Rising from the south shore of the Apsheron Peninsular at the western edge of the Caspian Sea, the Walled City of Baku was founded on a site inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. The city reveals, along with the dominant Azerbaijani element, evidence of Zoroastrian, Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence in cultural continuity. Pretty much everything a tourist would want to see is contained within the walls of the old town.
The first stop on any travel itinerary for Baku is the Old City, or "Icherisheher". Icherisheher is the pearl of Azerbaijani architecture and culture. There are many galleries and exhibition halls in Icherisheher where you can see and purchase the works of various artists, sculptors and master craftsmen. The most recognisable monuments of Old City are the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, an expansive building that is a testament to Azerbaijan’s impressive architectural heritage and the Maiden Tower, which dates back to the 12th century.
The inner city (Icherisheher) has preserved much of its 12th-century defensive walls, which define the character of the property. There are also numerous historical-architectural monuments of the medieval period such as caravanserais, hamams (bath-houses), mosques and residential buildings of the 18th to 20th centuries located within the property.
The magnificence of Icherisheher lies in the combination of its distinct architectural monuments and its historically composed architectural spatial planning with original street views, which have merged into a single entity to reflect its long history and the melding of cultures that have influenced its development over the past nine centuries. Icherisheher is still a living, vibrant city with residential areas housing local communities.
The most ancient monument of Icherisheher is the Maiden Tower – symbol of the city of Baku. Some evidence suggests that the construction of the Tower might have been as early as the 7th-6th centuries BCE.
This sapering 29m stone tower is Baku’s foremost historical icon with rooftop views surveying Baku Bay and the Old City.
The Maiden Tower is a Baku landmark, and considered the antique symbol of Baku and one of the most majestic sights of the UNESCO-listed Old City. Much mystery surrounds the tower. Possibly millennia old, its original date of construction is the subject of much debate, though much of the present structure appears to be 12th century. The upper part of the construction dates from the 12th century, parts of it are believed to be as old as the 6th or 7th century. Its original purpose is the source of much speculation, from an ancient astrological observatory to a sacred fire temple.
The tower’s name has given rise to many legends, the best-known of which concerns a princess who jumped to her death rather than face marriage to her besotted father.
Today, the Maiden Tower stands as a monument to the rich history and enduring charm of Baku, the pearl of the Caspian Sea
The tower is 28 metres tall, the diameter on the first floor is 16.5 meters, and the tower has eight floors. Each floor was constructed with finished stones and the tower has a dome-shaped ceiling. Based on structure of the monument, scholars believe it is of medieval origin from the Zoroastr time – his cabin, fire-worshipers temple, and Mitra and Anahita goddesses. The tower became a museum in 1964 and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.
Maiden Tower is one of Azerbaijan’s most recognisable symbols and is depicted on numerous banknotes and coins. In recent years, the Novruz holiday is celebrated in the Maiden Tower and its surrounding yard.
PALACE OF SHIRVANSHAHS
Another monument of universal value, one of the pearls of Azerbaijan's architecture is the 12th- to 15th-century Shirvanshahs' Palace, located at the highest point of Icherisheher. Within the Palace complex are the Divankhana (reception hall) , the Tomb of Shah, the residential building of Shirvanshahs, the remains of Key-Kubad Mosque, the Tomb of Seyid Yahya Bakuvi, Murad’s Gate (the only monument of the 16th century), the Tomb of Shirvanshahs’ Family, the Shah Mosque and the Palace bath-house.
The palace is a two-storey building in an irregular, rectangular shape. In order to provide better illumination of the palace, the south-eastern part of the building was constructed on different levels. Initially there were 52 rooms in the palace, of which 27 were on the ground floor and 25 on the first floor. The shah and his family lived on the upper floor, while servants and others lived on the lower floor.