Baku - City of Water and Fire (Part 1)

Neither the two sleepless nights preceding the trip nor the cruel mid-August sun could get on my way to enjoy Baku, the capital of Azerbaij...

Neither the two sleepless nights preceding the trip nor the cruel mid-August sun could get on my way to enjoy Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. This country is one of the three Caucasian countries stretched along the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas. I've been to another Caucasian country, Georgia, before, and always look forward to again visiting that region where Europe meets Asia. This time around, I had a day-long stopover in Baku, and my obvious choice was to leave the airport and explore the city. I did very little planning upfront, but got lucky to have met a person from my home city Kyiv who had the same flight connection as me. He brought lots of printouts from Google Maps, and knew exactly where to go, how to get there, what to see, where to eat and so forth, so I was quite happy when I got his permission to follow him for the day. It turned out that despite the nasty heat we were able to visit quite a few interesting places that I want to share with you.

1. Baku International Airport. 
The airport in Baku is where you'll likely start your journey across the country. It's an outstanding piece of work built to impress and astonish at first sight. 
Materials such as glass and wood dominate the interior of the main terminal. Smooth shapes and plenty of light make the building look very futuristic.
Like many other countries with an oil-driven economy, Azerbaijan has seen a steep growth of wealth in the late-2000s - early 2010s when the oil prices were at a historic high. The price, however, has plummeted since 2014, but Azerbaijan has already spent big chunk of oil dollars on contemporary-looking buildings and structures. This, by the way, was very typical for many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia: the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkmenistan, and others that depend on fossil fuels
According to Wikipedia, Azerbaijan is one of the most irreligious countries in the world. Most people who practice religion, however, are Muslim. The airport has some wooden enclosures for prayers. Is that typical for other predominantly Muslim countries? I haven't been anywhere else except Turkey, and I didn't see such praying rooms at Turkish airports.

2. Waterfront. 
Baku sits on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. 
Actually, the Caspian Sea is not a sea, but a lake, the largest lake on Earth. It used to have a connection with the ocean, but it's long gone (about 5.5 million years ago). What's fascinating is that the Caspian holds 3.5 more times water by volume than all Great Lakes in Canada and the United States. 
It's very shallow on the northern side which means that it easily freezes in the winter. But on the southern side, along the Iranian shore, its depth reaches over 1,000 m / 3,300 ft. This is where most of its water volume is kept.
London-style taxi cab. It's interesting that such an iconic English car is owned by a Chinese car manufacturer.
I really liked the waterfront. It's a great place to spend time in Baku as it offers some of the most stunning views of the city. Also, this is where you can hide from the summer heat.
Baobabs and cacti - not native to Azerbaijan, but still beautiful.
The Flame Towers is the most recognizable among the new landmarks in Baku. At night, their gigantic LED screens display a light show with fire. 
More landmarks are being added to the Baku's waterfront. It would be nice to see this "flower" once finished.

3. Old City. 
Arguably the biggest draw of the city is Old Baku. UNESCO does not assign a World Heritage Site designation for nothing.
Maiden Tower was built in the 12th century and is a symbol of the Old City.
Being one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the Maiden Tower plays a central role in a few ancient legends, all with Zoroastrian roots (a predominant religion in Azerbaijan before Islam). For those who were wondering why this article is called "Baku - The City of Water and Fire", you found the answer. In Zoroastrianism, fire is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom are gained, and water is considered the source of that wisdom. 
Narrow streets, old buildings, cobblestone roads,  cozy teahouses and restaurants - you can find it all in Old Baku.
Tea is a way more popular drink in Azerbaijan than coffee.
It's a bit hard to navigate the Old City as it resembles a maze. But one thing you know for a fact: you reach its limit if you see a wall.
Tendir is a clay oven to bake bread. Common in the Middle East and India.
Retro car from the Soviet Union - "Izh".
Old Baku has so much elegance and charm.
An old caravanserai where travellers would rest and stay overnight.
'This is our military response to Russia and USA,' as one man said about this catapult that throws rocks.

4. Fountains Square. 
Yet another new tourist attraction that draws visitors alike.
Located at the heart of the city and is difficult to miss.
Fountains Square is your best bet for finding a place to eat or go shopping.
Besides fountains, you'll find plenty of beautiful buildings erected in the late 19th century - the beginning of the 20th century. 
During this period of time, Baku's oil industry was booming and the city was growing faster than London or Paris. By the way, did you know that the first-ever oil well was constructed and used in Baku?
Paris of the East.
The second part of the article about Baku is here.

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