Taza Pir – the central mosque of Azerbaijan

Taza Pir Mosque, the central mosque of Azerbaijan and the largest mosque of Baku, is one of the finest buildings of its kind in the country. It was commissioned by Nabat khanim Ashurbeyli, a female member of the local bourgeoise and famous philanthropist of the early 20th century, and designed by the renowned architect, Ziverbey Ahmadbeyov. The construction work, which started in 1904, was briefly interrupted by the death of Nabat khanim and was later completed by her son.

taza piri wikiemedia

Source: wikimedia commons

The making

In a detailed post about the Ashurbeyovs’ clan, Nasrin Babanly says that Nabat khanim sponsored Ziverbey Ahmadbeyov’s trip to muslim countries farther East to study the mosque architecture and for inspiration. Upon return he presented her with a project of a temple with two-tier minarets. However, as a result of the intervention by the provincial authorities, the minarets were in the end built only up to the first tier. Interestingly, the first stone for the construction of the mosque was laid by the famous oil baron, Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev. Unfortunately, Nabat Khanum Ashurbeyli didn’t live to see the mosque completed but as a sign of respect her body was buried in its grounds.

taza piri 2

Author: Grettel Castro

Standing the test of time

Following the October Revolution the building had been closed for 29 years when it served, among many other purposes, as a cinema and a barn. In addition, during the massacres organized by Russians and Armenians in Baku in March 1918 many prominent buildings of the city, including Taza Pir, were burnt, raided or severely damaged. The mosque was also badly affected by the earthquake of 2000 but the reconstruction work brought it back to its finest. Today’s restored mosque is decorated with motives from Azerbaijani school of painting and rare oriental ornaments. Mihrab (a semicircular niche in the wall that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) and the dome are made of marble, the women’s chapel is made from the pistachio wood, the windows and doors are made of mahogany while the tops of the minarets are made of gold. Nowadays the area of the mosque is 1400 sq meters and includes a school, Baku Islamic University, hotels, a conference hall and six halls for funeral ceremonies.


Image: avciya.az

Where to find it

The mosque is situated about 10 mins by foot going West from the Fountain Square.

Additional info:

Azerbaijan Travel


Backstreets of Targova – the residence of Agha Bala Guliyev

mural 2

Source: Azerbaijan International

The complicated history of Azerbaijan left Baku with plenitude of architectural gems not highlighted in typical tourist itineraries. That’s why, when visiting the city, it is worth setting aside some time to stroll through the backstreets of Targova, the area rich in beautiful mansions constructed during the first oil boom. Nowadays many of them crumble due to neglect over the last decades, nevertheless they still give an idea about their former grandeur.  Among the buildings deserving special attention is the former residence of Agha Bala Guliyev designed in 1899 by a Polish architect, Eugeniusz Skibinski. Currently the building serves as the seat of Architects’ Union.

The mansion


Source: AZerbaijan International

Located just a short walk from the Fountain Square, the former residence of Agha Bala Guliyev is among the most impressive and best preserved buildings in the area.  Guliyev owned many mills and, unlike most of the local rich of his times, made his fortune  trading flour (hence his nickname the ‘’Flour Baron’’). In contrast to the fashionable European designs used by other millionaires, he decided to build his house in Baku-Absheron architectural style and incorporated decorations from the portals of the Shrivan Shah’s Palace (Source: Azerbaijan in the Beginning of XX Century (…) see the link below). But the richly decorated villa contains not only Oriental elements – there’s also a multitude of modern artwork including colorful oil paintings and murals. Click here for more information.


Source: Azerbaijan International

Getting there:

The place is located on 24 Murtuza Muktarov Street, about 10 mins walk from the Fountain Square. You should be able to enter without any problems. Just remember to be considerate for the people working there!

Useful links:

Interiors: Architects’ Union. Agha Bala Guliyev’s Residence. Azerbaijan International

Azerbaijan in the Beginning of XX Century: Roads Leading to Independence. Dilara Seyid-zade


Dom Soviet – remains of Azerbaijan’s Communist past

The Government House of Baku, known as well as Dom Soviet, is one of the most striking buildings of the city. This excellent example of fusion of Soviet and traditional, local architecture was designed by architects Vladimir Munts, Lev Rudnev and K. Tkachenko, and had been built between 1936-1952, in part by German Prisoners of War, to specific orders by Stalin. Today it houses several ministries and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city.

Dom Sovet

Image by Enrique Guerrero


In 1934 The Communist Party of Azerbaijan issued a directive calling for a return to traditional style of architecture. Since then, until decree’s abolition by Khrushchev sometime in mid-1950s, many architects incorporated into the buildings of public use various elements characteristic to islamic design, such as arches, columns, inner courtyards and fountains. These influences are clearly visible in the design of Dom Soviet, the construction of which started in 1936. The House of Government was completed in 1952 but the works in the area continued into the 1970s – a large public square (then Lenin Square, now Independence Square) and a number of buildings, including the Absheron Hotel (today’s JW Marriott Absheron) were built in its vicinity.

Army day trend.az

Image from the last year’s Army Day. Parade in front of Dom Soviet and JW Marriott Absheron. Source: Trend.az

The building was designed to accommodate 5,500 people and over the years housed a number of different institutions and companies. However, after the last renovation (2006 – 2010)  it has been occupied mainly by various ministries,  including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population and Copyright Agency of Azerbaijan Republic.

Useful links:

Baku Days: Khrushchev’s Architectural Legacy. Steve Hollier’s blog

Baku’s Architecture. Identity of Architects and Financiers Revealed. Farid Alakbarov for Azerbaijan International. 

Modern site of Baku – the futuristic architecture of Heydar Aliyev Center

Haydar Aliyev Center is undoubtedly the most exciting building constructed in Baku over the last years. This impressive 619,000-square-foot complex was opened to the public in May 2012  and is a clear symbol of the city’s rapid development and transition from the Soviet era into the 21st Century. Currently it houses the museum dedicated to the former president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, and  is one of the main cultural venues in the city.

heydar aliyev center

Image by dezeen.com


Following a competition held in 2007, Zaha Hadid, the award-wining Iraqi-British architect was appointed the chief designer of the building. From the start her idea was to create a building that would break away from the rigid and heavy Soviet architecture, which dominated the city, and to capture the enthusiasm of a young nation that looks optimistically to the future. The design of the building establishes a continuous, fluid relationship between its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior. ‘‘Elaborate formations such as undulations, bifurcations, folds, and inflections modify this plaza surface into an architectural landscape that performs a multitude of functions: welcoming, embracing, and directing visitors through different levels of the interior” (ArchDaily). Interestingly, according to its creators, the fluid design of the building is also a modern interpretation of the islamic architecture of the region. You will find more information about this fascinating construction here.

The museum

helen binet

Image by Helen Binet

One of the floors of the building hosts the Heydar Aliyev’s Museum engaged in studying, promoting and protecting the heritage of the former president of Azerbaijan. Apart from the interactive exhibition about the history of Azerbaijan and different stages of Heydar Aliyev’s life and work, visitors can admire as well the gifts received by the former president from various world leaders and a collection of the cars used by him in different stages of his political career.

The cultural center

The museum is worth paying a visit not only because of its unique design but also because of the original exhibitions held there on a regular basis. Among the exhibitions currently shown at the center is the world premiere of the Cradle to Cosmos exhibition by the United States Space & Rocket Center where the exhibits include the spatial stations, original particles delivered from cosmic space and other planets, pieces and models of satellites, aeronaut suits and accessories, etc.


Image by bdonline

Getting there

The center is situated about 15 mins drive from the center of Baku and it’s best to get there by taxi (about 4 AZN, depending on the traffic) or by marshrutka (minibus, 20 qapik). It is open Monday-Saturday from 10-19. The entry fee to the Museum of Heydar Aliyev costs 5 AZN (students pay 2AZN). Visitors have to buy additional tickets to see the other exhibitions.

Useful links:

Heydar Aliyev Center – official site


Shirvanshahs’ Palace – the architectural gem of the Middle Ages

Located in the heart of the charming Icheri Sheher, the Shirvanshah’s Palace is with no doubt one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture. The Palace was built in the 15th Century  by the shahs of Shirvan, a historical region in eastern Caucasus, after Ibrahim I of Shirvan moved the capital from Shamakhy to Baku following a devastating earthquake.  The construction, despite having been built in different periods without a single plan, forms a beautiful, harmonious whole, which was classified by UNESCO as one of the places of outstanding value to humanity.


The Palace. Image source: sheki blogspot


Originally constructed by the ruler of Shirvan, Khalilulla I, and his son, Farrukh, the palace had both religious and royal significance. Most of the construction work was done in the 15th century and it was stopped when Faruk was killed in a battle. The palace was also significantly damaged in 1806 when the shah of Shirvan, Mustafa, was forced to submit to Russian army.  However, despite Azerbaijan’s turbulent history, most of the buildings   – except the living premises and the hammam – are fairly well preserved.


The complex consists of the main two-storey residential building, a small stone pavilion called Divankhana (Royal Assembly), a tomb for royal family members, the mausoleum of Seyid Yahya Bakuvi (a famous astronomer of the time), the Palace Mosque, the bathhouse (hammam) and the Murad’s Gate (Eastern Portal).


Divankhana is arguably one of the most impressive buildings in the complex. The pavilion, which consists of an octahedral hall covered with a cupola,  is situated in the center of a small courtyard surrounded by a gallery-arcade. The portal of the main entrance is decorated with fig and wine leaf ornaments and inscriptions in Arabic. The entrance is also adorned with two medallions containing inscriptions in Kufic Arabic. It is believed that Divankhana might have been meant as a mausoleum for Khalilullah I.



Royal Tomb

The building, known as well as the Turba, was constructed in 1435-1436 by Khalilulla I for his mother and his son Farrukh. His mother died in 1435 and his son died in 1442, at the age of seven. Additional tombs were discovered later on and it is thought that they might have belonged to other members of the Shah’s family,  including two more sons who died during his own lifetime. The Turba is the only building of the complex where we know the name of the architect – “Me’mar (architect) Ali” is carved into the design, but in reverse, as if reflected in a mirror.  This was a precautionary measure as putting the architect’s name openly might have been considered arrogant and severly punished by the shah.


|Entrance to the Turba


The palace bathhouse was discovered by chance in 1939 and it dates back to the 17th Century. It consists of 26 rooms, which are semi-underground  for coolness in the summer and warmth during winter. For more detailed description of the palace’s architecture follow the links below.


Palace hammam. Image by: allposters

When to visit

The palace is open daily from 9.00 till 18.00 and the entry fee costs about 2 AZN.

Useful links:

The complex of the Shirvanshahs Palace

The Palace of the Shirvanshahs by Visions of Azerbaijan

The Shirvanshah Palace. The Splendour of the Middle Ages. Azerbaijan International.

The Ensemble of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace

Wonders of Baku Architecture: Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall

Social revolution

In the 19th and early 20th Century Baku’s cityscape had undergone a rapid development. During the first centuries of its existence, the city was contained within fortress walls but the inflow of money and people during the First Oil Boom changed it dramatically. A new city center was created in the area just outside of the Icherisheher where impressive public-use buildings and private mansions started popping up like mushrooms. The new opportunities created by ”black gold” attracted to the city thousands of talented people (entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, artists etc.) from various countries turning it into a vibrant cosmopolitan hub. This tremendous change brought as well a revolution in people’s lifestyle as the new rich began traveling the world and started bringing to their new beautiful city the best of what they experienced abroad. Construction of theatres and music halls was among the Baku’s key transformations in that period.

Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall on a postcard from 1962 Source postcards

Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall 

What we know today as the State Philharmonic Hall was originally constructed as the Public Assembly building, which served as a sort of a business club for the local elite who used it for banquets and entertainment. It was built throughout 1910-1912 as a replacement of a summer club, which was destroyed in a fire. The hall was constructed by the St Petersburg-educated architect, Gabriel Ter-Mikelov, and its design was inspired by the buildings within Monte Carlo Casino, and L’Opera de Monte-Carlo in particular. The eclectic construction combined different architectonic styles including German Rococo (interior) and Italian Renaissance (exterior), and was finished off with an impressive dome and two small towers, which were thought to resemble minarets of a mosque.

Philharmonic Hall throughout the century

ermak travel guide

State Philharmonic Hall today. Source: ermak travel guide

In 1936 the club was reorganized into the residence of the local philharmonic society aimed at promoting Azerbaijani music, and it was renamed after an Azerbaijani composer, Muslim Magomayev.  Since the original building was primarily built of wood and was not adjusted to such modern standards as heating, AC or sound systems, it had to be reconstructed. A major renovation of the Philharmonic Hall started in 1997 and it had taken 8 years to complete it . The grand opening took place on the 30th of January 2004 with the performance of the Baku-born, Mstislav Rostropovich. Today the building is home to 7 performing groups, including the Azerbaijan State Symphony Orchestra Azerbaijan State Chamber Orchestra, Azerbaijan State Orchestra of Folk Instruments, Azerbaijan State Choir and the String Quartet, and features regular concerts of local and international classical musicians.

Useful links:

The Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall by avciya.az

Architecture of the Oil Baron period. Azerbaijan International

Reconstruction of Baku’s Premier Music Hall. Azerbaijan International

Philharmonic Reopens. Azerbaijan International. 

The Philharmonia park: Baku’s Green Oasis. Visions.az

Wonders of Baku architecture: The Palace of Happiness

palace of hap

Palace of Happiness. Source: pinterest

Palace of Happiness is another awe-inspiring architectural gem of Baku. As in the case of most private mansions constructed during Azerbaijan’s First Oil Boom (1850-1920), also this marvelous palace was not spared from the impact of brutal history and from personal tragedies of the people who used to lived there.


Palace of Happiness was commissioned  in 1911 by an Azerbaijani Oil Baron, Murtuza Mukhtarov, for his wife Liza. Despite his poor childhood and the lack of formal education, Mukhtarov managed to become a self-taught, highly qualified oil drilling expert. Thanks to his knowledge and experience he succeeded in setting up his own business specializing in drilling oil wells, which turned out to be enormously profitable. At the peak of his success, Mukhtaharov employed 2,500 workers.

Murtuza and his wife were avid travelers, and during one of their fancy tours around Europe they came across a beautiful French Gothic manor, which Lisa instantly fell in love with. Mukhtaharov, in secret from his wife, decided to recreate the mansion in Baku and make it a surprise gift to her. He sent his people to France to purchase the building’s blueprints and hired a famous Polish architect, Jozef Ploszko, to create it. In 1912, within 9 months of starting the construction work, a nearly identical copy of the mansion was raised in the center of the city. As the story goes, after the completion Mukhtarov drove his wife to the site and announced that this is her new residence.

Interior of Palace of Happiness

Elements of Interior Design. Source: azer.com


There are a several grim stories surrounding both the construction of the building and its subsequent history. First tragic event occurred when the palace was still under construction. According to sources, one of the contractors, Imran Gasimov, went up to the roof to adjust a statue of a mediaeval knight when he accidentally slipped and fell down to his death. He and his wife had no children and were very close to one another, and shortly after Gasimov’s death she committed suicide.

Another tragic event involved Mukhtaharovs themselves and was politically motivated. When in April 1920 the Bolshevik Army entered to Baku, Mukhtaharov said that he won’t let the barbarians in the military boots to ever set foot in his wive’s house. However, they not only entered the mansion but also raided the building on horses. The Oil Baron, helpless and humiliated, first shot dead three of the soldiers and then took his own life. After this, his wife was initially forced to live in the palace’s basement but later managed to escape to Istanbul with a diplomat.


During the existence of Azerbaijan SSR, the mansion functioned as the Palace of Marriage Registrations. Since August 2001, by a resolution issued by the Cabinet of Ministers of Azerbaijan, the building has been protected as a monument of Azerbaijani culture. You can visit the building every day, except Mondays and Thursdays and when there’s no wedding ceremony taking place, from 10am-5pm.


Palace today. Source: wikimapia

Useful links:

Interiors: Wedding Palace. Murtuza Mukhtarov Residence.

The Palace of Happiness or the beggining of a happy life. Azernews

Palace of Happiness. Hg2 Baku.