Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, which projects into the Caspian Sea. The city consists of two principal parts: the downtown and the old Inner Walled City, which covers 21.5 hectares. Baku’s urban population is estimated at just over two million people. Officially, about 25 percent of all inhabitants of the country live in the metropolitan city area of Baku.
Since its independence from Russia in 1991 Baku has changed radically, especially in the area near the promenade at the shore of the Caspian Sea. The city is now in a construction frenzy as modern architecture wonders appear throughout this area. One could easily think they were in one of Europe’s top cities as they wander the downtown areas with the large designer shops and wide boulevards. However, walk 20 blocks from the promenade and old Soviet-style apartment blocks and shops abound.
The traffic is horrendous, not because of the number of vehicles but the bad driving habits of the Azeri. They block intersections, park anywhere don’t keep to their lanes and add to that the ongoing constuction, it’s bedlam. The roads are full of Mercedes, BMW’s and Porches of the nouveau rich and the old Soviet Ladas of the not so rich.
Baku is divided into eleven administrative districts (raions) and 48 townships. Among these are the townships on islands in the Baku Bay and the town of Oil Rocks built on stilts in the Caspian Sea, 60 kilometres from Baku. The Inner Walled City of Baku along with the Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. I enjoyed the Walled City, it’s pleasant and not crowded as Azerjaiban is not really on the Tourist Map yet.
For the young-at-heart and party-scene people, according to the Lonely Planet’s ranking, Baku is also among the world’s top ten destinations for urban nightlife.
The city is the scientific, cultural and industrial centre of Azerbaijan. Many sizeable Azerbaijani institutions have their headquarters there, including SOCAR, one of the world’s top 100 companies and others. The Baku International Sea Trade Port, sheltered by the islands of the Baku Archipelago to the east and the Absheron Peninsula to the north, is capable of handling two million tons of general and dry bulk cargoes per year. Baku is to host the 57th Eurovision Song Contest later this month, and the city is currently bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
It’s an interesting city to wander through both during the day and to admire the lights in the evening. It’s safe but language is a problem as many of the taxi drivers, restaurant workers and private company workers do not speak English. However at the tourist spots most of the Government officials do understand English. The people are friendly and usually helpful, when I was trying to get a taxi in town none of the group of taxi drivers could understand where I wanted to go, although I had a city map and showed them my destination. One of the taxi drivers rang his English speaking friend on his mobile phone, passed the phone to me, I related to the taxi driver’s friend my destination, passed the phone back to the taxi driver and 15 minutes later I was where I wanted to be. Remember to agree on a fare before getting into a taxi, they don’t have meters, bargain.
I enjoyed the food, it’s similar to Turkish food but they have their Azeri specialties and they eat a lot. The Azerbaijani wine is drinkable but I found the red a little sweet.