Bibi-Heybat mosque is one of the major attractions in Azerbaijan. It is one of those stunning buildings that you cannot help but stop to take a closer look or at least be awed by it as you drive by. It is not a huge and mighty mosque, but its dome and two minarets stand prominently as you pass along Baku Bay going south. What stands today, however, is not the original mosque-complex. The first and original Bibi-Heybat mosque was blown up by the Soviets in September 1936 as the ruling communists campaigned against any and every form of religion.
Not shortly after, Moscow realized the importance of preserving architectural masterpieces and historical structures. The person responsible for the destruction of the original mosque was thrown to Siberia to suffer a 20-year exile.
Townsfolk believe that the original Bibi-Heybat mosque was built by Hokuma khanim. She and a servant named Heybat reached the rocky coasts of the Caspian Sea and decided to build a tiny mosque in the area. Heybat referred to her mistress as Bibi or aunt, and it is from this title that the temple was later named, including the name of the faithful servant. The mosque was both Hokuma and Heybat’s final resting place. The mosque became very popular so that the village and mountain were later also called Bibi-Heybat.
Through the years, the mosque grew in size and splendor as religious and political leaders added portions and improvements. New buildings, as well as mausoleums, wells and pools were erected around the original mosque. Simply put, the originally small and simple Bibi-Heybat mosque was transformed into a spectacular religious complex.
Various builders and architects developed the complex from the 13th century to the early 20th century in six stages as most historians believe. The first features to be constructed were the original mosque and a 22-meter tall minaret. (When the Soviets blasted the complex, the minaret was the last structure to fall down.) Soon, several features were added such as the tomb, arches, halls, burial vault, carvings, and arcade, among others. Before the Soviets arrived and eventually destroyed this beautiful mosque-complex, people came here to worship and to receive healing from all forms of illnesses and disabilities.
The Soviets destroyed several important symbols and places of spirituality including the Orthodox cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary Catholic Church and the Bibi-Heybat mosque. Other churches and temples were converted into warehouses.
In 1991, Soviet rule collapsed and Azerbaijan got back its independence. One of the country’s first projects was the reconstruction of their well-loved mosques, which included the Shahidler mosque, Abu-Bakr mosque and Bibi-Heybat mosque. More than a thousand places of worship were also built.
In 1994, the Azeri president ordered the reconstruction of Bibi-Heybat at its original location. After studying old photos and documents describing the original complex, the architect and builders were able to construct a modern complex that closely resembled the original. Finally on July 1997, the new Bibi-Heybat mosque was finished. It was inaugurated in 1999. Today, the mosque regularly welcomes thousands of pilgrims, followers and the faithful, as well as non-Muslim tourists from all over the country and the world.