Bakı, the capital city of Azerbaijan, has in most parts a very modern face: mostly the money gained by SOCAR (the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) which owns all oil and gas resources of the country has driven the development of high skyscrapers and special architectures often created by international architects. And that is nothing new: it started with the first drilling for oil in 1846. The Nobel family (today known for the science and peace prizes of Oslo) came to Bakı and founded the Nobel Brothers Petroleum Producing Company.
For some years the city was delivering half of the oil that was needed across the world which led to a massive boom in the city (and in the pockets of the Nobels) and created another special part of the city: with them came art nouveau and Gothic-revival-style palaces built by western architects. These beautiful houses have to be seen in the strong contrast to the oil drilling fields and the hundreds of horse head pumps still today standing around the city.
But of course Bakı has a history before those two waves of exploitation and architecture: first remains date back to 8,000 years BCE; additionally Roman inscriptions can be found in the area. Bakı gained importance in the 12th century CE when the Shirvanshah made it the capital city of their realm. It is a Muslim dynasty reigning from 861 to 1538 which created the İçəri Şəhər (‘inner city‘) which can be visited still today. The fortifications are gone in some areas to make space for modern life, but you can still see the former boundaries.
Most important sights are the Maiden’s Tower (Qız Qalası) and the Palace of the Shirvanshah – but also two mosques and a museum of miniature books can be found here. But the best thing is to just explore the ancient fortifications, walk through the old gates and stroll through the often narrow streets. Since the year 2000 this area of Bakı is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site list. Bakı is all of that: the pre-oil city center, the palaces of the first oil boom and the modern skyscrapers.
İçəri Şəhər / Old town