At the end of the 19th century
was responsible for more than half of the world's oil production,
and Baki was rolling in money. Between 1885 and 1915 hundreds of
luxurious mansions were built by entrepreneurs and oil barons who
had grown wealthy almost overnight.
The architecture they created displays a unique and exuberant blend
of European and Oriental influences, in which neoclassical,
Renaissance, Gothic and Art Nouveau styles merge with Persian,
Egyptian, Ottoman and Moorish designs. Thousands of tons of topsoil
were imported into the city to create parks and gardens, new streets
and avenues were laid out and planted with trees, and new libraries,
theatres and concert halls were endowed.
Fortunately many of these fine buildings have
survived the Soviet period, although most were subdivided into small
Much of the finest oil boom architecture is
concentrated around the
and immediately to its north and east.
Begin on Neftchilar prospekti,
opposite the Maiden's Tower. The grand house on the corner
immediately east of the tower is the Hajinski
was built in 1912 for the wealthy oil-baron Isabey Hajinski, and is
noted for the comic faces carved into the facade. It is said that
the architect siphoned off so much of his boss's money that he was
able to build his own luxurious mansion on the other side of town
(it now houses the American Embassy). Head south on Neftchiler, and
turn right at Azerneft meydani.
The huge threestorey building on the far side
of Azerneft meydani is the headquarters of SOCAR (State Oil Company
This huge mansion was built in 1896. and was purchased in the 1900s
by Mir Babayev, a famous Azerifolk singer who strucks
it lucky when singing at a society wedding. One of the groom's
wealthy relatives was so impressed he gave Babayev a gift so large
that the singer was able to become an oil baron himself.
Continue west up Niyazi kuchasi, to
the junction with Istiqlaliyyat. The two buildings on the left side
of the street house the State
The classical building with portico overlooking the openair
auditorium was built in 1891 for the Baki agent of the Rothschild
banking business-After the Soviet takeover in 1920 it was occupied
by Mir-Jafar Bagirov, First Secretary of the Azerbaijan Communist
Party and Stalin's bosom buddy. The other building was originally a
On the right is the Italian
Renaissance style Filarmoniya (Philharmonic
Concert Hall), built in 1912.
Italian Renaissance style Filarmoniya
continue north along Istiglaliyyat kuchasi, beyond Baksoviet metro
station rises the grand baroque edifice of Baki's City Hall.
It was built between 1900 and 1904
and designed by the Polish architect Joseph Goslavski, who was also
responsible for Baki's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This great
church was built in 1888 and once stood nearby on Ahmad
Javad kuchesi, but was demolished at Stalin's order in the 1930s.
Baki's City Hall - Baksoviet
The next building along is the
which was completed in 1901. It was originally the AlexandraBoarding School
for Muslim Girls, the city's first school to provide secular
education for girls, and served as the Parliament of the
short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920). The school
was endowed by Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, a philanthropic oil baron whose
own mansion now houses the StateHistoryMuseum.
If you manage to fight your way
across the traffic-clogged stree
t here (alternatively, there's an underpass back at the
metro station), it's worth
making a short detour along M Muxtarov kuchesi to see the Wedding
This magnificent French Gothic mansion was built by the oil baron
Murtuza Muhtarov in 1912. A staunch capitalist, Muhtarov did not
give up without a fight whenRed Army invaded Baki in 1920.
When two mounted Bolshevik soldiers rode into
the grand entrance hall of his house, the old man (he was 65) shot
them both before turning his gun on himself. The Soviets did not
carve up the building into separate apartments, but made it into a 'WeddingPalace'
where young Communist couples would pledge their vows to each other.
It?s still serves this purpose today.
Return to Istiqlaliyyet kuchesi
and turn left downhill. The last big building on the right is the
probably the most elaborate of Baki's oil boom mansions. It was
built between 1908 and 1913 at the behest of Musa Nagiyev, one of
the city?s richest magnates, in memory of his son Ismayil who died
of tuberculosis. Its ornate and colourful design was based on the
Palazzo Contarini in Venice.
The building was devastated by fire during the street battles that
marked the birth of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, but
when the Communist authorities restored it in the 1920s they
replaced the Koranic inscriptions and oriental ornamentation with
more ideologically correct Soviet stars. Today the palace houses the
offices of the Azerbaijan State Academy of Sciences.
street from the IsmayillaPalace
is the Monolit, a massive Soviet apartment
Monolit in Baku
block built in the 1940s. Continue
straight downhill past monuments to two great Azeri writers - the
seated figure of satirist and poet Sabir (1862-1911) on the right,
and a standing statue of 12th century poet Nizami on the left. At
the foot of the stairs beneath the latter is the colourful facade of
Nizami Museum of Literature
with a row of statues depicting famous literary figures.
Go left around the museum and turn right into
Baki's prime people-watching arena. The fountains only work
occasionally, but there are plenty of cafe terraces where you can
enjoy a drink and watch the world go by. On the north side of the
square is a rare survival - a 19th century Armenian church, now used
as a storage space.
Nizami Museum of
Leave Fountain Square
on the south along the pedestrian precinct of Aziz Aliyev kuchasi
(between the NizamiMuseum
and the Ramstore Supermarket). Fork left at the statue of the 19th
century poet Natavan, which stands in front of a glass facade tacked
on to the building that houses the Azerbaijan Cinema. Turn left at
the next street. A.Alizada kuchasi, and enter the shopping arcade
(to the right of the "Gold Passage'). This two-storey Italian
Renaissance arcade was built in the 1890s and was Baki's first
department store, catering to the wealthy families of the oil
barons. Today the shops are jammed with imported consumer goods for
the city's second wave of nouveaux riches.
Exit the far end
of the arcade and turn left along Azerbaijan
prospekti. Two blocks along turn left on Z. Tagiyev kuchesi.
department store - old BUM
The entire block on the right side of the street is the former home
of oil baron Zeynalabdin Tagiyev.This vast Italian Renaissance mansion was built between 1895
and 1902 to the design of Joseph Goslavski, who also designed City
Hall. Although it was once one of the most splendid residences in
Baki, today it looks a little the worse for wear. It was confiscated
by the Soviet authorities and escaped being divided into apartments.
Instead it became the
State History Museum,
a role it continues to perform today. Continue north past the museum
to return to
for a well-earned beer.
Museum of Art
The State Museum of Art is housed in a late 19th century mansion on
Niyazi kuchesi, opposite the Filarmoniya. The main building houses a
collection of 19th century Azeri and Russian art, while the annex
immediately uphill contains Azeri modern art.
Perhaps the most interesting - if unofficial
- exhibits are the bullet-scarred bronzes of poet Natavan, singer
Bulbul and composer Hajibeyov in the courtyard behind the annex.
These once stood in the city of
in Nagorno-Karabakh, but following the Armenian occupation of the
region the busts were discovered in Georgia,
having been sold for scrap.
The State Museum of Art is open from
Tuesday to Sunday. Entry is $3.
Housed in the former mansion of the
oil baron Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, the StateHistory
at Z Tagiyev kuchesi 4 is worth a visit just to see the undiminished
splendour of the upstairs reception halls. Approached via an
extravagantly mirrored, marble-clad staircase, the grand halls are
decorated with ornate mouldings in a mixture of oriental and
European styles, covered in gold leaf and sparklingly illuminated
by huge chandeliers.
The main galleries on the ground floor contain exhibits of pottery,
metalwork, architecture and inscriptions, including a plaster cast
of the 1st century AD Latin graffito at Qobustan.
The upstairs galleries have displays of weapons, early oil industry
technology, carpets and textiles, plus endlessly dull galleries of
dusty photographs and documents from the Soviet era.
is open from
Tuesday to Sunday. Admission costs $1. An extra $1.25 is charged if
you wish to visit special exhibitions in the upstairs galleries.
& Applied Art
Baki's carpet museum (493 05 01) is housed in a huge, colonnaded
Greek temple (formerly the LeninMuseum)
& Applied Art
Neftchiler prospekti at its junction with Samed Vurgun kuchesi.
Around 1000 out of the museum's huge collection of some 6000
carpets are on display, divided into flat-weave (kilims) and
knotted carpets and catalogued according to style and area of
If you are a serious carpet freak, then this
place is a must - there are many rare and beautiful examples of
Azeri carpets, not only from
but also from northern Iran
- though the non-air-conditioned galleries can be hotter than hell
in summer. As usual there are no descriptions on the exhibits,
ensuring that interested visitors will have to pay for a guide. The
museum is open from
Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is $3, plus another $5 for an
and the city's boulevard
Though you might not guess by the look of it,
and the city's waterfront have been declared a national park. Some
areas of the park are neglected and in need of repair, but it is
still a pleasant place to stroll and local people take full
advantage of the shady walks, funfair rides, kiddie cars, cheap
donar stalls and outdoor pool tables, and you might even see the
occasional kid on roller-blades! World chess champion Garry
Kasparov, who was born in Baki, is said to have cut his teeth on the
public chess tables here.
In the aftermath
of 20 January 1990,
when the Red Army rolled into Baki and massacred more than a
hundred citizens, a
lane in a hilltop park south of the
was rededicated as a cemetery and memorial to those who had died.
It was known as Shehidlar Hiyabany (Martyrs' Lane), and in the years
that followed it was surrounded by the graves of those who had
fallen in the Karabakh conflict. Today there are thousands of
tombstones ranged amid the trees and flower beds.
terraces around the cemetery were formerly known as KirovPark.
A grandiose but crumbling staircase mounts to the summit of a hill
that was once surmounted by a massive bronze statue of Sergei
Mironovich Kirov (1886-1934), the first secretary of the Azerbaijan
Communist Party from
Baku in night from
the summit of a hill
1921 to 1926 and Stalin's right-hand man inTranscaucasia.
assassination in 1934 - a murder that was probably engineered by
Stalin himself - marked the beginning of the period of purges and
show trials known as the Great Terror. Kirov
was a much-hated figure in Azerbaijan,
and his statue was removed soon after independence. The hilltop
terrace still offers fine views over the city and BakiBay.