Two days are not nearly enough to explore the remarkable city that is Baku, but here are just a few suggestions of what you can do in the Azerbaijani capital. Be prepared though, as Baku means the Land of the Wind, you will face some seriously strong gusts.
1. Taza Pir Mosque
The Təzəpir (Taza Pir) Mosque is the first religious building made out of white stone in Baku and, at the time of construction, it was a completely new stage not only in the urban structure of the city, but also in the religious buildings of the entire Absheron Peninsula, for its spatial unity and architectural feature.
The mosque, financed by woman philanthropist Nabat Khanum Ashurbeyova, was built between 1905 and 1914, but the site dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries, as Abu Seyid Abdulla’s tomb, on the top of which the temple was bult. Nabat Khanum died at the age of 117, in 1912, but she entrusted her son to oversee the completion of the mosque. They are both buried on site, Nabat on the right side of the door, on the porch, and her son in the courtyard.
Nabat insisted that the architect for Taza Pir be Azerbaijani, so he would understand and integrate traditional elements into the temple. Zivar bay Ahmadbayov, who later became the chief architect of Baku was chosen for the project. As per Nabat’s wishes, the interior design of the mosque features local architectural elements and ornaments of the painting schools of Azerbaijan among the calligraphy from the Koran.
2. Heydar Aliyev Center
The Heydar Aliyev Center opened on what would have been the former Azerbaijani president’s 89th birthday, on 10 May 2012. The museum was designed by Iraqi-British architect Dame Zaha Hadid, a major figure in the post-modern architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, nicknamed “the Queen of curve”.
The museum exhibits, in part, the history and traditions of Azerbaijan, as well as its future in exhibitions varying from the history and development of the country and the life of Heydar Aliyev to traditions like carpet making and mugham music, to the mini-Azerbaijan exhibition, which shows the country’s dynamic development through miniature models of historical and modern landmarks.
3. Carpet Museum
In Azerbaijani culture, the carpet is more than just an element of home décor, it is a symbol and an integral part of celebrations and ceremonies. The National Carpet Museum was established in 1967 to store, research and exhibit the art of carpet weaving in the country, which has been inscribed on UNESCO’s representative list of intangible cultural heritage since 2010.
The exhibition shows the development of carpet weaving in Azerbaijan, starting with the basic techniques and most simple designs to the more technologically complex and intricate motifs. Displays include horizontal and vertical looms, rudimentary tools for shearing, washing, combing and spinning wool and natural dies used to colour the yarn.
Carpets are traditionally used in everyday life, not only as is, but also to make different goods that serve various purposes. For example, horses were dressed in a carpet cloth called chul, carrying suitcases made out of carpet, called khrjun and heyba, depending on their size. Carpets were even used for making socks, which truly shows the Azerbaijanis’ dedication to the craft considering it would take less time and effort to just make the socks directly out of wool instead of making carpets and then turning them into socks.
4. Inner City
The Inner City (Icherisheher) was founded on a site inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. It reveals, along with the dominant Azerbaijani elements, evidence of Zoroastrian, Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman and Russian presence in cultural continuity. These abundant influences brought the complex the status of UNESCO World Heritage in 2000.
Also called the Walled City of Baku, the site has preserved much of its 12th century defensive walls, which define the character of the property. The oldest monument of Icherisheher is the Maiden Tower, now a symbol of Baku, with evidence suggesting its construction might be dated as early as the 7th-6th centuries BC.
Called by UNESCO “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture”, the Şirvanşahlar Sarayı (Shirvanshah’s Palace) complex is located at the highest point of the Inner City. Built in the 15th century, the complex houses the Divankhana (reception hall), the residential building of Shirvanshahs, the remains of Key-Kubad Mosque, the Tomb of Seyid Yahya Bakuvi, Murad’s Gate, the Tomb of Shirvanshahs’ Family, the Shah Mosque and the Palace bathhouse.
From certain points in the Inner City, you can see the contrast between all of Baku’s architectural styles at a glance. Behind the Icherisheher’s walls are a few rows of Soviet era buildings and, in the distance, the modern Flame Towers.
5. Land of Fire
Just a 30-minute drive outside of Baku, at Yanar Dag, the undying flame has been burning for centuries. The naturally ignited flame has given Azerbaijan the nickname of the Land of Fire. Here and at the nearby Ateshgah Temple you can learn more about the heritage of Zoroastrianism in Azerbaijani culture.
6. Museum Restaurant
Şirvanşah (Shirvanshah) is a traditional Azerbaijani food restaurant in Baku that doubles as a museum. The interior is decorated with carpets with traditional motifs, national handicrafts are displayed and the staff wears traditional clothing while mugham masters maintain the authentic atmosphere.
Make sure to try Azerbaijan’s national dish, Shakh plov (the king of rice). The portion is more than generous, so best go with friends, and it will take a while to prepare, but you can enjoy some of the amazing starters in the meantime.
Of course, the offer of restaurants is plentiful and you will leave fully satisfied regardless of where you decide to eat. Wherever you go, you must have some Azerbaijani wine with your meal and maybe try the traditional wild cranberry vodka.
7. Hilton 360˚ rooftop bar
You could end your visit with a drink at the 360˚ rooftop bar, on the last floor of the Hilton Hotel. The bar spins, making a full circle in an hour. The movement is imperceivable unless you look at the seam lines on the edge of the floor. So just sit down, enjoy a great cocktail and admire the view of the entire city.
Afterwards, you can take a stroll along the nearby Baku Boulevard, on the Caspian Sea shore, to have the perfect last evening in Baku!