Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Icheri Sheher - The Walled City

The oldest part of Baku is called Icheri – Shekher or the Walled City and that is where we went for our first family outing. Icheri – Shekher was built on a hill and its compact layout has remained essentially unchanged since its construction during 11th to 17th century. The walls started to enclose the city in the 12th century. They protected the city from the enemies and biting winds and also marked territorial boundaries of the community they embraced.

The houses there are situated remarkably close to each other – if you stand in the middle of the street and spread your arms, you can easily touch the walls of the houses on its both side. I imagine that such closeness reinforces the sense of community, everybody knows what is going at the neighbors’ house even if they try not to.

Strolling through the web of narrow streets we came upon the Museum of the Miniature Book that houses an impressive collection of miniature books all over the world, the smallest one of them measured 2x2mm. A very decisive lady insisted on given us a tour in Russian and was a bit dismayed when I didn’t translate everything in details.

Learning through the experience we refused a tour at the Shirvanshahs’ Palace and proceed exploring it by ourselves. Shirvanshah (The Shah of Shirvan) was the title of rulers of a historical province of Azerbaijan, which included Baku.The Shirvanshahs’ Palace was built in 15th century when the Shah of Shirvan decided to transfer his residence to Baku. The ensemble of the palace includes various buildings located on four different levels. The highest one includes the Palace itself and Divan-khane, judicial chamber; the lowest – the remains of the palace bath-house.

I was mesmerized by wood and stone carvings on the doors and walls. Some of them are purely ornamental but in some there are hidden messages.The image below shows the entrance to the burial-vault. One of the inscription there describes to the visitors the purpose of the building, “Khalil-Ullah I, the greatest Soltan, Great Shirvanshah, the namesake of the divine prophet, the defender of the religion ordered to construct this light burial-vault for his mother and son in the year of 839”, the other quotes the Koran. If you look closely you will see two tear- shaped medallions - they hid the architect's name in them, Memar ("architect") Ali. In each medallion name is written twice, in regular manner and in mirrored script. It is quite a courageous act - to leave your own name on the shah's burial-vault, I view it as a claim to immortality. Interestingly, the scientists were able to read/decipher the architect's name only in 1945. It remained unknown for half a century.

We also visited the Maiden Tour (Qiz Qalasi) but I will leave it for another day.

P.S. Many thanks to Window to Baku site and its creator Faig Nasibov for the wonderful information on Baku.

No comments: