The Old City of Baku

February 2nd 2024 in Travel
The Old City of Baku

The Old City of Baku

The Old City, also known as Inner City, is the historical heart of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. It is the most ancient part of Baku, enclosed by walls. As of 2007, the Old City had approximately 3000 people. In December 2000, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower, located in the Old City of Baku, were declared the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Azerbaijan.

History of the Old City

Many historians agree that the Old City, including the Maiden Tower, was constructed in the 12th century. However, some researchers argue that its construction dates back to the 7th century. The debate is ongoing, and no definitive conclusion has yet been reached.

Several monuments were built in Baku during the mediaeval period. These include the Synyg Gala Minaret, which dates back to the 11th century, the fortress walls and towers built between the 11th and 12th centuries, the Maiden Tower, the Multani Caravanserai, and the Hajji Gayyib bathhouse which were built in the 15th century, as well as the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the Bukhara Caravanserai along with the Gasimbey bathhouse which date back to the 16th century.

During the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), the Russian Empire occupied Baku in 1806. At the time, the Old City population, the only neighbourhood in Baku, was approximately 7,000 people, mainly consisting of ethnic Tats. The Old City had 500 households and 707 shops. The city walls were repaired and fortified between 1807 and 1811, with dozens of cannons placed on the walls to protect the town. The city had two gates: the Salyan Gates and the Shemakha Gates. The port was reopened for trade, and in 1809 a customs office was established.

Baku began to expand beyond its city walls during this time, resulting in the emergence of new neighbourhoods. As a result, the terms Inner City (İçəri Şəhər in Azerbaijani) and Outer City (Bayır Şəhər in Azerbaijani) were introduced. In his memoirs, Bakuvian actor Huseyngulu Sarabski referred to the early Russian rule.

Baku was divided into two sections: Ichari Shahar and Bayir Shahar. The Inner City was the central part where the locals lived. They had easy access to the bazaar, artisans' workshops, and mosques. There was even a church and a military barracks built during the Russian occupation. Those who lived within the walls considered themselves superior to those outside and often referred to them as the "barefooted people of the Outer City. "

The arrival of Russians in the Old City during the 19th and early 20th centuries led to significant changes in the area's traditional architectural stle. Many European buildings were constructed during this time, incorporating stles such as Baroque and Gothic.

In 1865, the city walls overlooking the sea were partially demolished, and the stones were sold to be used in the building of the Outer City. The sale yielded 44,000 rubles used to construct the Baku Boulevard. The first fountains in Baku appeared on the Boulevard in 1867.

Two more gates were opened during this period, including the famous Taghiyev Gate in 1877. The opening of new gates and passes continued well into the Soviet period.

Huseyngulu Sarabski mentioned the Armenian Church of the Holy Virgin, built under Persian rule between 1797 and 1799 in the shadow of the Maiden Tower, which has been defunct since 1984 and demolished in 1992.