A unique blend of Eastern and Western architecture can be found in Baku, Azerbaijan. In the captivating capital city, ultramodern, glass-and-steel high-rises stand next to buildings that are much older.
After decades of political strife, Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. President Heydar Aliyev wanted to make Baku a center of modern architecture. In 1998, Aliyev designated the area touching the Caspian Sea a national park, and a landscaping and building initiative began in Baku. In 2001, Azerbaijan became a full member of the Council of Europe, paving the way for collaboration with other member countries and allowing for a flood of new architectural possibilities.
Here are just a few of the marvelous works of architecture you’ll find in the city today.
1. Heydar Aliyev Center
The Heydar Aliyev Center represents a complete departure from the traditional Soviet rigid, functional design aesthetic; its fluid, sweeping curves ushered in a more modern era in Azerbaijani architecture. World-famous architect Zaha Hadid designed this showstopping, ultramodern building, which is now the nation’s cultural center.
2. Heydar Mosque
In 2012, President Ilham Aliyev announced the construction of the Heydar Mosque. Completed in 2014, the mosque was intended to be a symbol of peace, tolerance, and unity and was named for President Heydar Aliyev. Built in the ancient Azerbaijani architectural style, the mosque is at the center of Baku’s revitalization.
The towering minarets and spectacular domes are especially beautiful at night. The strategically placed lights illuminate the delicate curves of the revered house of worship.
3. Bibi-Heybat Mosque
The current-day Bibi-Heybat Mosque is a recreation of a 13th-century mosque of the same name that was destroyed by Stalin in 1936 when he abolished religion. The mosque opened in 1997.
Legend has it that the mosque contains the tomb of Okuma Khanim, a descendent of the prophet Muhammad. Bibi means “aunt,” and Heybat was the name of Khanim’s servant. The landmark is an important house of worship in Baku.
4. Baku Flame Towers
This unique landmark rises above the city of Baku, dominating the skyline day and night. The HOK architecture firm designed the Baku Flame Towers complex. The towers represent the wealth generated by the natural gas reserves that fuel the Azerbaijani economy.
LED lights embedded in the exterior of the building flicker at night, presenting a fire-inspired display that features the blue, red, and green colors of the Azerbaijani flag.
The tallest of the three buildings is a 39-story residential building. The second building is prime office space. The third building is the Fairmont Baku Hotel, a luxurious five-star hotel with views of the city and the Caspian Sea.
5. Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum
The Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum houses centuries-old carpets and other textiles. The museum is dedicated to the work of Latif Karimov, Azerbaijan’s leading carpet artist and teacher.
The fascinating example of literal architecture, which resembles a rolled carpet, opened in 2014. The ultramodern building was designed by Austrian architect Franz Janz. The interior of the museum is also curved, allowing visitors to view the carpets and other art installations from a unique perspective.
In 2010, Azerbaijan’s traditional art of carpet weaving was inducted into the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, giving special status to this national museum.
6. Little Venice
Located near the Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum, Little Venice is a delightfully kitschy attraction. The water park is meant to mimic the canals of Venice. It is a fun tourist destination with beautifully maintained canals surrounding man-made islands with restaurants serving traditional Azerbaijani cuisine.
Visitors can rent a gondola for a relaxing ride and meander through the gorgeous gardens.
7. Park Bulvar
Designed by Burrows Little, Park Bulvar in downtown Baku incorporates Eastern sensibilities and Western modernism.
The exterior of the Park Bulvar shopping center is representative of the modern architectural wave moving through Azerbaijan. The mall’s offerings, however, are traditional, including high-end stores and a large food court.
Across from the mall is Milli Park. Situated on the Caspian Sea, it offers sculptures, gardens, and exquisite views.
8. Baku Crystal Hall
Originally constructed to host the Eurovision Song Contest final and semifinal competitions in 2012, Baku Crystal Hall is the work of GMP Architekten.
The multifaceted structure serves as a concert hall and sports stadium and holds 25,000 fans. The building facade has embedded LED lights that can be programed to produce unique visual effects. This is a must-see, day and night.
9. Government House
Facing Baku Boulevard, the Government House is home to the state ministry offices of Azerbaijan. The building was designed by Lev Rudnev; it was originally called the House of the Government of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic and was completed in 1952.
Renovations on the building were completed in 2010. The beautiful baroque-style building is an example of ornate Eastern architecture. The Government House is best viewed at night, when its plethora of magnificent archways are highlighted by lights.
This architectural mix of old and new, East and West, modern and traditional aptly represents Azerbaijan’s rich history and culture. If you’re an architecture buff, a visit to Baku should be in the cards.
Planning a trip to Azerbaijan? Here are more of the country’s most beautiful places.