It’s important to know the city’s story before you experience the historical journey through architecture. Two millennia ago, Zoroastrianism, a type of religion based around worshipping fire, thrived. Ischeri Sheher, the Inner City, grew and became fortified in the 12th-century. The Shirvanshahs resettled in Baku making it the new capital in the 15th-century after an earthquake destroyed Shamakhi.
Endless conflicts followed between the Persians, Ottomans and Imperial Russia. Russia gained control in 1813. The first oil boom in the 19th-century made some wealthy barons who then commissioned large mansions and palaces. The Soviets later ruled for most of the 20th-century. Azerbaijan’s natural resources and their second oil boom pays for the modern skyline today.
The architecture in Baku has four distinct flavours: the medieval inner city, the lavish styles from the first oil exploitation, Soviet neighbourhoods and contemporary designs. Let’s take a look at where to go in Baku to experience each.
The Inner City dates to the 12th-century. You’ll see lots of Islamic styles like the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, old mosques and former bathhouses. Streets branch and twist as the old town rises gently up the hill. Vendors sell traditional Azerbaijan carpets and souvenirs here. Maiden Tower, a large cylinder poking into the sky of unknown origin, is a classic example of medieval architecture in Baku.
Most of the city’s population lived within the walls of Icheri Sheher until the early 19th-century. Oil transformed Baku forever.
Azerbaijan’s history and culture intertwines deeply with fire. From the Zoroastrian worship to the modern day natural gas reserves fuelling the economy and paying for the skyline. If you want to experience contemporary architecture in Baku, Flame Towers are the first stop. The trio of skyscrapers with curved and triangular designs resemble three flickering flames.
Built on a hill, the tallest reaches 182 metres (597 feet) making it both an icon of Baku and the tallest skyscraper in Azerbaijan. The magic starts after dark when the towers light up and alternate between the colours of the Azerbaijan flag and the colour of fire.