Baku (Azerbaijani: Bakı, IPA: [bɑˈcɯ]) is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. Baku is located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, alongside the Bay of Baku. At the beginning of 2009, Baku's urban population was estimated at just over two million people. Officially, about 25 percent of all inhabitants of the country live in Baku's metropolitan area.
Baku is divided into eleven administrative districts (raions) and 48 townships. Among these are the townships on the islands of the Baku Archipelago, and the town of Oil Rocks built on stilts in the Caspian Sea, 60 kilometres (37 miles) away from Baku. The Inner City of Baku, along with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the Lonely Planet's ranking, Baku is also among the world's top ten destinations for urban nightlife.
The city is the scientific, cultural and industrial center of Azerbaijan. Many sizeable Azerbaijani institutions have their headquarters there. The Baku International Sea Trade Port is capable of handling two million tons of general and dry bulk cargoes per year. In recent years, Baku has become an important venue for international events. It hosted the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, the 2015 European Games, the 2016 European Grand Prix and will host the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 and UEFA Euro 2020.
The city is renowned for its harsh winds, which is reflected in its nickname, the "City of Winds".
Baku is derived from the Persian name of the city باد-کوبه Bād-kube, meaning "Wind-pounded city", in which bād means "wind" and kube is rooted in the verb کوبیدن kubidan, "to pound", thus referring to a place where wind is strong and pounding. Indeed, the city is renowned for its fierce winter snow storms and harsh winds. This is also reflected in the city's nickname as the "City of Winds". A less probable folk etymology explains the name as deriving from Baghkuy, meaning "God's town". Baga (now بغ bagh) and kuy are the Old Persian words for "god" and "town" respectively; the name Baghkuy may be compared with Baghdād ("God-given") in which dād is the Old Persian word for "give". Arabic sources refer to the city as Baku, Bakukh, Bakuya, and Bakuye, all of which seem to come from a Persian name.
Around 100,000 years ago, the territory of modern Baku and Absheron was savanna with rich flora and fauna. Traces of human settlement go back to the Stone age. From the Bronze age there have been rock carvings discovered near Bayil, and a bronze figure of a small fish discovered in the territory of the Old City. These have led some to suggest the existence of a Bronze Age settlement within the city's territory. Near Nardaran, in a place called Umid Gaya, a prehistoric observatory was discovered, where on the rock the images of sun and various constellations are carved together with a primitive astronomic table. Further archeological excavations revealed various prehistoric settlements, native temples, statues and other artifacts within the territory of the modern city and around it.
In the 1st century, the Romans organized two Caucasian campaigns and reached Baku. Near the city, in Gobustan, Roman inscriptions dating from 84–96 AD were discovered. This is one of the earliest written evidences for Baku.
Rise of the Shirvanshahs and the Safavid era
During the 8th century Baku was the realm of the Shirvanshahs. The city frequently came under assault of the Khazars and (starting from the 10th century) the Rus. Shirvanshah Akhsitan I built a navy in Baku and successfully repelled another Rus assault in 1170. After a devastating earthquake struck Shamakhy, the capital of Shirvan, Shirvanshah’s court moved to Baku in 1191.
The Shirvan era greatly influenced Baku and the remainder of Azerbaijan. Between the 12th and 14th centuries, massive fortifications were undertaken in Baku and the surrounding towns. The Maiden Tower, the Ramana Tower, the Nardaran Fortress, the Shagan Castle, the Mardakan Castle, the Round Castle and also the famous Sabayil Castle on the island of the Bay of Baku was built during this period. The city walls of Baku were also rebuilt and strengthened.
By the early 16th century Baku's wealth and strategic position attracted the focus of its larger neighbors, and had already been ruled in the previous two centuries by then in Iran centred Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu. The fall of the Ak Koyunlu brought the city immediately into the sphere of the newly formed Iranian Safavid dynasty, who, led by Shah Ismail I laid siege to Baku in 1501 and captured it making it an integral part of his empire and the successive Iranian dynasties to come for the next centuries, until the irrevocable cession in the first half of the 19th century. The House of Shirvan, who ruled Baku since the 9th century, was extinguished in the course of the Safavid rule.
At this time the city was enclosed within the lines of strong walls, which were washed by the sea on one side and protected by a wide trench on land. In 1540 Baku was again captured by the Safavid troops following a brief occupation by the Ottomans as a result of the Battle of Chaldiran. In 1578 the Ottomans captured Baku and held it till 1603, when it was again put under Iranian control, under which it stayed, intermittently, up to the course of the 19th century. In 1604 the Baku fortress was destroyed by Shah Abbas I.
Downfall of the Safavids and the Khanate of Baku
The fall of the Iranian Safavids gave rise to the various Caucasian khanates, most of whom were already established in the late Safavid era while the rest were established during the rule of Iranian ruler Nader Shah. After the death of Nader Shah in 1747, the semi-independent Persian-ruled principality of the Baku Khanate was formed. It was ruled by Mirza Muhammed Khan but soon became a dependency of the much stronger Quba Khanate. During the time, the population of Baku was small (approximately 5,000), and the economy was ruined as a result of constant warfare.
Russo-Persian Wars and Iran's forced ceding
On 26 June 1723, after a long siege, Baku surrendered to the Russians and the Safavids were forced to cede the city alongside many other of their Caucasian territories as confirmed in the 1723 Saint Petersburg Treaty. By 1730, the situation had deteriorated for the Russians as Nadir Shah's successes in Shirvan forced the Russians to make an agreement near Ganja on 10 March 1735, ceding the city and all other conquered territories in the Caucasus back to Iran.
By the end of the 18th century, Tsarist Russia now began a more firm policy with the intent to conquer all of the Caucasus especially at the expense of Iran and to a lesser extent Turkey. In the spring of 1796, by Yekaterina II’s order, General Valerian Zubov’s troops started a large campaign in the North Caucasus and Transcaucasia against Qajar Persia following the sack of Tblisi and Iran's subsequent restoring of ts suzerainty over Georgia and Dagestan. Zubov had sent 13,000 men to capture Baku, and it was overrun subsequently without any resistance. On 13 June 1796, a Russian flotilla entered Baku Bay, and a garrison of Russian troops was placed inside the city. Later, however, Pavel I ordered the cessation of the campaign and the withdrawal of Russian forces following his predecessor, Catherine the Great her death. In March 1797, the tsarist troops left Baku and the city became part of Iran again.
In 1813, following the Russo-Persian War (1804–13), Qajar Iran was forced to sign the Treaty of Gulistan with Russia, which provided for the irrevocable cession of Baku and most of Iran's territories in the North Caucasus and South Caucasus to Russia. However it was not until the aftermath of the Russo-Persian War (1826–28) and the Treaty of Turkmenchay that Baku came under nominal Russian rule and the city was irrevocably lost, as it was retaken by Iran during the war. When Baku was occupied by the Russian troops during the war of 1804–13, nearly the entire population of some 8,000 people was ethnic Tat.
Discovery of oil
The first oil well was mechanically drilled in the Bibi-Heybat suburb of Baku in 1846, though a number of hand-dug wells predate it. Large-scale oil exploration started in 1872, when Russian imperial authorities auctioned the parcels of oil-rich land around Baku to private investors. The pioneer of oil extracting from the bottom of the sea was Polish geologist Witold Zglenicki. Soon after that Swiss, British, French, Belgian, German, Swedish and American investors appeared in Baku. Among them were the firms of the Nobel brothers together with the family von Börtzell-Szuch (Carl Knut Börtzell, who also owned the Livadia Palace) and the Rothschild family. An industrial oil belt, better known as Black City, was established near Baku.
Professor A. V. Williams Jackson of Columbia University wrote in his work From Constantinople to the Home of Omar Khayyam (1911):
Baku is a city founded upon oil, for to its inexhaustible founts of naphtha it owes its very existence, its maintenance, its prosperity.... At present Baku produces one-fifth of the oil that is used in the world, and the immense output in crude petroleum from this single city far surpasses that in any other district where oil is found. Verily, the words of the Scriptures find illustration here: 'the rock poured me out rivers of oil.
Oil is in the air one breathes, in one's nostrils, in one's eyes, in the water of the morning bath (though not in the drinking water, for that is brought in bottles from distant mineral springs), in one's starched linen – everywhere. This is the impression one carries away from Baku, and it is certainly true in the environs.
By the beginning of the 20th century almost half of world production was being extracted in Baku. The oil boom contributed to the massive growth of Baku. Between 1856 and 1910 Baku's population grew at a faster rate than that of London, Paris or New York.
World War I
In 1917, after the October revolution and amidst the turmoil of World War I and the breakup of the Russian Empire, Baku came under the control of the Baku Commune, which was led by veteran Bolshevik Stepan Shahumyan. Seeking to capitalize on the existing inter-ethnic conflicts, by spring 1918, Bolsheviks inspired and condoned civil warfare in and around Baku. During the infamous March Days, Bolsheviks and Dashnaks seeking to establish control over the Baku streets, were faced with armed Azerbaijani groups. The Azerbaijanis suffered a crushing defeat by the united forces of the Baku Soviet and were massacred by Dashnak teams in what was called March Days. An estimated 3–12,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in their own capital. After the massacre, on 28 May 1918, the Azerbaijani faction of the Transcaucasian Sejm proclaimed the independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in Ganja, thereby becoming the first Muslim-majority democratic and secular republic. The newly independent Azerbaijani republic, being unable to defend the independence of the country on their own, asked the Ottoman Empire for military support in accordance with clause 4 of the treaty between the two countries. Shortly after, Azerbaijani forces, with support of the Ottoman Army of Islam led by Nuru Pasha, started their advance into Baku, eventually capturing the city from the loose coalition of Bolsheviks, Esers, Dashnaks, Mensheviks and British forces under the command of General Lionel Dunsterville on 15 September 1918.
After the Battle of Baku, the Azerbaijani irregular troops, with the tacit support of the Turkish command, conducted four days of pillaging and killing of 10–30,000 of the Armenian residents of Baku. This pogrom was known as the September Days. Shortly after this Baku was proclaimed the new capital of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic.
The independence of the Azerbaijani republic was a significant but a short lived chapter. On 28 April 1920, the 11th Red Army invaded Baku and reinstalled the Bolsheviks, making Baku the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
The city underwent many major changes. As a result, Baku played a great role in many branches of the Soviet life. Since about 1921, the city was headed by the Baku City Executive Committee, commonly known in Russian as Bakgorispolkom. Together with the Baku Party Committee (known as the Baksovet), it developed the economic significance of the Caspian metropolis. From 1922 to 1930, Baku was the venue for one of the major Trade fairs of the Soviet Union, serving as a commercial bridgehead to Iran and the Middle East.
World War II
Baku's growing importance as a major energy hub remained in sight of the major powers. During World War II and the Nazi German invasion of the southwestern Soviet Union, Baku had become of vital strategic importance. In fact, capturing the oil fields of Baku was one of the ultimate goals of Operation Edelweiss, carried out between May and November 1942. However the German Army's closest approach to Baku was no closer than some 530 kilometres (329 miles) northwest of Baku in November 1942, falling far short of the city's capture before being driven back during the Soviet Operation Little Saturn in mid-December 1942.
Fall of the Soviet Union and later
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Baku embarked on a process of restructuring on a scale unseen in its history. Thousands of buildings from the Soviet period were demolished to make way for a green belt on its shores; parks and gardens were built on the land reclaimed by filling up the beaches of the Baku Bay. Improvements were made in the general cleaning, maintenance, and garbage collection, and these services are now at Western European standards. The city is growing dynamically and developing at full speed on an east-west axis along the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Baku is situated on the western coast of Caspian Sea. In the vicinity of the city there are a number of mud volcanoes (Keyraki, Bogkh-bogkha, Lokbatan and others) and salt lakes (Boyukshor, Khodasan and so on).
The city has many amenities that offer a wide range of cultural activities, drawing both from a rich local dramatic portfolio and an international repertoire. It also boasts many museums such as Baku Museum of Modern Art and Azerbaijan State Museum of History, most notably featuring historical artifacts and art. Many of the city's cultural sites were celebrated in 2009 when Baku was designated an Islamic Culture Capital. Baku was also chosen to host the Eurovision Dance Contest 2010.
Among Baku's prestigious cultural venues are Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall, Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. The main movie theatre is Azerbaijan Cinema. Festivals include the Baku International Film Festival, Baku International Jazz Festival, Novruz Festival, Gül Bayramı (Flower Festival) and the National Theater Festival. International and local exhibitions are presented at the Baku Expo Center.
As of 2012[update], the city along with Ganja and Lankaran participates in Earth Hour movement.
National Museum of History
Nizami Museum of Literature
National Art Museum
Baku Museum of Modern Art
Baku has wildly varying architecture, ranging from the Old City core to modern buildings and the spacious layout of the Baku port. Many of the city's most impressive buildings were built during the early 20th century, when architectural elements of the European styles were combined in eclectic style. Baku thus has an original and unique appearance, earning it a reputation as the 'Paris of the East'.
Late modern and postmodern architecture began to appear in the early 2000s. With economic development, old buildings such as Atlant House were razed to make way for new ones. Buildings with all-glass shells have appeared around the city, the most prominent examples being the Azerbaijan Tower, Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Flame Towers, Baku Crystal Hall, Baku White City and SOCAR Tower. These projects also caught the attention of international media as notable programmes such as Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering did pieces focusing in on changes to the city.
The Old City of Baku, also known as the Walled City of Baku, refers to the ancient Baku settlement. Most of the walls and towers, strengthened after the Russian conquest in 1806, survived. This section is picturesque, with its maze of narrow alleys and ancient buildings: the cobbled streets past the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, two caravansaries, the baths and the Juma Mosque (which used to house the Azerbaijan National Carpet and Arts Museum but is now a mosque again). The old town core also has dozens of small mosques, often without any particular sign to distinguish them as such.
In 2003, UNESCO placed the Inner City on the List of World Heritage in Danger, citing damage from a November 2000 earthquake, poor conservation as well as "dubious" restoration efforts.
Music and media
The music scene in Baku can be traced back to ancient times and villages of Baku, generally revered as the fountainhead of meykhana and mugham in the Azerbaijan.
In recent years, the success of Azerbaijani performers such as AySel, Farid Mammadov, Sabina Babayeva, Safura and Elnur Hüseynov in the Eurovision Song Contest has significantly boosted the profile of Baku's music scene, prompting international attention. Following the victory of Azerbaijan's representative Eldar & Nigar at the Eurovision Song Contest 2011, Baku hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2012.
2005 was a landmark in the development of Azerbaijani jazz in the city. It has been home to legendary jazz musicians like Vagif Mustafazadeh, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Rafig Babayev and Rain Sultanov. Among Baku's prominent annual fairs and festivals is Baku International Jazz Festival, which features some of the world's most identifiable jazz names.
Baku also has a thriving International Center of Mugham, which is located in Baku Boulevard, Gulustan Palace and Buta Palace, one of the principal performing arts centers and music venues in the city.
The majority of Azerbaijan's media companies (including television, newspaper and radio, such as ANS, Azad Azerbaijan TV, Ictimai TV, Lider TV and Region TV) are headquartered in Baku. The films The World Is Not Enough and The Diamond Arm are set in the city, while Amphibian Man includes several scenes filmed in Old City.
Out of the city's radio stations ANS ChM, Ictimai Radio, Radio Antenn, Burc FM, and Lider FM Jazz are some of the more influential competitors with large national audiences. ANS ChM was one of the first private and independent FM radio broadcasting service in the Caucasus and Central Asia regions when it was established in May 1994.
Some of the most influential Baku newspapers include the daily Azadliq, Zaman (The Time), Bakinskiy Rabochiy (The Baku Worker), Echo and the English-language Baku Today.
Baku is also featured in the video game Battlefield 4.
Baku boasts a vibrant nightlife. Many clubs that are open until dawn can be found throughout the city. Clubs with an eastern flavor provide special treats from the cuisine of Azerbaijan along with local music. Western-style clubs target younger, more energetic crowds. Most of the public houses and bars are located near Fountains Square and are usually open until the early hours of the morning.
Baku is home to restaurants catering to every cuisine and occasion. Restaurants range from luxurious and expensive to ordinary and affordable.
In the Lonely Planet "1000 Ultimate Experiences", Baku placed 8th among the top 10 party cities in the world.
Parks and gardens
Baku has large sections of greenery either preserved by the National Government or designated as green zones. The city, however, continues to lack a green belt development as economic activity pours into the capital, resulting in massive housing projects along the suburbs.
Baku Boulevard is a pedestrian promenade that runs parallel to Baku's seafront. The boulevard contains an amusement park, yacht club, musical fountain, statues and monuments. The park is popular with dog-walkers and joggers, and is convenient for tourists. It is adjacent to the newly built International Center of Mugham and the musical fountain.
Other prominent parks and gardens include Heydar Aliyev Park, Samad Vurgun Park, Narimanov Park, Alley of Honor and the Fountains Square. The Martyrs' Lane, formerly the Kirov Park, is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and also to the 137 people killed on Black January.
Throughout history the transport system of Baku used the now-defunct horsecars, trams and narrow gauge railways. As of 2011[update], 1,000 black cabs are ordered by Baku Taxi Company, and as part of a programme originally announced by the Transport Ministry of Azerbaijan, there is a plan to introduce London cabs into Baku. The move was part of £16 million agreement between Manganese Bronze and Baku Taxi Company.
Local rail transport includes the Baku Funicular and the Baku Metro, a rapid-transit system notable for its art, murals, mosaics and ornate chandeliers. Baku Metro was opened in November 1967 and includes 3 lines and 25 stations at present; 170 million people used Baku Metro over the past five years. In 2008, the Chief of the Baku Metro, Taghi Ahmadov, announced plans to construct 41 new stations over the next 17 years. These will serve the new bus complex as well as the international airport.
Plans are afoot to introduce a single Smart Card for payment on all types of city transport. The metro is now the only form of transport in Baku to use any type of card-based fare-payment system.
Baku's Central Railway Station is the terminus for national and international rail links to the city. The Kars–Tbilisi–Baku railway, which will directly connect Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, began to be constructed in 2007 and is scheduled for completion in 2015. The completed branch will connect Baku with Tbilisi in Georgia, and from there trains will continue to Akhalkalaki, and Kars in Turkey.
Sea transport is vital for Baku, as the city is practically surrounded by the Caspian Sea to the east. Shipping services operate regularly from Baku across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) in Turkmenistan and to Bandar Anzali and Bandar Nowshar in Iran. The commuter ferries, along with the high-speed catamaran Seabus (Deniz Avtobusu), also form the main connection between the city and the Absheron peninsula.
The Baku Port was founded in 1902 and since then has been the largest Caspian Sea port. It has six facilities: the main cargo terminal, the container terminal, the ferry terminal, the oil terminal, the passenger terminal and the port fleet terminal. The port's throughput capacity reaches 15 million tons of liquid bulk and up to 10 million tons of dry cargoes. Beginning in 2010, the Baku International Sea Trade Port is being reconstructed. The construction will take place in three stages and will be completed by 2016. The estimated costs are 400 Million US$. From April to November the Baku Port is accessible to ships loading cargoes for direct voyages from Western European and Mediterranean ports. The State Road M-1 and the European route E60 are the two main motorway connections between Europe and Azerbaijan. The motorway network around Baku is well developed and is constantly being extended. The Heydar Aliyev International Airport is the only commercial airport serving Baku. The new Baku Cargo Terminal was officially opened in March 2005. It was constructed to be a major cargo hub in the CIS countries and is actually now one of the biggest and most technically advanced in the region. There are also several smaller military airbases near Baku, such as Baku Kala Air Base, intended for private aircraft, helicopters and charters.
Old Baku "Icheri Sheher"
Baku Opera and Ballet Theatre
Fountain and Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall
Baku seaside Boulevard
Palace of Happiness
Rashid Behbudov Street
Aerial view of Baku, May 2012
View of Baku taken from the International Space Station
Evening Baku, Azerbaijan
A view of the Baku bay