Baku’s Old Town, or Icheri Sheher, was once the whole city, and it is the best place to picture Baku’s history. It is completely encircled by the old city walls with their medieval gates. The winding streets and alleyways are home to private residences, mosques and madrassahs, carpet merchants and tiny shops. The aura of the past that permeates the town rewards exploration and careful investigation with surprising glimpses of a bygone era. One of its mysteries is the Maiden Tower, overlooking the sea on one side and the Old Town on the other. Historical researchers have a difficult time firmly fixing the date of its construction, and suggestions as to its function range from watchtower to a place for Zoroastrian sky burial.
Baku’s inhabitants stayed behind the 14th century walls of their town almost until the 19th century, when the Russian empire began exploiting in earnest the great oil reserves under the waters of the Caspian. An oil boom that lasted from 1880 to 1915 left a region of beaux arts mansions built by the newly-rich. Today Baku is experiencing a second oil boom and modern buildings are appearing all over town.
PUBLISHED: July 19, 2013