I have this AWFUL habit of saying things like, “I’ll totally explore this someday soon,” “I’ll check out that place in the near future,” and “I’ll make sure to venture there while I’m here.” Instead of taking initiative and actually going to places, I make empty promises to myself and, in the end, utterly fail. Please affirm me and say that I’m not the only person with this problem? Should that shortcoming be something I slap on a New Year’s resolution list with hopes that it gets better?
Lucky for me, one of my dearest friends from home paid me a visit. Now, this was a big deal…not only does it cost a pretty penny to come to an obscure place like Azerbaijan, but she carefully timed her trip during the interim period between jobs – she’s actually going to Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer in early January, days after returning home. I’m extremely fortunate that she chose me and Baku as a vacation spot, and it motivated me to become a newcomer in a city where I’ve started to fall into a rut of only going to places deeply engrained in my routine.
It was high time to shake things up, and here are some highlights (in all honesty, each segment should get its own post, but that would take a while and I have other things I want to write about!)…
Içərişəhər (Old City)
You’ve gotten a glimpse of this older part of Baku in this post, but of course new things are discovered each visit!
We were happy to find Cümə Məscidi (Juma Mosque) in İçərişəhər. The women’s entrance wasn’t clearly marked, but no one was around for me to ask. So we went to the main entrance and started taking our shoes off. Within seconds a man appeared and kindly led us to the correct place. There’s not a lot of information about Cümə Məscidi; from what I can find the current structure was built over an older one in 1899, but the adjoining minaret is original – or at least much older.
During our wanderings, we came across the Miniature Book Museum, which I believe houses the largest collection of miniature books in the world. If you end up finding it, it’s totally worth the 15 minute visit. The lady who worked there communicated with us in a fabulous mix of Russian, Azeri, and English, and was passionate about the multitudes of books carefully displayed in dozens of curios.
And of course we made time for shameless selfies as we visited the Şirvanşah’s Palace (which I also wrote about in a separate post):
In the middle of our İçərişəhər tour, we walked through Qız Qalası (Maiden’s Tower). For a cheap ticket fee of 2 manat per person, we walked up several flights of winding stairs and enjoyed the informational displays on each floor. I think it’s newly renovated, and everything was well done. In a nutshell, the origins of Qız Qalası are debated (as is anything in ancient history), and various academics hypothesize that it was originally built as an observatory, a temple, or a fortress anywhere around the 12th century. The name “Maiden’s Tower” is steeped in local folklore and there are half a dozen stories that explain the name. All of them end with the young maiden dying (awesome) by throwing herself off the top of the tower in Tosca-esque fashion. Gotta love local histories!
But honestly, the price was worth it just for the views at the very top of the tower.
In case you live under a rock (or have no clue what goes on in the Caucasus), Baku revealed a brand new Carpet Museum in September…and it is freaking fabulous. Seriously, look at it:
From what I gathered as we toured this massive museum, it was built under a partnership between UNESCO and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Azerbaijan’s main source of funding for cultural works, publications, and projects. Speaking of the interior, check it out:
I also want to note that as Michigan underwent freezing temperatures and rainy/snowy weather around Christmas, we enjoyed sunshine with temperatures that lingered in the 50s to 60s, as is seen during our walk to and from the Carpet Museum:
Həydar Əliyev Mərkəzı (Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center)
Okay, last but not least: Həydar Əliyev Mərkəzı. This is an architectural gem that has won international awards and recognition.
The interior was equally impressive and houses several art exhibits at any given time. The Cultural Center also hosts concerts, and has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Azerbaijan’s first president after independence: Heydar Aliyev. It was 12 manat for an all-access ticket, but you can also get tickets for individual exhibits which ranged between 2 and 5 manat.
So that was the longest post ever, and we actually did MORE during the 5 days my friend was here…but I’ll save those for other posts. At least you got endless pictures – and I know how you all back home love pictures. (;
Before I end, I’ll quickly dedicate this last bit to thank my friend who visited me:
Esther, your presence here brought a much-needed taste of home to this new place. But more importantly, to me, you were able to see a culture and region that has captured my heart. I can only imagine what family, friends, and acquaintances think about my interests in history, Turkic culture, and my decision to be in Azerbaijan…they must think I’m nuts. And that’s okay, sometimes I wonder about myself. But you took the extra step and ventured to my corner of the world to try and see what I see. That means the world to me, and is something I will never, ever forget.
Until next time… (: