Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, lies along the Caspian Sea, and is a somewhat curious mix of the old walled city of Icheri Seher, and a modern building craze that has led a boom in skyscrapers, many of which are studded with LCD screens. Of all of these, make sure that you don’t miss the Flame Towers, three towers built to resemble fire that cast a bronzed glow over the city at night. The city also embraces the modern at the Museum of the Contemporary Art that has over 900 artworks that feature up and coming artists from the region, and is well worth a visit for those interested in modern culture. You can also try the local produce with a visit to Teze Bazaar, a market famous for its cheeses and spices, or grab a kebab, a local delicacy at one of the numerous open restaurants found all over the city.

Icheri Sheher

Sometimes called the Old Town or the Inner City, Icheri Sheher is a unique historical ensemble right in the center of Baku, at the heart of the city. Ancient Baku was founded where Icheri Sheher is today, which used to be right on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The buildings are built out of limestone, cut locally and polished to a smooth surface, so most of the buildings share the same colors, and the roads are narrow and winding, making Icheri Sheher feel a bit like a maze.

Icheri Sheher is the oldest inhabited part of Baku. It was declared a historical and cultural reserve in 1977, and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. Three sides are surrounded by a thick fortress wall, with one side open to the Caspian Sea. Originally, there were two fortress walls to protect Baku, plus a wall between the sea and the city, though the outer wall has since been destroyed, and even the inner wall has fallen away in some parts.

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Icheri Sheher, Baku

People have lived in Baku since the Bronze Age, though its development really took off when it became the capital of the Shirvanshahs in 1385. Though Baku’s most famous sight, Maiden Tower, predates the Shirvanshahs, this is when the famous fortress walls were built to be as strong and intimidating as they are today, and when many of Baku’s most famous monuments were built. Baku held a strategic position on the trade routes between Iran and Russia, and the Silk Road brought wealth and riches to the region, allowing rulers to build public buildings like bathhouses and mosques, and caravanserais to house these travelers.

For many centuries, Baku did not extend beyond Icheri Sheher. The territory isn’t large, just 21.5 hectares, and it was completely surrounded by two thick fortress walls. Everything the city residents needed could be found inside these walls, and the rulers of the city even lived alongside their subjects. Shirvanshah Palace is the jewel of Baku, where the shahs used to make their home, and the palace is surrounded on all sides by crowded houses, since everyone wanted to build their houses inside Icheri Sheher. Outside the walls, people were more vulnerable to attackers, and there were mostly farms but no city residents.

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Many of the buildings are old, with the oldest ones dating to the 1400s, and some being positively modern. Most buildings are made of the same color limestone, so the most defining part of each building is the balcony. Balconies were traditionally made of wood, since it was rather expensive to bring wood to Baku. People would build wood balconies to show off their wealth to anyone passing by their building.

For several centuries, from the late 1300s to right around 1500, the Shirvanshah dynasty made Baku its capital. Shirvanshah Palace was built during this time, as were some of the older buildings, including some of the oldest mosques. Even after the Shirvanshahs moved their capital back to Shamakhi, building continued, with new mosques, new houses, and new marketplaces being built one on top of another.

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Icheri Sheher, Baku

Icheri Sheher, Baku

With the oil boom at the end of the 1800s, Baku started expanding beyond Icheri Sheher. First, the outer fortress walls were demolished, and the moat between the two walls was filled in. Then, buildings started being constructed outside the walls, and Baku rapidly grew to reach its current sprawling size. Many buildings inside Icheri Sheher have survived to this day, though some have been destroyed and rebuilt. People still live in Icheri Sheher to this day, and about 3,000 people total call Baku’s Old City home.

National Museum of History of Azerbaijan

The building of the Museum was built in 1893–1902. The Italian Renaissance-style mansion is immense and takes up an entire city block. There are four floors in some parts of the building. It was designed by Polish architect Józef Gosławski.

When the Red Army entered Baku in April 1920, Taghiyev's residence – like that of other wealthy oil barons – was immediately confiscated. Under a resolution of the USSR People's Commissariat, the residence was established as a museum in June 1920, only two months after the Bolsheviks took Baku.

In May 1934, a special order was adopted to improve the teaching of history and geography in schools, or, more precisely, to inculcate the ‘advantages’ of socialist society in its members in order to nurture the rising generation in the ideology of the totalitarian regime. Marxist understanding of history was delivered through the establishments of historical research and other institutions. In addition, new kinds of historical and regional museums were created to inspire the teaching and promotion of history.

The network of museums with a historical profile was enlarged in regard with the new system. Furthermore, mechanisms of Soviet advocacy became much stronger and mouthpieces during this period. Moreover, the knowledge of the history of our native land was developed through the museum’s achievements in research. In this fashion, phrases like “the first” and “for the first time” are often used when conversation turns to its ninety years of work. From 1925 to the 1960s, until the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences was made responsible for archaeological work, the foundations for the scientific investigation of ancient material and cultural monuments on the territory of Azerbaijan were laid under the direction of archaeologists Davud Sharifov, Yevgeniy Pakhomov, Ishak Jafar-Zadeh, Movsum Salamov, Saleh Gaziyev, Mammadali Huseynov. Excavations were carried out in Khojaly, Qabala, Ganja, Kharaba Gilan, Orangala, Mingechevir and other places. Museum’s collection consists of the materials discovered during these excavations and from ethnographic expeditions. Undoubtedly, museum’s collection allows enriching data for a great many books and theses.

Bukhara caravanserai

Caravanserais have been one of the most important elements of Eastern architecture. None of the eastern cities could ever exist without several caravanserais. Hundreds of caravanserais were built on numerous trade routes between the East and West, which were vital for the normal functioning of the trade routes.

Caravanserai literally means “palace for caravans” or “palace on a trade route”. In the Middle East and Central Asia it was often a place of rest, located in unpopulated areas, to house animals and people.

All caravanserais were divided into two types: open and closed. Closed caravanserais were small fortresses to repel the attack in case of danger. They were one or two storey buildings, surrounded by fortified walls. Inside, there were warehouses, stables and corrals for animals, as well as living premises.

Open caravanserais were typical for cities. They were more like hotels with stables and corrals for animals. In addition there were teahouses, bathhouses, and many other buildings and facilities for travelers.

Bukhara caravanserai in Baku is an example of an open type caravanserai. It is located in the Icherishekher old town right opposite Multani Caravanserai. It was built late in the XV century on the trade route passing through Shemakha gates. Basically, it was a place to stay overnight for the merchants and travelers from Central Asia, in particular from Bukhara, so people called it Bukharian caravanserai.

The caravanserai has a square shape. The inner courtyard was adapted for rest. There were individual cells for an individual stay. The entire perimeter of the building has pointed arches, which give the caravanserai a more impressive appearance.

Multani caravanseria

When we talk about the Ancient East, trade caravans are one of the most common associations. For centuries, the Great Silk Road had been linking Europe and the East. Numerous caravanserais were functioning along the entire length of road. Often, one could see a lonely caravanserai awaiting weary travelers in the middle of the desert. Also caravanserais were spread in the big cities with brisk trade.

Caravanserai literally means a palace on a trade route. Sometimes this name did not reflect the reality. Most caravanserais were simple one-story structures of square or rectangular shape with minimum of amenities. Often, in desert trade routes one could find only a wall with a yard and a well inside it, just to quench thirst for weary travelers and their animals. But sometimes, truly royal buildings, represented by small fortresses, could come before the eyes of travelers. Architecturally, these caravanserais are called closed ones. They were built to beat off a potential attack. They were one or two storey buildings, surrounded by ramparts. Inside, there were warehouses, stables and corrals for animals, as well as living premises.

Urban areas were presented with the other type of caravanserais - an open one. It looked more like a medieval European hotel and inn. There were stables, a teahouse, sauna and many other buildings and facilities necessary for travelers.

An example of this is Multani caravanserai in Baku. It is located in the old part of town – Icherisheher. This caravanserai was built in the 15th century for Indian merchants, fire worshipers, who came from the city of Multan in India (present-day territory of Pakistan).

Like the majority of caravanserais, Multani caravanserai has a square shape. There was a well in the courtyard. Along the perimeter of the building there were cells for individual housing. Also, the caravanserai had stables and farm outbuildings.

Studying the caravanserai, scientists discovered that it was built on the ruins of an older building. This is a characteristic feature of many remained architectural monuments of Baku.

Shirvanshah Palace

The Shirvanshahs ruled the area now known as Azerbaijan for almost 700 years, building and developing the region. For most of their reign, which started in 861, the shahs made their capital in Shamakhi, but from 1382 to 1500, they lived in Baku. During this time, the defensive fortress walls were built around the city, and the rulers built the Shirvanshah Palace, where they lived.

There were several parts to the palace, including a room to meet guests, a harem (where the women lived), several mausoleums, a mosque, and a bathhouse. Today, the main parts of the palace are used as a museum, displaying items that would have been used and worn in the Middle Ages in Azerbaijan. Much of the palace has been restored, since there was extensive damage done once the Shirvanshahs moved back to Shamakhi, and especially once war arrived in Baku in 1918.

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

When you first enter Shirvanshah Palace, there is a welcoming courtyard, filled with plants and trees around a pond. On a wall opposite the entrance are bullet holes, left from fighting during the lawless days in 1918. The exhibition continues inside the palace, through the original waiting room and reception room, which have been mostly stripped of their original decoration. When the Russians came in 1920, they took the finest ceramics and masterpieces to Russian museums in St Petersburg and Moscow. Today, there are only replicas in the Shirvanshah Palace itself, plus various exhibitions on the history of the Shirvanshah Dynasty and famous historical figures, like the literary giant Nizami Ganjavi. A special room shows off the fine jewelry made for women and horses (because there’s nothing an Azerbaijani man loves more than his woman and his horse), and art exhibitions in some of the other spaces.

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Moving outside of the main palace, there is the Divankhana, which was partly built when the Shirvanshahs fled Baku ahead of advancing Persian armies in 1500. The space could have been designed for discussing new laws or business, or it could have been a religious space or a mausoleum. No one really knows, though the beautiful symmetry and graceful arches make for a calm and serene spot. Many parts of the decoration and embellishment remain unfinished, though there are excellent engravings featuring local trees, like fig and nut trees. In 1920, Russian armies used the Divankhana as barracks (indeed, the whole palace housed soldiers), and those who stayed here left behind graffiti with their names. There are tunnels beneath the Divankhana, most of which were used for storing food, but at least one extends further, which would allow for a quick escape ahead of invading armies.

Further behind the Shirvanshah Palace are an exhibition space, several mausoleums, a mosque, and a bathhouse. The broad exhibition space houses remains of Bayil Castle, which used to defend Baku’s harbor until the sea levels changed and the castle sank under the water, to be forgotten for centuries. Some parts of the castle have been excavated, including long stretches of script in Arabic and Persian that used to decorate the top. These text decorations now line the back courtyard of the palace, near the Murod Gate.

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Down the hill are the entrances to the mosque and the family mausoleum. Between the two places is a pistachio tree, which despite being centuries old, still produces ripe fruit every August. The mosque was designed to be acoustically perfect, so that the imam’s voice could be clearly heard both in the men’s section and in the women’s section. There were special holes and chambers built into the walls to absorb sound waves, and a curved passage between the men’s section and the women’s section that allowed voices to pass through, but kept the two sexes from seeing each other while praying. The large spaces in the walls (including a partially hidden second storey) were also perfect for hiding gold when invading armies came through, since mosques are sacred and soldiers would leave them untouched.

The Shirvanshah family mausoleum was first built to hold the remains of Halilullah’s family. Halilullah ruled from 1417 to 1465, the second of three shahs to live in Shirvanshah Palace. His mother was the first to be buried in the mausoleum, as the inscription on the outside explains. The architect’s name is also inscribed on the front of the mausoleum, but with a twist. Since architect’s weren’t supposed to put their names on buildings, he had to get extra creative. His name is written in Arabic script in a teardrop design, but backwards, so it can only be read with a mirror. There are about seven graves inside the mausoleum, including Halillulah and his children in addition to his mother.

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

Shirvanshah Palace, Baku

The very lowest part of Shirvanshah Palace is so far down the hill that for centuries, it was actually underground. The bathhouse was an important part of palace life, but after the shahs left, it fell into disrepair and eventually was buried underground and forgotten. Archaeological excavations later rediscovered the bathhouse chambers, complete with the copper pipes that brought the water and the large cisterns for heating it. The bathhouse was crucial for social life, with women gathering to arrange marriages and show off social status, and men gathering before their weddings and for socializing.

Synyk - Kala mosque

Synyk-Kala Mosque, BakuThe most ancient building not only in “Icheri-Sheher” but in the entire Azerbaijan is Mohammed Mosque (named after architect Mohammed Abu-Bakr) also known as Synyk-Kala.

The monument's age is confirmed by the inscription in Arab characters engraved on the stone slab placed beside the mosque entrance (1078— 1079 AD or the year of 471 by Hidzhra).

The Mosque got its name “Synyk-Kala” in the 18 th century when in 1723 Baku was conquered by the armies of Peter I. The city was heavily bombarded by shipborne cannons. One cannon-ball destroyed the upper part of Mohammad Mosque minaret but the structure itself survived. As result the people gave the mosque a name Synyk-Kala which means “ Destroyed Tower ”. The half-destroyed minaret still towers over the mosque as if reaching for the sky. That is what makes Synyk-Kala so different from other “Icheri-Sheher” mosques.

Today the tours around the mosque are allowed. However, according to Muslim laws only men can get access there. Like every other mosque in “Icheri-Sheher” it has a low vaulted arch so that everyone entering inside bowed his head in front of the Most High.

The mosque is made of two tiers. The structural feature is in the mihrab's half-cylindrical shape and its protrudence from the wall's outer line. The mosque's interior is lit by natural light penetrating through the only colored stained-glass window and a few dim lamps from inside.

Tuba-Shakhi mosque (near Baku)

Located on the outskirts of Baku, in a town called Mardakan, is Tuba Shahi Mosque. This mosque was built in the 15th century by the order of a woman named Tuba Shahi, and is named after her. This religious structure has survived in good condition, and is an excellent example of medieval architecture in Azerbaijan.

The mosque’s walls are made of smooth stone, and the rectangular windows are decorated with stone lattices carved in geometrical patterns. The facade top is decorated with a carved cornice. The entrance juts out a bit from the main building, and above the door is a inscription noting the years of construction (1481-1482). The overall look of Tuba Shahi Mosque is quite modest, with modest yet pleasing decoration.

The rooms inside the mosque are connected to each other and the main hall by curved arches. Above the center of the hall stands a low faceted drum, with a peaked dome on top. The mihrab (which shows the direction of prayer) is located in the southern wall. The interior of Tuba Shahi is pleasantly harmonious, due to the perfect ratio of different rooms and spaces.

Bayil Castle 

This mythically sunken city is surrounded by an aura of secrets, legends and enigmas. Bayil Castle was once one of the most important structures for defending Baku. Now visible only as a small island in the bay off the shore of Baku, Bayil Castle was famous for centuries, then lost for centuries.

However, unlike Atlantis, the existence of Bayil Castle is unequivocal. In 1232-1235 Shirvanshah Fariburz III, in an attempt to protect Baku from the sea, began to construct a stronghold which later became Bayil Castle, also known as Sabayil Castle, Shakhri Saba, Shakhri Nau, "submerged city", or "Bayil Stones".

Bayil Castle was constructed under architect Zejnaddin ibn Abu Rashid Shirvani. The structure is similar to an extended irregular rectangular (180 х40) . The foundation shape was exactly the same as that of the island's coastline. Fortifications of the castle were 1.5-2 m thick with 15 towers 3 of which were round, and 12 - semicircular. During excavations, the foundations of 9 buildings were found. The western wall is adjoined with the destroyed platform - the basis of the central tower which was used simultaneously as a watchtower and a beacon. Historians also believe that there was a fire-worshippers' temple.

Bayil Castle, Baku

Bayil Castle, Baku

Bayil Castle, Baku

Along the entire upper part of the Bayil Castle ran a strip of inscriptions in Arabic and Farsi, together with the images of human faces and imaginary animals. The overall length of the inscription is about 400 meters. Among the decrypted parts of the inscription are three fragments with the construction date - the year of 632 AH (1234-1235 CE), and the name of the architect. Further in the text is the genealogy of Shirvanshahs Mazjadids dynasty, shown in the images of crowned busts. The figures of various animals designate the years of Shirvanshah rulers.

These inscriptions have no analogues in the Middle East; it was the first time that pictures of humans and animals were found on a Muslim monument. Unfortunately, the Bayil Castles' upper part is completely destroyed; only the bottom part of the walls and towers has survived. The inscriptions today are held in the courtyard of the Shirvanshah Palace.

In 1306, as a result of the strongest earthquake ever in the south of the Caspian Sea, the sea level rose and Bayil Castle sunk under water. From the early 14th century up to the early 18th century, the structure was under the Caspian Sea. In 1723 due to dropping sea levels in the  Caspian Sea, the top of the tower appeared above the water. Today, only a small bit of the fortress is visible from the coastline or viewpoints.

Gyz Galasy (Maiden Tower)

The most magnificent and mysterious landmark in Baku and in Icheri Sheher is the Maiden Tower, or Gyz Galasi in Azerbaijani. Because of its unique shape and design, Maiden Tower has become the unofficial symbol of Baku. At 28 m (92 ft) tall, it’s a distinctive landmark, and quite a presence in Icheri Sheher. Since the Caspian Sea is 28 m below sea level, and the bottom of Maiden Tower is at the water level, it means that when you are standing at the top of the tower, you are actually at sea level.

Gyz Galasy, Baku

Gyz Galasy, Baku

Gyz Galasy, Baku

The cylindrical tower was constructed on a rocky ledge that jutted into the Caspian Sea, though the seashore has been extended and Maiden Tower is now located 200 m far from the water. The walls are made of thick brick, and the tower contains a total of eight levels. The top can only be reached via a winding staircase, but the view from the top opens to a beautiful panorama of Icheri Sheher, the Caspian Sea, and the rest of the city. The walls of Maiden Tower have their own secrets. There is a deep well, reaching 21 meters (69 ft) into the ground, and which holds water to this day. There are also the remains of clay pipes in the wall, which may have been used for water, but also could have been used to remove sewage.

The Maiden Tower’s age is still a subject of disputes. Some say that the tower was built in the 12th century, as an inscription on the side of the tower dates it to this time period and names the architect as Masud ibn Davud. But other historians think that this plaque and inscription appeared later, to fix a hole in the brickwork. Having studied the lime mortar and the color of the stones used to build Maiden Tower, some say that the tower could have been built as early as the 8th century CE (as similar buildings were made in Gabala at the same time), but no later than the 10th century CE (since the stones used to build the Maiden Tower and a mosque from this time are nearly identical). Still others say that, when you look at the construction, it’s clear that the bottom half is much older than the top half. The bottom half was built in the 5th-6th centuries, and the top half was completed in the 12th century.

Even more complicated is the use of the tower. It was poorly suited for defense, because of its small size, and since the windows are not suitable for warfare. Most likely, Maiden Tower was built as a Zoroastrian temple, since in those times, people were not buried. Their bodies were left in an exposed place, and birds came and ate the flesh and left the bones. We do know that Maiden Tower was an important stronghold during the Shirvan dynasty, in the 12th century, and that it was used as a beacon in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Gyz Galasy, Baku

Gyz Galasy, Baku

Gyz Galasy, Baku

A local legend says that the tower got its name when a girl was given for marriage, though she didn’t want to get married. She asked her groom to build a tower for her, hoping to distract or dissuade him. But he did not change his mind while building the tower, so the girl climbed to the top and jumped to her death in the sea.

According to another legend, Maiden Tower is near the spot where St Bartholomew, one of the 12 apostles, was executed. Bartholomew arrived in Baku in the 1st century CE to preach Christianity, but his doctrine was rejected and he was executed near the walls of the Maiden Tower. The place where he was executed is marked with a small chapel, which is clearly visible in an 1890 photo of the Maiden Tower.

Today, Maiden Tower holds a museum, with exhibits that show daily life in the 18th and 19th century, plus how Baku and its architecture have grown and developed. The tower has undergone several recent renovations, and today is located in the center of a large square and marketplace. Since 2000, Maiden Tower has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Juma Mosque

Mosque in Icheri Sheher

Many of the architectural monuments of Baku were built on the ruins of very old buildings belonging to the pagan period in the history of Azerbaijan. Thus, according to archaeologists, the Maiden Tower is built on the site of a pagan temple. The basement of Sabail castle also contains some fragments of the older buildings. Juma mosque in the Icheri-sheher can also be listed among such monuments.

Juma Mosque, Baku

Juma Mosque, Baku

Juma Mosque, Baku

Juma mosque or mosque in the Icheri-sheher has been functioning since the 12th century. This mosque was built in 1899 at the funds of Baku philanthropist Khadja Shikhali Dadashev. In 1888 the Russian academician A.Pavlinov took measurements of the Juma Mosque. The mosque was built on the site of the temple of fire worshipers. Only four uncoated arches remained from the old building, they allegedly belonged to the temple. According to many modern archaeologists, there was a pagan sacred center on the site of Juma Mosque, where the fire worshipers gathered.

In the 14th century pagan temple was converted into a mosque. According to the inscription on the Mosque, "in the month of Rajab in the year 709 Hijri (1309) Amir Sharaf al-Din Mahmud ordered to update this mosque." In the 15th century, minaret was attached to the north side of the Mosque. By the end of the 19th century the old mosque came into disrepair and was replaced by a new one - Juma Mosque.

Juma mosque itself is small. There is little hall for men, women's prayer rooms. The conical dome of the building, which rests on four pillars located in the center of the Juma Mosque ,is of special interest.

Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral

Cathedral of the Holy Myrrhbearers of the Russian Orthodox Church

Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral in Baku was built under project of the Russian architect Verzhbitsky, Fyodor Mikhailovich. The funds for this project was allocated by the War Office of tsarist Russia, as well as the private donation made by Baku merchant Gadzhi Zeynalabdin Tagiev

The Church name has its own history. In 1909 this Church was built for the 206th Saliyan pultan, accommodated in Baku. It was consecrated in honor of the women who came the first day after Saturday to the tomb of resurrected Jesus Christ for ritual anointment - to embalm the bones with fragrance and myrrh. Thus the name of the cathedral church in Baku was originated

In Soviet time the church was closed. It housed first warerooms and then a gym. The Church was slowly destroying at this period. The events, which took place in January 1990, resulted in hitting its bell tower with two shells, thereat some of its parts were destroyed

In 90-s the Russian Orthodox Church began restoration work on the temple. The building’s architecture was restored. His Holiness the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexis II on his visit to Azerbaijan on 27 May 2001 administered the consecration of the Church and gave it a status of Diocesan Cathedral Church.

After restoration, the Church was opened on 24 March 2003. The Church is also notable for a Baku patron Apostle Bartholomew’s piece of hallows and the Holy Icons of the Mother of God of Tikhvin and Caspian which are kept there.

Towers of Absheron

Towers and Castles of Absheron

By the 11th and 12th centuries, Baku had become a large commercial seaport on the Caspian Sea. For safety reasons, the Shirvanshah dynasty initiated a large-scale building project to strengthen the city’s fortification works. A fortress, protected with three rows of walls, was built around Baku, and also a deep moat was dug. Furthermore, additional defensive structures in a form of flag towers and small fortresses were built on the mountains that surrounded the city. All these towers and palaces made up a common defensive system for the city, which is located on the Absheron Peninsula today.

The beginning of the construction of the towers and castles dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. These towers include the famous Maiden Tower, Sabil fortress, Ramana fortress, Mardakyand fortress and Shikh fortresses. These fortresses were mainly occupied by military posts, which formed the city’s first line of defense in case of attack. In the 11th through 14th centuries, Baku was subject to attacks from the Seljuks Turks, Mongols and Rus’. In 1175, the Shirvanshah ruler Akhistan, managed to prevent the occupation of Baku, with the help of the towers and fortresses existed by that time, by the Russians, who had arrived there with 73 ships. These towers, in addition to their defensive function, were used as communications facilities. When enemies were approaching the city, its defenders used to burn oil on the tops of the towers, thus warning the city about the danger.

One of the castles forming the defensive system of Baku was the Bayil Castle, now submerged almost completely under water. The fortress was built opposite the city in the 13th century in the Bayil Bay, but due to the earthquake of 1306 the water level there dramatically increased, and the fortress found itself deep under water. The castle was shaped like an irregular rectangle. It was surrounded by 1.5-m wide walls with 15 towers built along the perimeter. The fortress location was chosen so it could protect Baku from attack from the sea.

The Maiden Tower was also a part of the Baku’s defensive system, though whether this function was its main one, the scholars cannot say. The Maiden Tower is an 8-storey building resembling a cylinder. In the 18th through 19th centuries, the tower was used as a lighthouse.

In the town of Ramana, near Baku, there is another fortress from the 16th century – Ramana Fortress. It was built of white stone. The fortress height is 15 m. The Ramana Fortress was built by Shirvanshahs’ order for defensive purposes. According to documentary records, in the Middle Ages, there was an underground way running from the Ramana Fortress to the Maiden Tower.

In a town called Mardakan, also not far from Baku, there is another defensive fortress – the Mardakan Fortress, built in the middle of the 14th century by Shirvanshah Akhsitan’s order in honor of a victory over a defeated enemy. The fortress was used as a place for accommodation of a military post and as an observation post. The fortress’ height is 22 m.

The Shikh Fortress, or Ishyg Galasi (Light Fortress), is another defensive fortress located in the same village. This 16 m-high fortress was built in the year 1232 as an observation post.

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