Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan, a largely Muslim nation that used to be a leading Soviet state.
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Located to the south of the Absheron Peninsula, the capital is the largest metropolis in the country and the entire Caucasus region. The city has a long history, and today, the country’s ancestry is one of the major reasons why tourists from different parts of the world come to visit.
Baku (also spelled as Bakou and known as Baki) is believed to have hosted its earliest settlers beginning in the 1st century AD. Not much was written about the city until it became the capital of Azerbaijan in the 12th century. Since then, neighboring forces have attempted to seize the capital on several occasions, and finally in 1723, it was captured by the Russians. After almost a century, the city was handed over by Russia to the Persians.
Baku was a sleepy, walled city until the first mechanically drilled oil well was dug in 1872. Not long after, investors from all over Europe and the United States arrived and did business in the city. There was a point in time when Azerbaijan supplied half of the word’s oil needs. Early on, people have already known that Azerbaijan is rich in natural oil. They have dug several wells by hand but could not go deep enough. The mechanical drilling of oil catapulted the oil-rich capital city to international recognition.
The newly prosperous capital built a new city around old Baku and constructed European-style structures, palaces, theaters and opera houses. It was a good thing that city organizers left the original walled city untouched. Today, the Inner City, also referred to as Ichari Shahar or Old Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Just when the country was about to position itself as an importantly wealthy country, World War 1 and the Soviet invasion happened. Baku was reduced to nothing more than one of the many obscure Soviet cities, cut from the rest of the world.
In 1991, the Soviet rule ended and Azerbaijan regained its independence after spending 70 long years in limbo. Immediately, the Azerbaijani government closed billion-dollar oil deals which helped propel the country back to where it was before the Soviets came. Baku regained new momentum and today it is being poised to become the Dubai of the Caucasus.
International hotels, posh restaurants, modern infrastructure, shopping centers, and resorts have been built to boost the city’s tourism and bid for international recognition. Yet, as the new and high-tech are making their way into the city, three of the most loved attractions are old structures. These are the Maiden Tower, Ateshgah Temple and Mardakan Castle.
The Maiden Tower stands prominently within Ichari Shahar as tourists get to see a stunning 360° view of the city and Caspian Sea. Ateshgah Temple, on the other hand, is an ancient temple for fire worshippers. It was built in an area where underground gas and oil naturally cause flames to burst from the ground. The spontaneous eruptions may have prompted early people to dedicate a temple to the fire god. And lastly, tourists come to Baku to see Mardakan Castle, an old fortress that protected the earliest villages of the Absheron Peninsula.