitors with its charm and hospitality.

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Best Baku Attractions

1. Maiden Tower 

Best-Baku-Attractions-Maiden-TowerWikimedia/The Central Intelligence Agency

Located in the Old City, the Maiden Tower is the national symbol of Azerbaijan, which is printed on their currency notes. Also known as Giz Galasi, Maiden Tower is believed to have been built in the 12th century, over the remains of an ancient structure which probably existed as early as the 6th century BC.

Maiden Tower is the grandest monument in Baku. It has been built in a style which has assimilated the best features of Arab, Persian and Ottoman architecture. Cylindrical in shape, the 29.5 metre tower has eight storeys and a 21 metre deep water well on its second floor.

A museum of history is housed inside the Maiden Tower, which takes you on a fantastic journey into the past, as it traces the rise and growth of the city of Baku.

The tower provides an interesting view of the Old City, the Baku Boulevard and Baku Bay. On festive occasions, the tower looks particularly beautiful with its special illumination.

2. Palace of the Shirvanshahs

Best-Baku-Attractions-Palace-of-ShirvanshahsWikimedia/Urek Meniashvili

Shirvanshahs Palace in the Old City was the residence of the rulers of Shirvanis during the medieval period. It is considered to be a gem in Azerbaijan’s architectural legacy. This sandstone palace was built on the highest point of the Old City, during the period between the 12th to 15th centuries. It was painstakingly restored in 2003, making it a wonderful place to get to know the history of Baku.

The palace complex is a vast area. It consists of the main reception hall called the Diwankhana, the residence of Shirvanshahs, the Shah Mosque, a stone minaret, and remnants of the Hamam or palace bath house. The tombs of the Shirvanshahs family are located in the palace area. Around the mausoleum and its carved gateway, there are several blocks of stone with Arabic inscriptions, and carvings of human and animal faces.

Several other mosques, hamams and other historical monuments of the 18th to 20th centuries can also be seen within the Palace area.

3. Heydar Aliyev Centre

Main-Baku-Attractions-Heydar-Aliyev-Cultural-CenterFlickr/Francisco Anzola

The Heydar Aliyev Centre is a beautiful iconic building in Baku, which is considered as being an architectural marvel with its smooth, fluid and curved style of construction. What makes this complex particularly distinctive is the seamless contouring and harmonious merging of the interior design with its surrounding plaza. Elaborate curves, folds and beautifully integrated bifurcations within the plaza have transformed it into a beautiful architectural landscape.

The credit of designing this unique complex goes to an Iraqi-British architect named Zaha Hadid. The building has been universally acclaimed as a novel and innovative piece of architecture.

It is named after Heydar Aliyev, who was the President of Azerbaijan from 1993 to 2003.

Heydar Aliyev Centre lies close to the city centre and is equipped with an auditorium, a gallery and a museum. Though the Centre was built with the purpose of making a museum to house the city’s cultural collections and artefacts, it goes much beyond being just a museum. In fact, it can best be described as being a celebration of the traditional and modern culture of Azerbaijan.

4. Azerbaijan Carpet Museum

Popular-Baku-Attractions-Azerbaijan-Carpet-MuseumFlickr/Mark Ireland

The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum is located on Baku’s seafront. The brand new building, which houses the museum, is certainly novel in design, being structured like a rolled up carpet! It has the most wonderful collection of carpets made in Azerbaijan. These magnificent carpets are their national treasures.

A wide variety of carpets are on display, ranging from the typically Soviet patterns to the traditional designs from the different regions of Azerbaijan.

The museum has regular video films which are screened periodically to explain the history of the carpet industry, and the regional and historical variations of the different kinds of carpets.

5. Bibi Heybat Mosque

Popular-Baku-Attractions-Bibi-Heybat-MosqueWikimedia/Emin Bashirov

This mosque is one of the main monuments of the Islamic school of architecture in Azerbaijan. It is also the prayer house and spiritual centre for the Muslim community here. The locals call it ‘the Mosque of ‘Fatima’and consider it a special prayer house for women who cannot conceive. It is popularly believed that if an infertile woman comes to this mosque, bare footed and prays with full faith, her wish is fulfilled and she is able to give birth to a child within a year.

The original mosque was built in the 13th century by the Shirvanshah rulers, but was totally destroyed in 1936, and subsequently rebuilt in the same style in the 1990s.

Located high up on a rock which overlooks the shipyard, the mosque provides a splendid view of the city and the Caspian Sea. The mosque itself looks really beautiful with its twin minarets and three domes, which are decorated with green and turquoise mirrors and embellished with golden inscriptions from the holy Quran. The interior of the mosque is adorned with marble carvings and calligraphy. There are two separate praying rooms for men and women, and in between the two divisions, is the mausoleum.

6. Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature

Top-Baku-Attractions-Nizami MuseumWikimedia/Urek Meniashvili

Azerbaijan’s National Museum of Literature is named after Nizami Ganjavi. Built in 1939, close to the centre of Baku, the museum consists of 30 main halls, and 10 smaller ones. Nizami Museum has a rich collection of exhibits with more than 3000 manuscripts, ancient books, portraits and sculptures of the country’s renowned poets and writers.

7. National Art Museum of Azerbaijan

Best-Baku-Attractions-National-Art-Museum-AzerbaijanWikimedia/Urek Meniashvili

The National Art Museum has two buildings, which together house more than 15,000 works of art.

The first building has collections of European and Russian art, while the second building is a store-house of Eastern Art. Fine samples of Persian, Turkish, Japanese and Chinese art are exhibited here.

The museum also has a wonderful collection of miniatures of books, and exclusive sherbet spoons made from mulberry trees.

8. Fountains Square

Popular-Baku-Attractions-Fountains-SquareWikimedia/Urek Meniashvili

Fountains Square is located in the downtown area of Baku. Earlier known as the Parapet, this public square is so named because of the large number of fountains in it. There are several different kinds of fountains such as the ‘hungry hippos fountain’, which is a great favourite  with children. Another beautiful fountain is that of ladies removing the scarves from their heads as a symbol of freedom.

9. Absheron National Park

Baku-Attractions-Absheron-National-ParkWikimedia/Baku87

Absheron National Park was set up in 2005, with the specific purpose of protection of the endangered species and preservation of the rare flora and fauna of the region.

The national park is an interesting place to visit with its 50 species of birds and animals, and 25 species of plants. Apart from the gazelles and water birds found here, the Caspian seals, which are a rare species, are a prime attraction in this National Park.

10. Taza Pir Mosque

Baku-Attractions-Taza-Pir-MosqueWikipedia/Frokor

This is the largest mosque in Baku. The construction of this mosque began in 1905 and took nine years to be completed. It was financed by a very religious philanthropist who belonged to a renowned family of Azerbaijan.

Designed in the Islamic style of architecture, the Taza Pir Mosque is built on simple and symmetrical lines. It has a marble dome with religious inscriptions, and minarets which are topped with pure gold. The solid doors and windows are made of mahogany wood, while the women’s prayer room is built from the pistachio tree. The interior of the mosque is adorned with rare Azerbaijani paintings and ornaments. It is currently functional as a place of worship.

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