Located on the western coast of the Caspian Sea, Baku is the capital and the most populous city of Azerbaijan. It is also the nation’s largest seaport. The metropolis is a fascinating blend of the old and the new. The mystifying Maiden Tower in the walled Old City (Icheri Sheher) punctuates Baku’s skyline along with the three contemporary Flame Towers, each of which is covered with a gigantic LED light display. Situated on a valuable supply of oil below its surface that has been extracted since at least the 10th century, modern-day Baku is of immense economic and political importance as the site of a pipeline that transports oil to the West through Turkey. From the ancient oil fields to the fully developed refineries and pipelines, the oil industry is only one example of the journey through time that will captivate you in Baku.
Baku is the cultural centre of Azerbaijan. A wealth of theatre and opera, cinema, museums, concert halls, universities and libraries testify that the arts and education are highly valued in Baku. Azeris have a deep love of music and dance, evidenced in their folk music and their Western musical traditions, as well as in their appreciation for the classical. The ancient art of the ashugs, who accompany their original songs to stringed instruments, is alive and well and still greatly enjoyed in modern Baku.
The people of Azerbaijan have mixed ethnic origins. Their relatively recent history of ethnic segregation, conflict and combat under Soviet rule, fostered the fierce sense of nationalism in the liberated Azeri people.
People and Traditions
Hospitality is a defining characteristic of the Azeri people—visitors are shown the greatest respect. Azeris enjoy greeting guests, and they may extend an invitation to share a meal in their home. If you are invited to join a family for tea in Baku, listen intently while they share, and delight in this opportunity to learn all you can about them.
Azeri women are most revered for their roles as mothers, and the family is of prime importance here. Azeris are very proud of their trade of carpet-weaving as well as their exports of internationally renowned caviar from Baku’s local sturgeon roe. Over 90% of the Azeri population is Muslim; Christians comprise the next largest religious segment. Religious holidays such as Kurban Bayra and public holidays like Novruz (lasting almost a whole month in March) constitute an important element of the lifestyle. Beyond the feasts and festivals, traditional contests of gulesh (wrestling matches incorporating also music and dance) are very popular throughout the land.
The best time to travel to Baku is May through August, when the weather is dry and mild. July and August are the warmest months with average highs of 30°C and lows of 22°C. January is the coolest month with average highs of 6°C and lows of 2°C. November is the rainiest month. July is the driest.
Baku’s picturesque Primorskiy Bulvar, a 3.2-km boulevard along the shore of the Caspian Sea, is a popular destination for both natives and visitors. From here you can wander into the quaint alleyways lined with trees and fountains, then rest as you dine at one of many restaurants and cafes along the paths. The boulevard is also convenient to Nagorniy Park, where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the city.
Baku is very proud of its traditional art of carpet-weaving, which accounts for a significant segment of commerce. Visit the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum to see a wide array of intricate carpets from the area.
Within an hour of Baku are many historical landmarks that demonstrate the ways of life of this area over the centuries. Among these: Qala open-air museum; Ateshgah and Yanar Dag natural gas fires; Gobustan Reserve artefacts of the primitive people of the region; and the Absheron Towers.
After investigating the sights in and around Baku, return to the city, where eateries and nightclubs abound.
Spend a day in the Old City, where most of the landmarks are located. A principal attraction is the Shirvanshahs’ Palace of the local dynasty (6th-16th centuries). In the eastern part of the Old City complex visit the monumental Murad’s Gate. Maiden Tower is one of the oldest structures; many legends relate to this former temple and fortress. Juma Mosque is also within the Old City walls. Outside the Old City, in the district of Bibiheybat, is the Bibi-Heybat Mosque. It, too, is fascinating for its legends and history.
End your adventures by returning to the centre of Baku, and visit Fountains Square, a bustling dining and shopping district, where you can reminisce about antiquity as you enjoy the modern shops and restaurants.