Among dozens of sightseeing and architectural buildings of Old Baku there is a separate group of bathhouses. Worth mentioning are bathhouses named after Haji Gaib, Aga Mikayil, Gasym Bey and finally famous bathhouses of the Palace of Shirvanshahs. General regularities of town planning methods are clearly manifest in Baku and the entire East as a whole, in the construction of bathes. Most frequently, bathing places were built as a part of palace complexes and public buildings located in the center of the city or they were located separately in the municipal part of Baku.
A special emphasis is to be laid on palace bathes which were typical for all palace complexes of eastern rulers, for instance, a bathhouse in the Palace of Shirvanshahs in Baku. This is a large bathhouse consisting of 26 rooms which were discovered in the course of archaeological excavations in 1939. All rooms of the bathhouse were supposedly spanned by domes while the building proper was semi-underground.
It should be remembered that the bathhouse consisted of two square rooms divided into smaller ones. There were rooms intended for disrobing – “bayir” (external). Next came rooms for bathing – “icheri” (internal). Adjacent to the bathing place were water reservoirs with hot and cold water – “hazna”. Close to the water reservoir with hot water was a heating chamber where the water was heated. Also, there were “halveti” – a place for separate bathing. There were small pools of round shape and shoe storage spaces. Featuring among bathhouse located in the communal-economic part of Old Baku is the Haji Gaib bathhouse. It is located in front of the Maiden Tower. Exact date of the bathhouse construction is not available but scholars attribute it to the 15 century. Entry portal of the bathhouse is of rectangular form. The bathhouse is made of dressing-room, bathing-books and rooms for bathing. Note that the bathing-room and bathing-books have octagonal central halls surrounded by smaller rooms. In the center of the hall is a pool with hot and cold water. The heating system operated with the help of canals under floors of rooms. Also, of interest are the Aga Mikail and Gasym Bey bathhouses.
It has to be kept in mind that the Aga Mikail bathhouse was built in the 18 century in the south-western part of Icherisheher by a resident of Shemakha, Hadji Aga Mikail. A place of bathhouse location is commonly cold by a quarter of bath attendant. This bathhouse is not different from other bathing places of Baku, however, as distinct from the Shirvanshahs bath-room and the Hadji Gaib bath-room, the bathing books and bathing place are of square form.
It should be remembered that the Gasym bey bathhouse was built in the 17 century near the Salyan gates. It was commonly cold “Sweet bath-room” – sweets were served together with tea. The bathhouse consists of an entrance hall, bathing-books, bathing place, pool and a heating room.
As a whole bathhouses mattered most for people in the East. Bathhouses were compulsory element of any palace complex or places fit to live in. From architectural point of view, bathhouses of Baku are rather picturesque and interesting for visiting.
Palace bathhouse as an element of the ensemble of the Palace of Shirvanshahs
The palace bathhouse was discovered in 1939 at the lowest terrace of the ensemble archeologists excavated a large underground bathhouse consisting of 26 rooms. One group was intended for disrobing, another group for bathing.
Water from the reservoir went to a boiler-room of the bathhouse and was further distributed along ceramic tubes. The water reservoir was replenished from underground springs. Separate reservoirs with hot and cold water are adjacent to the bathing section. A special heating chamber was built under the reservoir for hot water. Heating was carried out via steam canals under the floor of the bathing place. Small pools of round form and shoe storage spaces were discovered in the bathhouse. Note that walls of the bathhouse were decorated with ornamental majolica. In the far past the bathhouse was not only a place of ablutions but also a place of traditional communication, consummation of deals, meeting with friends. There are a number of medieval bathhouses in Old City. Some of them are steel operating today.
One of the most important elements of the oriental architecture were caravanserais. They were located in every eastern town. Hundreds of caravanserais were built on numerous trade routes from the East to the West which mattered most for normal functioning of these routes.
Literally, a caravanserai meant “a palace for caravans” or “a palace on trade route”. Most frequently, caravanserais served as a place of rest in the Near East and the Central Asia, they were located in an unpopulated locality where there were just animals and individuals.
All caravanserais were divided into open and closed ones. Closed caravanserais were small fortresses to thwart attacks of enemies. These were one or two-storeyed buildings surrounded by a fortification wall. Inside them there were warehouses, horse stables and folds, as well as dwelling rooms, open caravanserais were typical for the city and reminiscent of horse stables and folds for animals. Besides, there were tea houses, bathhouses and other premises intended for travelers.
It should be noted that Bukhara caravanserai in Baku is a testimony to caravanserais of open type. It is located in All City – Icherisheher in front of Multani caravanserai. It was built in the end of the 15 century on a trade root crossing the Shemakha gates. It housed merchants and travelers from the Central Asia particularly from Bukhara, therefore it was cold the Bukhara caravanserai.
Of interest is the fact that the caravanserai is of square form. Its internal yard was intended for rest. There were separate cells for individual residence. Along the entire perimeter of the building there were pointed arches which set an imposing air to the caravanserai.
The most splendid and mysterious sightseeing of Baku and Icherisheher in particular is Gyz Galasi which means “Maiden Tower”. It has no analogues in the entire East and is a silent symbol of Baku. The height of the Tower is 28 meters which is the highest building in Icherisheher. Noteworthy is the fact that Gyz Galasi is located near the Caspian coast which is located at the height of 28 meters below the world ocean and, hence, when at the top of the Maiden Tower you are at the sea level.
The Tower of cylindrical form was built on a snout of a rock and once upon a time was washed by waters of the Caspian sea, however, later on the water retreated 200 meters away. It is laid of grey limestone and narrowed in the upper part. A width of walls at the foundation is 5 meters, and in the upper part – 4 meters. Inside, Gya Galasy is divided into 8-tiers each of which is spanned by stone dome with a round hole. Using a winding stairs, you can climb up to the top of the Tower. From here a view is dreamy: entire Icherisheher and the whole of the Baku bay.
It must be said that walls of Maiden Tower keep their own secrets. Thus, there is a well, 21 meters deep with pure water. Also, there are earthenware tubes which were supposedly used for removal of sewage.
The age of the Maiden Tower is a matter of historical disputes. The classic history dates it back to the 12 century, according to a Cufic inscription on the external part of the tower at the height of 14 meters: “a tower of Masud ibn Davud”. However, many historians deny this point of view as saying that the slab appeared in the setting much later to plug up a whole. Having analyzed limestone solution and a color of the Tower stone, researchers came to the conclusion that it was built not earlier than 1 century (the oldest building laid on this solutions was discovered in Qabala dating back to the 1 century A.D.) but not later 10 century A.D., since the stones of which the tower and a mosque of Mohammad were built practically coincide. Third group of researchers are prone to think that outward comparison of the stone setting indicate that a lower tier of the tower is much older than the upper one, hence, the Tower had been built into stages: lower part of the monument (till 13,7 meters was built in the 5-6 centuries); upper part built in the 12 century.
What was the Tower built for? The Tower was of little views for defense because of smaller area. Narrow window apertures were not designed to repulse the enemy. Most probably, the tower was built as a Zoroastrian temple of fire: in the reviewed period dead bodies were not buried but put forward for tearing to pieces by birds of prey. In the 12 century “Gyz Galasi” was one of the strongest fortresses of Shirvanshahs. Note that in the 18-19 centuries the Maiden Tower was used as a lighthouse.
The very name of the tower – “Maiden” means “unsubdued”, “unassailable”. It was the mysterious nature of the tower that gave birth to numerous legends. According to one of them, a Shah fell in love with his native daughter and decided to marry here. Terrified with an oncoming marriage to her native father and trying to dissuade him, the daughter asked him to build a tower, following which she promised to give her consent to the marriage. When the tower was ready the Shah did not change his mind. And then the girl climbed up the tower and threw herself into the sea. According to another legend, biblical this time, Saint Bartholomew, one of 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, was executed near the Maiden Tower.
It should be noted that St. Bartholomew first appeared on the territory of Baku in the 1 century A.D. to propagandize Christianity among pagan tribes. However, the teaching of Bartholomew was rejected by broader masses, so he was executed near the walls of Maiden Tower. A small chapel was built in place of his execution. Note that this chapel did exist in reality as is seen on a photograph 1890 near the Maiden Tower.
Inside the Tower there is presently a museum which exhibits ancient utensils, carpets funny installations demonstrating everyday life in the 18-19 centuries, including oil extraction with the help of a bucket, a supper at a teahouse, etc. The exhibits inform guests of museum about the history and development of Baku. Note that the Tower has repeatedly been restored. At present, the Tower is located on a large market area. Since 2000, it has been put on the list of UNESCO monuments.
Worthy of mentioning is the fact that many architectural monuments of Baku were built on ruins of ancient buildings going back to the pagan period in the history of Azerbaijan. As viewed by archeologists, the Maiden Tower was built on site of a pagan temple. Fragments of older buildings are found in the foundation of Sabayil castle. Of the same category is Juma-mosque on the territory of Icherisheher.
It should be added that Juma mosque, or main mosque has been active in Icheri sheher since the 12 century. The mosque was reconstructed in 1899 due to sponsorship of Baku patron Hadji Shihali Dadashev. Earlier in 1888, Russian academician A.Pavlinov made measurements of Juma-mosque and discovered that it had been built in place of a temple of fire worshippers. Extant from the old building were four arches without roofing. In opinion of modern archaeologists, there had been a pagan sacral center in place of Juma-mosque where fire worshippers gathered.
In the 14 century, the pagan temple was transformed into a mosque. Under an inscription on the mosque wall, “Amir Sharafaddin Mahmud ordered to renovate the mosque in Rajab month Hegira (1309)”. A minaret was attached to the mosque from the northern part in the 15 century. By the end of the 19 century, the old mosque became worthless and replaced by a new building, Juma-mosque. It has to be recalled that Juma-mosque is small with a hall for men and a meeting-house for women. Of interest is a conic dome of the building based on four columns located in the center of the mosque.
When it is talked about ancient Orient, we associatively imagine trade caravans. For many centuries Europe and countries of the East was linked by the Great Silk Way. Numerous caravan-serais had been moving over this route. The same caravan-serais were active in big towns engaged in intensive trade deals. Literally, the caravan-serai is translated as a palace on trade root. But sometimes such a definition was far from reality. Many caravan-serais were ordinary one-storeyed buildings of square or rectangular form with minimum comfort. Frequently there remained just walls with a yard and a well to feed tired travelers and their animals. From time to time there arose regal buildings in the form of small fortresses. Caravan-serais of this sort are called closed in architecture. These were one- two-storeyed surrounded by a fortification wall to repulse attacks of the enemy. Inside the caravan-serais there were warehouses, horse stables, folds, as well as places fit to live in.
Widely spread in towns was another type – open caravan-serais which looked like medieval European hotels or coaching inn. It included horse stables, teahouses, bathhouses and other buildings intended for travellers. An eloquent testimony to the above is the caravan-serai Multani in Baku. It is located in Icherisheher and was built in the 15 century for Indian merchants – fire worshippers arriving here from Multan town in India (modern territory of Pakistan). Like most caravan-serais, the Multan caravan-serai is of square form. There was a well in the inner yard along the entire perimeter there were cells for individual residence. Also, there were horse stables and household outhouses.
When exploring the history of this caravanserai, researchers revealed that it had been built on ruins of older building. This distinctive feature is typical for many monuments of Baku architecture.
It has to be kept in mind that Tuba-Shahi is a mosque located in the settlement of Mardakan in the environs of Baku. The mosque was built in the 15 century to order of a woman Tuba-Shahi by name. This cult building continued to our days and is a model of the classic architecture of medieval Azerbaijan. Walls of the mosque are laid of ashlar; rectangular windows are decorated with geometrical patterns of stone railing. An upper part of the façade is decorated with carved cornice. A portal entry to the mosque is protruded, there is an inscription above to inform about the date of its construction (1481-1482). The mosque is rather modest and deprived of rich décor.
It should be noted that rooms and main meeting hall are connected by curved arches a small cut drum with a dome of the pointed top. In the southern wall of the mosque there is Mihrab pointing to Mecca. It is excellent correlation between the volume and geometry of the space that makes it possible to take an interior of Tuba-Shahi mosque as a unit.
Cathedral of wives of myrrhbearers in Baku was built in 1909 under a project of the Russian architect, Fedor Mikhaylovich Verzhbitskiy and sponsored by the War Ministry of the Tsarist Russia, as well as private donation of Baku merchant Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev.
The name of the cathedral goes back to ancient history. The cathedral was consecrated in honor of women who earlier in the morning in the first day after Saturday to Lord’s coffin for ritual buttering up the body with fragrance and myrrh. In 1909, the cathedral was rebuilt for 206 infantry Salyan regiment quartered in Baku. In the Soviet period the church was closed. Warehouses and later a sporting hall were located in the church. Note that the church gradually collapsed in the Soviet period. Even worse, in the 1990s its bell tower was shelled as a result of the January tragic events, some parts of the building were destroyed.
In the 1990s, the restoration work under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church began in Baku, and the architecture of the building was restored. On May 27, 2001 Patriarch of Moscow and Russia Alexiy II performed great consecration of the temple of Cathedral of wives of myrrhbearers in Baku and conferred it a titled of Cathedral Council of Eparchy.
Following the restoration work, the temple was opened on March 24, 2003. The Council is famed for storing a particle of holy relics of Apostle of Bartholomew, a benefactor of Baku, as well as icons of Mother of God – “Tkhvinskaya” and “Kaspiyskaya”.
By the 11-12 centuries, Baku turned into a large trade and sea port in the Caspian Sea. Guided by security considerations, rulers from the dynasty of Shirvanshahs began large-scale construction operations to strengthen fortifications of the city. Three rows of fortress walls were built and a deep ditch was dug. Besides, additional protective facilities were installed on mountains around the city. These included signal towers and small fortresses. All these towers and fortresses formed a single defensive system of the city currently located on Apsheron peninsula.
The construction of towers and castles goes back to the 11-12 centuries. These included the famous Maiden Tower, Sabayil fortress, Ramana fortress, Mardakan fortress and Shikh fortress. These fortresses were housed largely by military garrisons to form the first line of defense of the city. In the 11-14 centuries, Baku was attacked by Turks-Seljuks, Mongolians and Russes. In 1175, Shirvanshah Ahsitan with the help of the then towers and fortresses managed to impede the seizure of Baku by Russes who came on board of 75 ships. Besides protection function, the towers served as signal facilities. When enemies were approaching the city, oil was burned on tops of the towers to notify the population about confronting challenges.
One of the castles of the defense system of Baku was the Bayilov castle which is currently under sea water. The fortress was built in the 13 century in the Bayilov bay in front of the city; however, as a result of earthquake in 1306 a level of water in the Caspian Sea sharply rose, and the castle remained under water. It should be added that the castle had a form of irregular rectangle. It was surrounded by fortification walls, 1,5 meters wide, with 15 towers along its perimeter. The fortress was placed to effectively protect Baku against attacks from the sea.
It should be recalled that the made in tower was also a part of the defensive system of Baku; however, researchers are not sure that it prioritized on defensive functions. The Maiden Tower is an eight-storied building reminiscent of a cylinder. In the 18-19 centuries, the Tower was used as a lighthouse.
One more fortress of the 16 century is located not far from Baku – the Ramana fortress. It was built of white stone; height of the fortress is 15 meters. Note that the Ramana fortress was built to order for Shirvanshahs in the defensive purposes. There are written evidences that in the Middle Ages there was an underground road from the Ramana fortress to the Maiden Tower.
Another fortress is located in the settlement of Baku-Mardakan fortress built in mid-14 century to order for Shirvanshah Ahsitan in honor of victory over enemies. The fortress was used for stationing a war garrison and an observation post. Height of the fortress is 22 meters. One more defensive fortress is located in the same settlement – Shikh fortress, or Ishig Qalasy (fortress of light). 16 meters high, the fortress was built in 1232 as an observation post.
A portal “Murad Gates” or merely eastern portal was built in the eastern wall of Icherisheher. It is attributable to the ensemble of palace buildings but was built in the citadel wall much later than all other buildings during the capture of Baku by Turks in the 16 century. The gates were named after Turkish Sultan Murad III.
From architectural point of view, the eastern portal is performed in divanhane style and Shirvanshah tomb. The portal is characterized by the recession of the construction art, including low quality of stone and departure from purely Azerbaijani ornamental skills. All this was related to hard times caused by military raids on the peninsula.
It should be noted that Murad Gates were built by an architect from Tabriz. An upper part of the portal is decorated with inscription in Arab: “ordered to build this noble building in the reign of fair and great Sultan Murad, Ulu Rajab-baba Bakuvi in 994 Hegira (1585-86)”. On both sides, it was decorated with vegetation ornament. As distinguished from other portals, it has a broad entry aperture reminiscent of gates. Perhaps, the gates served an entry into a building that did not survive nor erected.
Palace of Shirvanshahs, Baku
A genuine treasure, of the Azerbaijani architecture is the palace ensemble of Shirvanshah rulers built here in the 15 century when the residence of Shirvanshahs moved from Shemakha to Baku.
The ensemble includes a 2 storied palace, a tomb, a mosque, divanhane, mausoleum of Seyid Yahya Bakuvi, a bathhouse, eastern portal, as well as gates of Murad (16 century).
A view far from the sea makes it possible to see that the palace complex as if stepped lowering from the top of Baku hill, i.e. three main elements of the palace lie at three levels. The complex with well-proportioned portals crowned with domes, decorated with inimitable drawing of refined and profound carving, splendid setting of stone – all the above gladden the eyes of all those who arrive here to admire creations of medieval masters.
Commonly called as “Baku acropolis,” ”Old City,” “Inner City,” this unique historical ensemble is located in the center of Baku. “Icherisheher” is the heart of the city. It is exactly the same place, on a hill near the sea that gave birth to ancient Baku. Icherisheher is the oldest residential area of Baku. The city was declared a historical-cultural open-air museum in 1977, and put in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2000.
Icherisheher is frequently called a fortress, since it is surrounded by a well-preserved fortress wall. Note that Icherisheher was inhabited as far back as in the Bronze Age, and fully-populated in the 8-11 centuries.
There are dozens of unique monuments behind half-destroyed fortress walls, including a palace complex of Shirvanshahs with a burial-vault; a divanhane; a mosque; “Gyz Galasi” (“Maiden Tower”); minarets, remains of caravanserais and bathhouses. All the housing developments of the ancient fortress are of unconventional nature: for lack of space buildings were raised according to “a wall to a wall” principle without gardens; courtyards are utterly small and separated by narrow side-streets, alleys and blind alleys.
When Shirvanshahs moved the capital from Shemakha to Baku in the 15 century, large-scale residential development broke out in Icherisheher. The architectural pearl of the fortress – the Palace of Shirvanshahs was built in the reviewed period.
The essential point to remember is that Baku stayed within the limits of Icherisheher. Palaces of rulers and residential areas were located here. A capital of Baku khanate had been located here from 1747 to 1806. Following the oil bonanza, the city came to expand going beyond the limits of Icherisheher. Of interest is the fortress wall proper. Once upon a time there were two of them in Baku, and they were separated by moats; however, earlier 19 century the city was growing so quickly that its external wall was pulled down and built new residential houses instead. An external wall survived only together with 25 towers and 5 gates. People say that as far back as in the 1930s there were above 900 buildings but just half of them remained intact earlier 21 century.
A mosque of Mohammad (named after architect Mohammad Abu Bakr) known as Synyk-qala is the oldest building not only in Icherisheher but Azerbaijan as well. Testifying to monument’s age is an inscription in Arabic in a stone slab at the mosque entrance (1078-1079, or Hegira 471).
The mosque was named Synyk-qala in the 18 century when Baku was captured by the army of Peter I. The city had been pounded with artillery fire; a cannon ball hit an upper part of the mosque, yet the building stood fire. At that, the mosque was called “Synyk-qala” which meant “destroyed fortress”. In the meantime, the minaret, even half-destroyed, rises above the mosque as if rocketing in the sky. This distinguishes Synyk-qala from other mosques of Icherisheher.
Excursions are presently permitted in the mosque but for men only in line with Moslem laws. Like other mosques of Icherisheher, a vaulted arch serves as an entry for a man of lower stature to bow his head before Most High. Like other mosques of “Icherisheher” it has a low vaulted arch so that everyone entering inside bowed his head in front of the Most High.
The mosque is a two-tier building. Mosque’s distinctive feature is that its mihrab is of half-cylindrical shape protruding the wall's outer line. The mosque's interior is lit by a single many-colored stained-glass window and alight of several lamps.
This half-mystical submerged town is surrounded by an aura of mysteries, legends and murky circumstances. Sabayil castle had once been one of the most important structures in the defense system of Baku. At present, it is an islet in the Baku though throughout centuries it was a famed fortress of Azerbaijan. However, in the course of time it was submerged like mythical Atlantis.
However, as distinct from Atlantis, the reality of the Sabayil castle is indisputable. In 1232-1235, Shirvanshah Fariburz III, in an effort to protect Baku from the seaward, got down to erecting a stronghold which had later been referred to as Sabayil castle, Shahri Saba, Shahri Nau, "underwater city", or "Bayil Stones".
It should be added that Sabayil castle was erected upon the project of architect Zeynaddin ibn Abu Rashid Shirvani. The erection carries an air of a strongly stretched 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. Excavations revealed foundations of 9 buildings. Adjacent to the western wall is a destroyed platform - a base of the central tower concurrently used simultaneously as a watch-tower and a lighthouse. Historians believe that a fire-worshippers' temple was located on site.
Along the entire upper part of the Sabayil castle runs a series of inscriptions in Arabic and Farsi, together with images of human faces and imaginary animals. Total length of the inscription is approx. 400 meters. Among decrypted inscriptions there were three fragments with a date of erection - Hegira 632 (1234-1235) and a name of the architect. Also, the inscription provides a genealogy of Shirvanshahs- Mazyadids dynasty as shown in the images of crowned human heads. The figures of various animals indicate periods of reign of Shirvanshah rulers.
It should be remembered that these inscriptions are unrivaled throughout the Near East: it was for the first time that images of humans and animals had ever been discovered on a Moslem monument. Regretfully, an upper part of the Sabayil castle was completely destroyed; just a bottom part of the walls and towers has survived. Note that the inscriptions are presently stored in the courtyard of the Shirvanshah Palace.
In 1306, owing to a powerful earthquake in the south of the Caspian Sea and a rising of sea level, the Sabayil castle was submerged. From early 14 century to early 18 century, the structure submerged into the Caspian Sea. In 1723, due to the fall in the Caspian Sea level, a top of the tower rose above the water surface. Today, just a small part of the fortress is visible from the Baku embankment.
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