Shirvanshah’s Palace

Baku: Being a Newcomer Again

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!

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More doors, Hayley? I did not come to your blog to see MORE doors.

More doors, Hayley? I did not come to your blog to see MORE doors.

Fine, here's a window.

Fine, here’s a window.

And another.

And another.

Annnnd another cool door.

Annnnd back to a door.

Don't forget to look up!

Don’t forget to look up!

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Old City 109

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Old City 112

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.

Came across this mosque. 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.

Old City Mosque 1

Minaret…

I almost died when I saw these engravings.

I almost died when I saw these engravings.

Old City Mosque 3

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.

Seriously. A ton.

Seriously. A ton.

It's also free to look at this stuff - so no excuses!

It’s also free to look at this stuff – so no excuses!

I think the blue box holds one of the smallest books in the world, and can only be read with the magnifying glass.

I think the blue box holds one of the smallest books in the world, and can only be read with the magnifying glass.

Books in every language, including English.

Books in every language, including English.

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):

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Old City 116

Qız Qalası

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!

Qız Qalası 3

Qız Qalası 1

It is an impressive structure.

Qız Qalası 5

Yeah, another door. It's my blog I can post as many doors on it as I want.

Yeah, another door. It’s my blog I can post as many doors on it as I want.

But honestly, the price was worth it just for the views at the very top of the tower.

I think I re-fell in love with Baku in this moment.

I think I re-fell in love with Baku in this moment.

Qız View 2

We were so fortunate to have that glorious sunshine and blue sky...

We were so fortunate to have that glorious sunshine and blue sky…

Qız View 4

Hello, Caspian!

Hello, Caspian!

Of course, always time for selfies....

Of course, always time for selfies….

...even when it's SUPER windy!

…even when it’s SUPER windy!

Carpet Museum

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:

IT'S IN THE SHAPE OF AN UNROLLING CARPET

IT’S IN THE SHAPE OF AN UNROLLING CARPET!!

Seriously, how cool is that?!

Seriously, how cool is that?!

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:

Carpet Museum 3

We spent almost 3 hours in here….not kidding.

Carpet Museum 4

Carpet Museum 6

It was a major visual overload and we felt so sleepy afterward.

The Carpet Museum has a grand display of Azerbaijan's rich textile culture. This table cloth was one of my personal favorites.

The Carpet Museum has a grand display of Azerbaijan’s rich textile culture. This table cloth was one of my personal favorites.

Carpet Museum 7I 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:

See how sunny it was?

See how sunny it was?

Like a spring day...

Like a spring day…

Azerbaijan's flag...

Azerbaijan’s flag…

Walked through "Little Venice"

Walked through “Little Venice”

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.

And for good reason.

And for good reason.

It's huge and kind-of trippy.

It’s huge and kind-of trippy.

Broad waves of white tile and glass can have a surprisingly fluid look.

Broad waves of white tile and glass can have a surprisingly fluid look.

Aliyev CC 5

Always time for photo ops!

Always time for photo ops!

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.

A swanky cafe.

A swanky cafe.

These are stairs leading up to the second floor.

These are stairs leading up to the second floor.

Aliyev CC 8

The interior easily rivals the exterior in terms of modern beauty.

The interior is just as modern, smooth, and beautiful as the exterior.

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Not to mention how expansive it is - like being inside a large conk seashell.

Not to mention how expansive it is – like being inside a large conk seashell.

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.

Me and Esther

Until next time…  (:

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Şirvanşah’s Palace

The historian in me is feeling right at home in this city. And, one of the benefits of being here for nine months is that I don’t have to rush to see everything that Baku and greater Azerbaijan have to offer. Hurray for semi-long term expat living!

Last weekend another Fulbrighter graced me with her presence and we did a couple things around town, including a visit to the Şirvanşah’s Palace. This palace is located within İçərişəhər (the Old City, which I discussed a bit in my last post). It is totally worth the time, and it’s a great way to not only learn about medieval Azerbaijani history, but also some modern history. A couple things to know about:

  • The admission fee is 2 manat, or about $2.50 USD at the time of this post (September, 2014). Supposedly if you want to take pictures, you need to pay an additional 2 manat….but I didn’t and wasn’t caught. Maybe you’ll have luck too.
  • The Şirvanşahs (“sheer-VAHN SHAH”) are to Azerbaijan what the Ottomans are to Turkey. At least that’s my conclusion. No, the Şirvanşahs never claimed the amount of land that the Ottomans or other surrounding Islamic empires did, but they fostered a rich culture of literature and art, and expanded one of the key centers of trade and commerce that linked important branches of the Silk Road.
  • Much of the palace was reconstructed about 10 years ago. Therefore, much of the detailed stone work is, unfortunately, not originally from the 13th to 15th centuries. Quickly figured out that there’s a good excuse for that: unlucky history. According to an information sign from the throne room, “The Palace has fallen apart over time as it has been intruded and damaged by invaders several times…[parts of the palace] were removed and carried off by conquerors. The dome of the throne room was destroyed by the bombs of Russian imperial forces in the 18th century.” Basically, we’re lucky that Azerbaijan can even recreate the palace after all it has been through!

Alright that’s enough history with words, it means more with pictures:

I LOVE this.

I LOVE this.

Şirvanşah 2

Damn finger got in the way again...

Damn finger got in the way again…

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Şirvanşah 5

You know me and details.

You know me and details.

Şirvanşah 7

Şirvanşah 8

Şirvanşah 9

The light yellow depicts Azerbaijan's current borders; the dark gold shows the extent of the Şirvanşah's empire. Again, not a lot, but still an important hub.

The light yellow depicts Azerbaijan’s current borders; the dark gold shows the extent of the Şirvanşah’s empire. Again, not a lot, but still an important hub.

Amazing carpet from the mid-19th century.

Amazing carpet from the mid-19th century.

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Recreated, but imagine all the care and attention needed to do this several hundred years ago!

Recreated, but imagine all the care and attention needed to do this several hundred years ago!

Looking up in the Throne Room.

Looking up in the Throne Room.

Stained glass from the 19th century (I think). Amazing because the glass is not held together by any adhesive. That is some serious precision.

Stained glass from the 19th century (I think). Amazing because the glass is not held together by any adhesive. That is some serious precision.

Highlight of the museum: mustache keepers!! Men wore these at night to keep their 'staches in line, lol.

Highlight of the museum: mustache keepers!! Men wore these at night to keep their ‘staches in line, lol.

Model of the Old City.

Model of the Old City.

Photos from Baku in the 19th century.

Photos from Baku in the 19th century.

Now to see the things outside.

Now to see the things outside.

This stone work came from Beyil Fortress. It was constructed in the 1230s, but sank into the Caspian in the early 1300s. It was rediscovered in the 1920s when Caspian water levels fell. There were several artifacts found in Bayil Fortress throughout the museum.

This stone work came from Beyil Fortress. It was constructed in the 1230s, but sank into the Caspian in the early 1300s after an earthquake. It was rediscovered in the 1920s when Caspian water levels fell. There were several artifacts found in Bayil Fortress throughout the museum.

The inscription is a blessing/prayer written in Arabic script.

The inscription is a blessing/prayer written in Arabic script.

Beyil Fortress 3

Human figures and mythical creatures/themes were also part of the Fortress' inscription. See the human face?  (:

Human figures and mythical creatures/themes were also part of the Fortress’ inscription. See the human face? (:

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My first selfie in Baku: I ventured down some really steep stairs to see a tomb of a Sufi scientist and poet. It was actually pretty creepy. Oh, and it was hot.

My first selfie in Baku: I ventured down some really steep stairs to see a tomb of a Sufi scientist and poet. It was actually pretty creepy. Oh, and it was hot.

Şirvanşah 21

Şirvanşah 20

View of the Flame Towers. It was also a very hazy day.

View of the Flame Towers. It was also a very hazy day.

Entering the mosque located downhill.

Entering the mosque located downhill.

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Mosque interior

Mosque interior

Looking up

Looking up

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Şirvanşah 28

Near the mosque is a hamam, or bath house. This is the original bath house built in the 14th century. Now, this was closed off by a little gate you see below. The door was shut but it wasn't locked. I took that as an invitation for exploration and I skipped around the ruins for a bit.

Near the mosque is a hamam, or bath house. This is the original bath house built in the 14th century. Now, this was closed off by a little gate you see below. The door was shut but it wasn’t locked. I took that as an invitation for exploration and I skipped around the ruins for a bit.

It just looked SO intriguing and reminded me of Ephesus.

It just looked SO intriguing and reminded me of Ephesus.

Oops! How did I end up down here?

Oops! How did I end up down here?

Bath House 4Bath House 5

Bath House 6

The lovely Dana waiting ever-so-patiently for me to stop acting like a history nerd.

The lovely Dana waiting ever-so-patiently for me to stop acting like a history nerd.

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Şirvanşah 30

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There is always preservation work to be done, always something to salvage from the past.

There is always preservation work to be done, always something to salvage from the past.

And there you have it, another little taste of Baku!

Until next time… (: