Baku is really an Eastern European city like no other! I was expecting a city more similar to Moscow or Kiev (gray and full of Soviet style buildings), but I felt more like I was in Vienna with a little bit more chaos. Nizami Street by Fountain Square reminded me of the centre of Vienna. As I explored Baku, I was often reminded of another place I have visited.
Baku Airport is much nicer than CDG, and the slanted form made of glass is quite intriguing.
So is one of the terminal buildings with a dome that made me think of the church of Kizhi (both are totally different by the way).
Upon driving into the city, we passed the gliterring gold Buta Palace of the President, the stadium that hosted the recently held Islamic Games 2017, and the masterpiece of Zaha Hadid named Heydar Aliyev Centre. This masterpiece is very fluid and modernistic.
While walking around looking for lunch, I came across a neo-classical building which reminded me of El Capitolio in Havana, but it could be for the setting and direction of approach, more than the building design itself.
During the city tour of Baku, I learned that the city had gone through four major phases of development, which resulted in the currently diverse styles of buildings. Each style is an art in itself.
The Old City was constructed in the Medieval period. The Maiden tower, the four “karavansaray” buildings, and the wall and Double Gate are important heritage of this era. Karavansaray is a building that was constructed as resting places by the traveling merchants. Baku was one of trading stop along the Silk Road route.
The second phase of construction happened during the Oil Boom in the late 19th century up to 1920s. This was the Capitalism era of Baku. Humongous European style mansions were built by these oil billionaires. Gothic, Rococo, and Neo-classic styles could be observed in the Baku buildings. At times these different styles are combined together, giving rise to what they called the Eclectic style. The Socar (state oil company) building is one example. It was formerly the residence of Mirbabayev – an oil magnate. Most of the buildings built by the oil money are built on Oil Avenue and Independence (Istiglaliyyet) Street. Another example is the Hajinsky House near the Maiden Tower.
Luckily, when the Soviet took over in the 1920s – which effectively ended the Oil Boom period – many of these buildings were not destroyed. But sadly, the beautiful Alexander Nevsky church was – being a church and its religious connotation. It was a treasure lost to eternity. If you think the Alexander Nevsky church in Sofia was amazing (and I love it), google this one! The Soviet destroyed and constructed. One building that I like a lot is the National Literary Museum of Azerbaijan. This was a karavansaray building which was converted as museum. The Soviets added the statues on the facade and the two additional floors.
The last phase of construction is during the post-independence modern era (1994 onwards). The three Buta (tongue of flames) towers are from this phase. And these buildings from afar made me think of the Sharq in Kuwait City.
Baku really has an interesting mix of architecture styles. It makes it fresh for the visitors and at times, gives us a sense of déjà vu. To visit Baku properly, about two days are ideal. I spent about half a day, so a return trip is in the works.