The old town of Icheri Sheher is the central part of the city of Baku. From this place began the history of the capital of Azerbaijan. Icheri Sheher, translated from the Azerbaijani language, means “Inner City.” Locals call this place “Fortress” or “Old Town.”
Icheri Sheher is one of the main attractions of the capital, a historical monument of architecture. The old town (Icheri Sheher) was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
In 1977, the place received the status of an architectural and historical reserve of Azerbaijan.
The historical complex includes many architectural monuments that have survived to our times: mosques, towers, churches, squares and other significant buildings of the Shahs’ reign.
Location of the old city Baku
Icheri Sheher is located in the center of Baku. Seaside Boulevard runs along the eastern and southern borders of the old quarter. Approximately 500 meters from the reserve begins the Caspian Sea. Old Town is located on a hill in the Sabail district of Baku. On the east side passes Oilman Avenue, and in the south-west, outside the complex, there is the Philharmonic Garden.
The territory of the old city is surrounded by a wall. The width of the wall reaches about 3.5 meters, and its height in some places reaches 10 meters. The fencing of Icheri Sheher, in addition to being the boundary of the reserve, is also of cultural significance. The high wall of the old city is one of the architectural monuments of the quarter.
The protected area is 22.1 hectares. There are about 1,300 families in the old city today.
The story of Icheri Sheher
Historians attribute the emergence of the old city in the V century AD.
The results of archaeological excavations confirm the fact that Icheri Sheher, as a small settlement, originates from the times of the ancient period. Exhibits were dating back to the 6th – 1st centuries BC were found on the territory of the old city of Baku.
Within the early Middle Ages, the territory of the settlement was part of a separate administrative unit in the Shirvan region. Little is known about the current Baku from the 7th to the 10th centuries. The found remains of a medieval city on the border of Icheri Sheher date back to the VIII century. From V to X century, the city was just beginning its path to its economic development.
After the collapse of the Arab Caliphate in the XI century, the rulers of the territory in the area of the old city became the Shirvanshah dynasty. In the 12th century, the residence of the dominant power was transferred from Shemakha to Baku. It is this period that historians consider the time of the foundation of the old city of Icheri Sheher, as it appears in our time.
After the residence of the Shirvanshahs was moved to Baku, a fortress wall was built around it, and buildings erected in the center of the complex served as defensive installations (Maiden Tower). After the long development of Shirvan as an independent state with its capital in the city of Baku from the 15th to the 16th century, the economy was actively developing in this area, the construction of new buildings began, including the Shirvanshahs Palace, bridges, tomb, caravanserai.
The cultural part of Icheri Sheher
The old city of Baku is found in various branches of world art. Description of the old quarter can be found in the work of K. Said “Ali and Nino.” For the first time, the historical reserve of the capital was depicted in a painting by E. Kempfer in 1630. Also, Icheri Sheher can be seen on the canvases of the creators: T. Salakhova, A. Azimzade, A. Kuprina, and others. On the streets of the old city, Soviet directors shot their films: V. Chebotarev, G. Kazansky, R, Bykov, L. Gaidai.
Sights of the old city of Baku
Many tourists from different countries annually visit the Icheri Sheher Reserve. The old quarter is open to visitors around the clock. Entrance to the territory of the “inner city” is free for all comers. In Icheri Sheher, at every step, one can find historical monuments of culture of a bygone era. These are fortifications, the palace complex of the Shirvanshahs residence, baths and caravanserais. On the territory of the reserve, there are many ancient mosques, in local museums, there are exhibits obtained during archaeological work in the old town area.
In addition to the vast number of architectural monuments, in Icheri Sheher today are open to visitors to hotels, hostels, restaurants, and bars. You can also take old city tour or full day baku city tour .
In the southeast of Icheri Sheher, there is a local landmark, the fortification of the Maiden Tower. The building reaches 28 meters in height, and the walls are 4–5 meters thick. Scientists suggest that the tower was erected in the XII century. It is in the form of this period that the inscription on the structure is made. Till the beginning of the 20th century, the tower served as a lighthouse.
The fortress gates of the northern part of the city
On the north side of the walls of the city of Icheri Sheher, there are the Shamakhi Gate and the Gate of Shah-Abbas, which are also known as the “Paired Fortress Gate.” The gates of Shah Abbas are the transferred gates of Zulfikar Khan, which were located in the outer (outer) wall. These gates were built within the reign of Zulfikar Khan in 1608–1609, transferred to the inner wall by order of the Baku Governor. Above the Gate of Shah Abbas, a plaque was installed in two languages with their name. The height of the “Twin fortress gates” is about 9.5 meters, the width is about 4.5 meters.
Mosques erected in the Middle Ages are considered one of the main attractions of Baku. There are plenty of them in the old town. There is something to see for the rest. The most frequently visited is the palace mosque, which is located on the territory of the Shirvanshah complex.
The mosque of Mohammed is one of the first, built in the walls of the city. It dates from the eleventh century. The Baba Kukhi Bakui Mosque, that is, the remains of this structure, were discovered during archaeological excavations in 1990-1993. This mosque was built in the IX century.
Palace of the Shirvanshahs
The territory with the residence and the buildings adjacent to it are separated into a separate palace complex of the Shirvanshah dynasty. Scientists date the beginning of construction of the XII century, and the end falls on the XV century. The palace complex is located in the highest part of the old city. In 1964, the residence received the status of a museum-reserve. Today, on the territory of the palace complex conduct excursion programs.
On the territory of the old city, one of the objects of interest are the baths. The most famous is the Shirvanshah bath at the palace of this dynasty. Also in the “Inner City,” there are such baths: Haji Gaiba, Aga Mikayil, Kasum-bek, Aga Zeynal. They date the construction of these structures from the XV to the XIX century.
Museums in the old town
Icheri Sheher, in addition to monuments of architecture and history, is rich in various public facilities, some of which are active museums.
Since 1964 the fortification of the Maiden Tower functions as a museum complex. Today, three floors of this building are occupied by exhibition halls with archaeological finds that date back to the XII century. On the fourth floor is a middle-century weapon. All exhibits are copies. Originals can be seen in the Museum of History of Azerbaijan.
The Shirvanshah Palace is also a museum in which artifacts found during the exploration of the territory are stored. Among the valuable items, there are “Bail stones” from the long-destroyed Bail (Sabail) castle of the 13th century.
The museum of archeology and ethnography is located in the old house of Haji Mamed, and this building is also known as the “house with chains.” Here you can see archaeological finds from the period before the era of our era and ending with the medieval era.
The museum of the miniature book presents over 4000 exhibits collected from 62 different countries. The complex opened in April 2002, the founder of the museum – Z. Salakhova.
How to get to the old city of Baku Icheri Sheher
The old residential quarter is located in the very center of Baku, near Baku Boulevard. And the nearest metro station is the Icheri Sheher metro station and the bus station of the same name. Local buses and underground trains run here.