The Republic of Azerbaijan is popular around the world for its historic sites and century-old buildings. This ancient country is located just below Russia and beside the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus region. Its capital city is Baku, the biggest city in the region, and within Baku is the historic Ichari Shahar or Inner City. Getting around Azerbaijan almost always leads to this ancient city, which is considered a living monument from the Middle Ages.
Also referred to as Old Town, Ichari Shahar is the oldest fully functioning city in Azerbaijan and the Middle East. There is so much history here as evidenced by a number of archeological digs, some of which revealed burial chambers that date back to the Bronze Age. Also unearthed were relics and sites showing old trading activities on the Silk Road. The city of Baku was a major stop-over area for ancient merchants who made their trade between Europe and Asia, since Azerbaijan is found between these two continents.
Today, getting around Azerbaijan on land involves the metro, car rental, buses and taxis. Driving on your own is not recommended since most of the roads are in very poor condition. Although taking the bus is safer than the metro, the best way to move around is in a taxi, although they are not metered and drivers have a tendency to charge foreign tourists more than the actual fare. The metro is the cheapest form of transport.
When in the capital of Baku, you should try getting around on a rented bicycle. There are no bike lanes in the city, but the whole area is bicycle-friendly. The roads leading downtown and to Ichari Shahar are fairly flat and easy to ride a bike on. As you reach the Old Town, get off your bike, lock it in a safe area and enjoy the ancient inner city on foot.
There are simply so many to see and take in as you travel back in time in this magnificent city of bygone days. Walk pass the famous Maiden’s Tower, Friday Mosque and Shirvanshah Palace. You can’t miss them. There are old bathhouses, ancient roadside travelers’ inn (caravanserais), art galleries, and a carpet workshop. Azerbaijan is known for the masterfully weaved Azerbaijani rug since the country used to be the ancient center of rug weaving.
Inside Ichari Shahar you will also see the Encyclopedia Building, a big gray building that was built by the Soviets. Baku residents now refer to it as “the ugliest building” in the Inner City.
Ichari Shahar and the other major tourist destinations in Azerbaijan are found within and around the city of Baku. Getting around Azerbaijan by plane will get you to only two other places, which are the city of Gyandzha and the autonomous region of Nakhichevan. There is no getting around Azerbaijan by boat.
Historic Gyandzha is the second most industrialized city in the country, next to the capital city. Gyandza’s leading products are silk, cotton, copper, carpets and wine. Tourists come here for these products and to see ancient landmarks such as 12th-century mosque and the 12th-century tomb of Nizami Gyandzhevi, a well-known local poet. Nakhichevan, on the other hand, is Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave. You have to fly over Armenia to get there.
Finally, when getting around Azerbaijan, keep in mind that the Azeri people are culturally very respectful of others. Do not show any disrespect towards women, older people or the government. The locals are generally friendly and very respectful of everyone, but do not be surprised if people don’t smile at you. Smiling in public is culturally inappropriate in Azerbaijan.