Backstreets of Targova – the residence of Agha Bala Guliyev

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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

ABG

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.

staircase

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

 

Welcoming the New Year in Azerbaijan

After the long New Year holidays we finally get back to work with lots of energy and motivation for these coming months. However, before telling you about New Year celebrations in Azerbaijan, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best in 2014 and beyond. We hope this coming year will bring you lots of happiness and success both in your personal and professional lives, and plenty of exciting travel opportunities to new, inspiring places. We also hope to see you in Azerbaijan sometime soon!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Baku’s New Year tree made of plastic bottles. Source: azernews

Celebrating the New Year in the Land of Fire

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the New Year (Nowruz) was celebrated in Azerbaijan in March in accordance with the Persian tradition. However, after Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union, the new authorities introduced the more widely used Georgian calendar and banned celebration of the Persian New Year. From then on, the coming of the New Year began to be celebrated on December 31. After Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, Nowruz was restored as a public holiday but the end of the calendar year continues to be celebrated on December 31.

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Ded Moroz & Snegurochka. Source: wikispace

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

Nowadays the New Year’s Eve in Azerbaijan is very much a family holiday although often celebrated together with friends. Typically, a Christmas-like New Year tree is decorated in the house before December 31, and then removed after the Old New Year (14th of January), an Orthodox holiday. Another important tradition is the visit of the Ded Moroz (in Azerbaijani Shakhta Babah), the equivalent of Santa Claus, and his granddaughter, Snegurochka, who come on the New Year’s Eve to give presents to children. Finally, right before midnight family and friends with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine give a toast to the passing year and then at midnight another toast is given to the incoming New Year.

For more information click here

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

Design

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.

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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

Construction

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.

Heydsar

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.

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The Palace. Image source: sheki blogspot

Construction

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.

Architecture

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

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.

Divankhana

Divankhana

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.

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|Entrance to the Turba

Hammam

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.

hammam

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

Khash – the Caucasian cure for a late night out

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Khash. Image: news.az

Peruvians have their cuy colorado, Brits have black pudding, Japanese have shirako and people of Azerbaijan have khash.  Khash (written xaş in Azerbaijani) is a traditional winter soup eaten all over the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia. The key ingredients vary from country to country but in the Land of Fire the dish is usually prepared from sheep’s entire head (yes, including brain, eyes and tongue) as well as hooves and stomach, which are boiled overnight and eaten for breakfast. Thanks to its high fat content and the timing of serving (early morning), the dish is said to be a perfect hangover cure.

Preparation

Khash is not a quick dish to prepare. First it is necessary to flame sear the head and hooves, then chop them and mix with the stomach. Afterwards all of this has to be boiled and chilled to remove any possible impurities. Now the real cooking begins! The ingredients are simmered in water with some carrots and onions, usually overnight to separate the meat from the bone and to change the water into a jelly-like liquid. Only then the dish is seasoned with spices, including cinnamon and lemon.  This is, of course, only one of the recipes – some cooks don’t add vegetables at all while others throw in some garlic and hot peppers similar to jalapeno. The soup is usually accompanied by lavash, Azerbaijani thin flat bread, which is often torn into small bits and threw into it.

Serving

Due to the time-consuming preparation followed by hours of cooking, the dish is rarely cooked at home. However, if someone makes the effort to prepare it, it will surely be shared with friends or extended family. Otherwise there are restaurants that specialize in khash and they are often opened at night or in early morning hours. In the past it used to be common to invite guests for khash the morning after the weeding and this tradition prevails in some villages of the country. Typically, khash is consumed by men and accompanied by vodka, which is believed to help digestion.

Anecdotes

As the story goes, sometime in the 1970s the famous Baku-born cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, on the way to a performance in Azerbaijan informed a friend of his that he’ll be arriving from Moscow around 6am. When asked why he chose such an early flight, he replied that he wanted to have a bowl of khash as soon as he gets to the city. And so he did.

Useful links:

A song of sheep-face stew. Road & Kingdoms.

His majesty Khash. visions of Azerbaijan. 

Khash recipe. News.az

Baku’s Museum of Miniature Books – all the world’s literature on your thumb!

The exciting, little museum was set up in April 2002 by Ms. Zarifa Salahova, a dedicated collector of tiny publications who hoped to inspire a passion for reading in young people.  Ms. Salahova got hooked up on minuscule books some 30 years ago during a trip to Moscow when in a local bookstore she came across Ivan Krilov’s miniature edition of animal tales in Russian. Since then she has built up a respectable collection of 5,240 miniature books from 71 countries.

Minis

Miniature books usually don’t exceed 3 inches  (1inch = 2.54cm) in height, width or thickness. Image source: The Prism

Apart from famous Azerbaijani authors, among displayed exhibits visitors will find “The language of flowers,  Stones of the month”, and “The signs of the Zodiac”, published in 1978 in Tokyo, which are possible to read only with the use of magnifying glass and special tweezers. Other miniatures include “The History of England”  published in London in 1815. There is also a set of five volumes in French entitled “The Adventure of Young Lavilas in Greece” published  in 1817, and a copy of La Fontaine’s ”Fables” from 1850. The oldest volume in the collection is a copy of the Koran dating back to the 17th century.

Azer.com books

Miniatures became especially popular in the 19th century mainly due to their ease of carry and concealment. Image source: Azerbaijan International

How to find it:

The museum is located in Icheri Sheher, just next to the UNESCO listed Shirvanshahs’ Palace. See the map for exact direction. The admission is free.

Useful links:

Around Baku. Bautiful Mysterious  World Blogspot. 

Baku’s Miniature Book Museum. Great Ideas in Small Packages. Azerbaijan International. 

Rossotrudnichestvo awards Baku Miniature Books Museum’s head. AzerNews

Experience literature in miniature in Baku. The Prisma

More images – today.az