A Whistlestop Tour of Baku


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Asia » Azerbaijan » Baku
October 4th 2008
Published: October 12th 2008
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Glorious sunrises don't always mean sunny days! We are learning that quickly here!!! But even on a grey day you can have a pleasant walk around the city. The photos aren’t so great though so sorry about that!

At the moment all of the city parks seem to be closed for maintenance. That’s a real shame but the municipality have put boards up to prevent you going in, and on those boards are photos of how the city used to look. It’s better than nothing.

We jumped off the bus at Azneft Square and crossed the busy road. Then we skirted the old city walls, although you can’t always see them. When you do get a view you see that they are in a fairly good condition. Nearby are lots of lovely buildings. The architecture left over from the pre-Soviet oil boom has left a lot of picturesque mansion houses around the city. Most of them have a plaque of some sort giving information, but they are all in Azeri or Russian so we’re not getting the full picture so far!! There are some strange buildings from the Soviet era too, and we saw one really odd example with
Baku PhilharmonicBaku PhilharmonicBaku Philharmonic

But please can you publish a schedule of events
a huge clock at its base.

One of the most beautiful buildings is the Baku Philharmonic. It’s bright yellow and based on the casino at Monte Carlo apparently. So far we haven’t found any information about performances but we are keeping a careful ear out as we want to go. The street leading up to it is still cobbled on one side too.

We had hoped to see Baku’s Palace of Happiness. This is where you went to get married during Soviet times, and we think you still do. Not at the moment though as it is covered in scaffolding and clearly closed. Nearby is a music school and there is a colourful mosaic on a wall across the road depicting musical scenes. Soviet insignia is quite difficult to find as you explore Baku, but the façade of the Ismailiya Palace provides good examples for those seeking such decorations.

In a park by a gate into the old city sits a big statue of Azeri poet Sabir. Apparently this statue replaced another one in 1958 and the fact that Sabir is sitting down in this one is significant. It is a euphemism for going to jail. Opposite
Strange Soviet BuildingsStrange Soviet BuildingsStrange Soviet Buildings

Note the huge clock on the front of it!
from him is the start of Fountain Square where an enormous statue of Nizami. He is Azerbaijan’s most famous poet and statues of him adorn parks across the country. Down the steps from his statue is the museum in his name. It is fronted by a series of statues of Azeri literary figures from the 12th to 20th centuries.

Fountain Square is pretty much the focal point of central Baku. It’s not really a square as it goes off in several directions. We’re not really sure about its name either as the fountains rarely seem to be turned on! It’s where you’ll find the streets with the posh shops, the Russian doll and souvenir sellers, McDonalds (shockingly busy!) and MUM, the former Soviet department store which is worth a browse just for the experience.

The end of Ramadan is supposed to be the time for weddings. It also seems to have been the time for funerals this year. When a funeral is in process, the streets are blocked off by huge funereal tents where, we guess, the wake is going on. It can be an inconvenience when your taxi gets stuck on one of these streets and you have to try to find another route.

Inside the old city walls it is a maze of streets. We had a good wander around and saw lots of statues, carpet sellers and crumbling buildings standing alongside their restored neighbours. There are also a handful of hat sellers with a delightful collection on display!! We haven’t bought one yet but as the temperatures drop and winter approaches, I reckon we’ll be tempted!

The Karavansaray restaurant looks worth a treat some time in the future. As its name suggests it is set in an old caravanserai and the tables are in small rooms off the central courtyard. There is music and dancing and no doubt a price tag aimed at rich tourist and oil workers, not TEFL teachers!!!!

The main attraction in the Old City though is the Maiden’s Tower. There is a legend about a princess who fell in love with the wrong person and was locked up in the tower until she took her own life jumping from a high window. Usual story I suppose!! Architecturally it is supposed to be unique, something to do with having only one window, but we haven’t really discovered the true situation.

We have also finally made it to the Russian puppet theatre. No photos are allowed inside but you can snap away at the murals in the waiting room. Some are colourful, others rather grotesque. We got a strange reception when we bought tickets as we had no children with us. We were the only ones! Inside we were not allowed to sit near the front, that’s only for the kids and their parents/guardians sit nearby. We sat towards the back, childless pariahs that we are!!! The show was, let’s say, different. It was set in someone’s kitchen and overnight all the fruit and vegetables came to life. It was colourful, loud and confusing. I think the scary evil tomato will have a lasting effect on some of the younger children there, giving them nightmares for years to come. The aubergine was pretty good too, as was the butternut squash!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Some readers of this blog mocked when we said there was a carpet museum to visit. Well, we’ve made it in there too. By Azeri standards it’s a bit expensive to go in at about US$5, and whether or not it’s worth the money is a personal thing. Carpet making is something which has been going on in Azerbaijan for centuries. There are fine examples from all over the country with distinct patterns and textures. The highlight really is the portrait gallery where famous (Soviet) personalities have been immortalised in rugs! Upstairs is the small theatre museum which was free and worth spending 15 minutes browsing. Knowing a bit more about Russian and Azeri theatre might have made it a bit more interesting though.

As you can see, we are enjoying Baku on good days and bad. Anyone coming to visit?!!!



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Old City WallsOld City Walls
Old City Walls

New City Traffic!
Puppet TheatrePuppet Theatre
Puppet Theatre

You don't have to understand Russian to appreciate it!
City ParksCity Parks
City Parks

CLOSED!
Men At WorkMen At Work
Men At Work

Or not as the case may be!!


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