The southern Caspian basin is blessed with important petroleum resources that have been exploited around Baku since the 10th century. It is said that the presence of natural gas flares around the Caspian basin led to fire worship long before the birth of Zoroaster Spitama near Baku around 700 BC. Zoroaster simplified previous polytheist religions by reducing nature's forces to only two abstract concepts, Ahura Mazda the god of good symbolized by fire and Ahriman the force of evil. Thus, Baku is the origin of Zoroastrianism which spread with the Persian Empire as far as Central Asia and northern India in the 5th century BC. It remained an important religion until it was smothered by Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Today, 100 000 Parsees still practice a form of Zoroastrianism around Bombay.
The eastern part of the Caucasus isthmus, now occupied by Azerbaijan, was part of the Armenian Kingdom of Tigran in the first century BC. It was invaded by Muslim Arabs from the south in the 7th century but became part of the Georgian Queen Tamar's lands for a short time in the 12th century. After the Mongol and Timurid invasions in the 13th and 14th centuries the Shirvan Khanate of Baku prospered as a trade center until taken over by the Persians in the 16th century. When the Russians invaded Caucasia in the 19th century they only got part of Azerbaijan, most of it remaining in Persia.
When the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Republic was split up into Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1936, Azerbaijan was awarded control of Karabakh, an island of Christian Armenians surrounded by Muslim Azeris and also kept control of Nakhichevan, an island of Azeris surrounded by Armenians. The tensions between the two were kept under control by soviet power until racial violence erupted in l988 after the Armenian population of Karabakh voted to be re-united with Armenia. Dozens of Armenians died in a pogrom in the Azerbaijan town of Sumgait. The half million Armenians in Azerbaijan and the quarter million Azerbaijanis in Armenia both started to flee. Russian troops intervened in 1990 but the fighting continued and the part of Karabakh under Armenian control declared itself an independent republic in 1991. The present truce is unstable and the problem still remains a lit fuse on a bomb.
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Looking west on the Promenade with Hotel Azerbaijan on the right.
Looking east on the Promenade towards the port. The white ship is a beached ferry transformed into an hotel where I stayed for 15 US$/day.
The Promenade is a lively place with amusement park rides and a variety of cafes and restaurants from which to watch to world go by. Here I am having dinner with Michel and Daniel, two Frenchmen here on business that I met by chance on the street.
This is the marine terminal where I would have arrived had I taken the ferry from Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk), which is what I would have done had I not been misinformed in Ashghabat.
Several buildings in Baku have an architectural style I have seen nowhere else. The Government House on the waterfront ploshchad Lenina is an example.
The old train station.
Here is another example of Baku's unique architecture on ulitsa Khagani.
The gate in the northern fortifications of the old city.
The west wall seen from inside the old city.
One of two 14th century caravanserais in the old city now used as restaurants.
The divan-khana or law courts inside the 15th century Palace of the Shirvan Shahs. Below on the left, the minaret of the royal Mosque in the same palace and the "Maiden's Tower" on the right. The tower has been dated back to the 12th century but nobody knows why the 30 meter tower was built the way it was with a stone buttress on its south-east side. Legends abound and that bit of mystery makes it more interesting.
Finally, another view of the Maiden's Tower next to another example of Baku's unique architecture.
I had been forced to fly into Baku but nothing stopped me from taking a bus to my next stop, Tbilisi in Georgia. That leg turned out much better than I had expected as I was able to get on a modern Turkish operated Volvo bus going all the way to Istanbul. It left at 5:00 PM and dropped me off in Tbilisi at 4:00 AM the next day.