Baku’s “Ichari Shahar” (literally, Inner City), often referred to by foreigners as the “Old City”, is a unique architectural preserve that differs considerably from the other ancient cities of Azerbaijan. Ichari Shahar has many fascinating architectural monuments, including the Maiden’s Tower and the Shirvanshah Palace.
Many Azerbaijanis believe that the Inner City as well as the Maiden’s Tower inside it were built in the 12th century. According to some researchers, however, construction may date back as early as the 7th century. The question has not been completely settled.
Ichari Shahar’s character has changed considerably since Azerbaijan’s independence. Commercial ventures have started to spring up, and the medieval town has attracted a great deal of foreign investment.
Yet there are still relatively few tourist shops or restaurants in its winding streets. Perhaps that’s part of its charm – it’s still a private, friendly space that many Azerbaijanis call home.
In December 2000, UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Committee added Baku’s ancient Inner City (Ichari Shahar) to its World Heritage List. So far, this honor has been extended to 690 historical and natural sites that are important to the world’s heritage, such as the Great Wall in China, the Acropolis in Athens, and America’s Yosemite National Park.
According to UNESCO’s Web site, Baku’s Walled City was chosen because it illustrates significant stages in human history: “Built on a site that has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Era, the Walled City of Baku reveals evidence of Zoroastrian, Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence in cultural continuity. The Inner City (Ichari Shahar) has preserved much of its 12th-century defensive walls. The 12th-century Maiden’s Tower (Giz Galasi) is built over earlier structures dating from the 7th to 6th centuries BC, and the 15th-century Shirvanshahs’ Palace is one of the pearls of Azerbaijani architecture.”
To help preserve this historic site for future generations, Azerbaijan is now eligible to apply for assistance from the World Heritage Fund. It may receive help with conservation and management of the site, training, technical cooperation and assistance with educational, information and promotional activities. In 1999, Georgia received $35,000 for the Study and Development of its Mtskheta Heritage and Tourist Master Plan.
The money for the World Heritage Fund comes from voluntary contributions and 1 percent of each member’s UNESCO dues. Azerbaijan ratified UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage on December 16, 1993. By signing this Convention, the country pledged to preserve the historical sites situated on its territory.
Ichari Shahar was not built using a straightforward design. For instance, you wander down a narrow alley and suddenly hit a blind alley. Why? It’s not because that was the way houses were built back then. It was planned that way.
Let’s say that the Gosha Gala Gapisi (Double Tower Gate) is destroyed, and invaders enter Ichari Shahar on horses. Four horses can run abreast on a wide street, but if they hit a narrow alley, the horses have to file behind each other one by one. It’s a lot easier to wipe out the enemy one by one.
What’s the best way to stop invading forces? Build a city with winding, confusing streets and unexpected dead ends. Also, it’s not easy to invade a city that can fight back on three or four different heights. Ichari Shahar was designed so that its people would be able to defend themselves from various heights above the ground.
The layout of the streets in the Inner City offers other advantages as well. Throughout the Middle East, including Azerbaijan, there are dramatic temperature extremes throughout the year. In the winter, it can be 20 degrees below zero [Celsius], while in summer, it can reach 50 degrees above zero. Ichari Shahar’s narrow streets benefit from the considerable amount of shade cast from adjacent buildings. Furthermore, the houses’ walls are nearly one meter thick which provides a natural cooling system..
Source: Azerbaijan International Magazine