After our long drive back from the countryside we decided on a quick change before heading out to enjoy sunset.
We opted for beer and a bite to eat at the Sultan Inn in the old town which has a great terrace with views of the city, harbour and up to the famous Flame Towers. The Towers are illuminated with digital images that rotate every minute or so, changing from the Azerbaijani flag to a golfer to flames to a selection of red, green and blue.
After our meal we went for a wander through the narrow streets of the old town – passed stalls of metalware and Persian rugs. We took the steep climb up the hill to the Parliament, Flame Towers and memorials to war dead from the Independence struggle. With the main square relatively quiet, I managed to send LARS up for some quick photos around the Towers.
With a dry and mild evening we decided to take a walk along the mountainside viewing platform, through the gardens to a large set of illuminated stairs that descended down to the harbour. From there we took a leisurely stroll along the waters edge, watching the locals going about their Saturday night and the crazy local traffic as it winds along the main road which doubles as the track for the Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix.
Once back at the hotel I decided to head straight out in a taxi to the ‘Olympic Stadium’ – no you’re not going crazy, Azerbaijan has never hosted an Olympics but that hasn’t stopped them building a giant illuminated stadium to celebrate their participation.
Named after Azerbaijans first President, the 57,500 m² building was designed by British architect Zaha Hadid and is regarded as one of the most iconic buildings in world. The flowing, curved style apparently takes its shape from the Presidents own signature and sits in layered gardens above the city.
After a long walk back from The Centre, I met up with Mike for a walking tour of the city. Our guide started with a quick intro to city – the name Baku coming from the Persian, baku meaning ‘place of eternal winds’.
Today Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan with a population of three million, in a country with only 9.7 million inhabitants. While Azerbaijan masquerades as a democracy, the current president is son of first president who died in 2003. His party has 90% of the vote and in a 2016 referendum the people voted to change the constitution and change presidential terms from 7 years to an unlimited term and created the new position of Vice President which his wife won. How very House of Cards – Frank and Claire Underwood would be proud!
We started our tour in the old city at the ‘Maidens Tower’ – a tower whose history is disputed with some historians believing it was built for religious or astrological reasons, while others believe it formed part of a defensive war. What is known is that the old city wall was constructed in Middle Ages before being destroyed and recreated in 17th century.
Next we visited the sprawling Shrivans Palace, a 15th century building that consists of a maze of corridors, mausoleums, mosques and palatial halls.
From the the Old City we retraced our path from the previous evening up to the Flame Towers – which were commissioned to signify the regions Pagan origins as a a centre of fire worshippers. Next to the Towers is a Turkish mosque and a memorial to Turkish soldiers from the First World War, Azerbaijani troops who died during the 1990 uprising and one to British troops who died during peace keeping duties following the break up of the Ottoman Empire between 1918-1919.
A short walk from the memorials we came to the Eternal Flame memorial which overlooks the harbour. While I’ve visited many an eternal flame – few match this one which is more like a furnace, billowing and blowing wildly on the hillside.
Having avoided being cremated at the Flame, we headed down for our final stop at the Carpet Museum – which is designed to look like a rolled up rug…I breezed through in 5 minutes as it wast my idea of sightseeing.
The one sight we didn’t get to see was the Flag Square – the reason being is that Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia have recently erected taller flag poles – so the President had ordered the flag pole taken down and a new taller one to be made. Good to see he’s got his priorities straight!
With out sightseeing done it was time to head to the Airport. It was hard to believe that after 9 months of travelling – that was it, the end. London awaited.