Baku’s signature buildings, the Flame Towers, at night, draped in the coulrs of the Azerbajiani flag

Azerbajian’s capital Baku is a fascinating modern city, with fabulous modern architecture, no doubt thanks to its oil wealth.

For modern Baku the only history that is visible is that of the last 20 years. And then especially of the spectacular, extravagant architecture that screams at you from every corner of the city. Forget Dubai, Baku is the place.

the biggest remaining Soviet building, the Government House (with in front the stands for the Formula 1 race coming to Baku in a few weeks)

Government House from another angle, with flag

newly constructed Baku apartment building, conservative

OK, there is a small old city, of which more later, and there are traces of Soviet construction remaining – most notably the huge Azerbaijani Government Building, but also, in some neighbourhoods, the five story apartment buildings that were so prominent in other ex-Soviet republics we have been to, and in Albania, where they were called palatis. But those few still existing are almost invisible, now tucked away behind newer buildings, and no doubt will be pulled down in the not so distant future to make way for more new buildings. Apartment buildings, often 15-20 stories high, built in a kind of classical, slightly conservative style. Not ugly, but unremarkable.

the skeletons of yet more skycrapers along the sea front

cubus-stacked office tower

Or perhaps somebody decides to construct another mall, an office tower, or a sports facility. Quite a few are under construction right now, and from their skeleton forms they promise to make yet another contribution to the already impressive, and most remarkable, collection of ultra-modern buildings. Driving in from the airport the array starts with a view of the Olympic Stadium; never mind that Azerbaijan never hosted any Olympic games (and that Baku 2020 lost out against Tokyo), this is a truly beautiful stadium. A little further one passes a couple of tall office towers, one as series of cubes stacked onto each other. And then comes the Haider Aliyev Centre, a fabulous design without any corners, flowing from ground level to eight floors in one corner, four on the other side. Photogenic inside, and even more so outside: every angle invites yet another picture.

the Hayder Aliyev Cultural Centre

another picture of the same, a white wave (with red T-shirt)

and the entrance side of the building

inside, eight floors high at one side

stairs, lights, several floors

and another staircase

the carpet museum, in the form of a rolled-up carpet

the Crescent Moon building, on the sea side

Caspian Waterfront Mall, mirrored in an opposite glass house

and thsi is the new mall in its full glory, based on the Sydney Opera House

and the yacht club marina, humble ships mirrored in one of the sides of the mall

So it goes on and on, one building even more creative than another, sports centres and malls, or just another office. What to think of the Carpet Museum, in the form of a rolled-up carpet? Or the new Caspian Waterfront Mall in the shape of Sydney’s Opera House? Or, best of all, Baku’s blue glass signature buildings, the three Flame Towers, the tallest of which is 182 m high. Designed to symbolise the Land of Fire, the name for Azerbaijan derived from it being the birthplace of Zoroaster, who gave his name to the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism – the one with the fire temples -, it could equally well be interpreted as an ode to oil.

another mall, along the Bulvar, the boulevard

and somebody has to clean all those windows!

work of art, in the pedestrian area of Baku

just added something to the work of art

the three Flame Towers

of which some of the windows actually open

another view

and, contrasting, an old mosque next to the Towers

well, it does have the shape of a flame

and at night that idea is enhanced by lighting

this is some of the army of cleaners and gardeners

Because all these extravagant constructions need to be paid for, of course, and Azerbaijan, and Baku in particular, has been blessed with lots of oil, onshore and under the Caspian Sea. And it is obvious that some of this money spills into Baku. The city, surrounded by desert, has an abundance of parks, green and clean. Armies of gardeners and sweepers are kept at work to make sure that Baku shines: they  polish the marble of the huge underpasses, that bring pedestrians from one side of one eight-lane avenue to the other, they maintain the many escalators down into the underpasses and back up again; they water the grass, and the plants and trees that provide shadow along the extensive 50 meter wide Bulvar park along the coast. But they can’t do anything about the faint smell of oil – not diesel or petrol, no, the smell of crude oil – that is present by inland winds, and spoils the walk along the water just a little. Just a reminder of why Baku is what it is: a fabulous, beautiful, cosmopolitan city in the middle of nowhere.

next: the old city

allowing the old men to play their dominos along the Bulvar

Baku’s, no, Azerbajian’s favourite sweet, candyfloss, in a stall along the Bulvar

another prominent feature on the Bulvar, and appropriate it is

view from the Flame Towers, over the Old City and the modern addition to the city behind

the busy and lively pedestrian area at night

2 Responses to 03. Baku

  1. Oudmaijer says:

    Het doet me denken aan de prestige objecten in het Midden Oosten.
    Prachtige architectuur!!

  2. Ineke lenting says:

    Dag Bruno en Sofia, jullie zien weer zoveel moois van de wereld , schitterende foto’s ook. Geniet ervan samen en tot ziens weer in Didam.

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