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Spotlight Article

8 Reasons to Visit Baku

Four Seasons Magazine
July 28, 2014

It’s been dubbed the Dubai of the Caucasus, and for good reason: Baku, the thriving capital of Azerbaijan, has experienced an explosion of growth in recent years, taking its place as a cosmopolitan centre of the young nation that only gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The largest city in the largest country in the Caucasus region, Baku offers travellers a luxurious oasis on the country’s coastline as well as a history that reaches back more than 2,000 years to the Silk Road trade route that connected Asia and Europe. And today, it’s a destination on the rise.

“Azerbaijan is a country of optimism,” says David Jones, Vice President of Ker & Downey, a tour operator in the region. “Indeed, Baku is an artistic blend of the ultra-modern and the ancient set on the shores of the Caspian Sea. This is a must-see for even the most seasoned traveller.”

Explore ancient sites

The Walled City of Baku, a UNESCO World Heritage site and architectural preserve, consists of a variety of stunning structures that date back as far as the seventh century BC. The area was sheltered from the contemporary and Soviet sections of the city by massive walled fortresses, and today folks can visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a perfect example of the medieval palace structures in Azerbaijan from the middle of the 15th century. Pay particular attention to the bathhouse at the palace, which had floor heating and washbasins that were built into the wall. Don’t miss the Maiden Tower, an eight-storey fortress originally built as a fire beacon on the highest hill in the city.

Witness eternal flames

Traces of the ancient culture of fire worship, a natural development in this oil-rich country, can be found throughout the entire region. To see an impressive example, visit the village of Surakhany and the Fire Temple (Ateshgah), 21 kilometres (13 miles) from the city centre. The temple was built in the 17th century over a natural gas source, and visitors can still see the eternal flame today, although now the gas is piped in from Baku. The ancient fires of this region are said to have given Azerbaijan its name, which means “the land of holy fire.”

Shop locally

Visit the Teze Bazaar to purchase everything from local spices to fruit, cheese, fresh fish and even beluga caviar. Here, the aromas of fruits and herbs and the sounds of vendors young and old calling out their wares transport you to another time. Nearby, busy and fashionable Nizami Street—named for the 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi—is a pedestrian-friendly shopping street in the city’s centre.

Stroll the town

Shopping choices abound in Baku’s Fountains Square, along with the trendiest restaurants, dozens of lovely fountains and prime spots for people-watching. The square, which was once known as Parapet Square (and is still so called by locals), dates back to the days of Soviet rule in Azerbaijan.

Marvel at outstanding architecture

The Flame Towers in Baku—three buildings rising from 34 to 39 storeys—pay homage to the country’s history as a land of fire. The towers, designed by HOK International and listed among the world’s most stunning skyscrapers, are best seen from a distance, perhaps from Old Town, where you can see the entire scope of this architectural wonder.

Honour Azerbaijan’s heroes

Over the years, the Alley of Martyrs in the Upland Park area has served a number of different purposes—from cemetery to amusement park—but the place is now a moving memorial and burial site for the nation’s heroes. Guarded by an eternal flame and looking out over the Caspian Sea, the peaceful memorial is visited each year by thousands who wish to honour the country’s fallen defenders.

Enjoy avant-garde art

Opened in 2009, the Baku Museum of Modern Art on Yusif Safarov Street contains more than 800 pieces of art, including a collection of paintings and sculptures beginning in the early 1940s, but with an emphasis on avant-garde 1960s and ’70s pieces from Azerbaijani artists. In the austere, two-storey white building, works by Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall have also found a home.

Discover history among the boulders

The Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage site about 48 kilometres (30 miles) outside of Baku, is home to more than 6,000 mountain carvings that date back 40,000 years. On these rocks are scenes of prehistoric times, including carvings depicting boats that resemble Viking longboats, leading some to believe that Scandinavians trace their roots to Azerbaijan.

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