Daughter Of The Caspian

Shining Star Of The Caspian, Baku Has Undergone A Spectacular Transformation In Recent Years. The Azerbaijani Capital Is Now A Cultural Bridge Linking Anatolia To Near Asia.

Situated on the Absheron Peninsula, which extends into the Caspian Sea at the far end of the Caucasus, Baku stands out immediately for its social and cultural similarities with Anatolia. Resemblances in almost every aspect of life from the traditional architecture to the cuisine, but most of all in the language, are instantly apparent. At the same time, beyond its historic monuments, as a rapidly growing modern city, Baku constitutes an authentic east-west synthesis.

WIND-POUNDED CITY
“If it weren’t for the wind, summers would be extremely hot here,” say the Azeri people of Baku, which takes its name from ‘Bad-e Kube’, meaning ‘Wind-pounded City’ in Persian,  And light or strong, the wind is always with us whenever we come to this city, where our first stop is Freedom (Azadlık) Square.  The Sea Side Park that starts from this square in front of Government House and continues as far as the historic city center, and Neftchilar and Nizami Avenues parallel to it, could be termed the heartbeat of Baku. The seaside gateway to the historic center, known as the Inner City and included on the UNESCO world Cultural Heritage List, is the 12th century Maiden’s Castle. Both the historic center and the broad panorama of the gulf are visible from here. After seeing the 12th century Lezgi Mosque and 19th century Juma Mosque amidst the historic buildings converted into carpet shops, restaurants and boutique hotels in the Inner City, we can head up to the Palace of the Shirvanshahs.  Exhibiting traces of Seljuk architectural style, this palace consists of several sections: the Divanhane or audience hall, Shah Mosque, the Sharq or East Gate, the Shirvanshah family mausoleum, and what remains of the Key Kubad Mosque and Palace Hamam. Baku is a city rich in museums, sculpture and monuments, and its most majestic sculpture is that of Nizami Ganjavi, who is known as the Azeri Mevlana. The National Museum of Azerbaijan Literature with statues of six writers and poets, including the Ottoman Fuzulî, on its facade, the Carpet Museum in the shape of a folded carpet, and the International Mugam Center of Traditional Azeri Music are a few of Baku’s must-see sights. And on Fakhri Khiyabani (Lane of Honor) near Shehidler Khiyabani (Martyrs’ Lane) atop a hill overlooking the gulf around which the city is situated lies the grave of the country’s second president, Heydar Aliyev, together with those of Azerbaijan’s artists and writers.

TRACES OF TURKS IN BAKU
Apart from Turks who either settle or come to work in Azerbaijan, which is paired with Turkey in the common expression, “One People Two States”, we also encounter the name ‘Turk’ first on Martyrs’ Lane and then on an obelisk erected for the Turks who lie buried here. An inscription on the Martyrs’ Mosque, built by the Turkish Religious Foundation immediately next to the graveyard, reads that it opened in 1996 and was a gift from the Anatolian Turks to their Azeri brothers. A statue of Ataturk stands in the park opposite the Turkish Embassy, and a large park and the boulevard running past it are also named for Ataturk.
Three itineraries can be recommended for the area around Baku. There is rock art dating back to the 12th century B.C.E. at Gobustan, 65 km southwest of the city and included on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The Ateshgah, or Fire Temple, near Surakhani 30 km from Baku was built in the 17th century by the Indians. This sacred shrine, whose central temple and cells for monks and pilgrims have been renovated and opened to the public, is a museum today. Finally, at the mud volcano near Mahdabad 20 km north of Baku in the direction of Sumgayit, gas escaping from under the ground burns continuously as the name indicates. In short, Azerbaijan’s capital Baku is a city where you will always feel at home. This friendly and brotherly country is waiting to welcome you as its guest.

What to eat
The classic menu in meat-heavy Azeri cuisine consists of luleh (shish kofta) or shish kebab (on the bone) served with sliced fresh tomatoes and fresh basil or coriander leaves. Traditional dishes like Azeri pilaff and Levengi can only be sampled if you are invited to someone’s home.

What to buy
Of the two main red and black types of caviar, the black, produced from sturgeon, which the Azeris call Nehre and which lives in the Caspian, is preferred over the red, which is produced from salmon.

GETTING THERE?
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Baku-Istanbul flights daily. For information:
www.turkishairlines.com