Icheri Sheher: The Historic Heart of Baku
Icheri Sheher, also known as the Old Town or the Inner City, is a remarkable historical enclave located at the center of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
This ancient urban area holds a rich history and cultural significance, making it a must-visit destination for travelers and a cherished heritage site for locals. In this article, we delve into the depths of Icheri Sheher, exploring its origins, architectural marvels, and its enduring role in the city's development.
Origins and Location
1. Ancient Baku by the Caspian Sea
Icheri Sheher stands on the very grounds where ancient Baku was founded, once nestled on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Its location at the heart of the city has played a pivotal role in the historical and cultural evolution of Baku.
2. Limestone Architecture
The buildings within Icheri Sheher are predominantly constructed from locally sourced limestone, meticulously polished to a smooth surface. This architectural uniformity gives the district a distinct visual character. Moreover, the narrow, winding roads within the area contribute to the maze-like ambiance of Icheri Sheher.
1. The Oldest Inhabited Part of Baku
Icheri Sheher holds the distinction of being the oldest inhabited part of Baku. Recognizing its historical importance, it was declared a historical and cultural reserve in 1977 and was subsequently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.
2. Impenetrable Fortress Walls
Three sides of Icheri Sheher are encircled by formidable fortress walls, designed to protect the city. Originally, two fortress walls guarded Baku, with an additional wall facing the Caspian Sea. While the outer wall has since vanished, parts of the inner wall have also eroded with time.
3. The Rise of Baku
Baku has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, but its transformation into a prominent city began in 1385 when it became the capital of the Shirvanshahs.
This era marked the construction of the iconic fortress walls, the Maiden Tower, and numerous other landmarks. The city's strategic location on trade routes, including the Silk Road, brought prosperity, enabling the construction of public facilities like bathhouses, mosques, and caravanserais to accommodate travelers.
4. Urban Growth Within the Walls
For centuries, Icheri Sheher contained everything Baku's residents needed, with its limited territory of 21.5 hectares enclosed by protective walls.
Even the rulers resided among their subjects within this confined space. The opulent Shirvanshah Palace, a gem of architecture, was a testament to the city's grandeur during this period.
5. Balconies as Symbols of Wealth
The buildings in Icheri Sheher vary in age, with some dating back to the 1400s and others exhibiting more modern features. What distinguishes these structures is often the design of their balconies. These wooden balconies served as status symbols, showcasing the wealth and social standing of the residents to passersby.
6. Continual Development
Between the late 1300s and around 1500, the Shirvanshah dynasty elevated Baku's status as its capital, overseeing the construction of significant landmarks, including the Shirvanshah Palace and some of the oldest mosques in the area.
Building activities continued even after the dynasty moved its capital back to Shamakhi, resulting in new houses, mosques, and marketplaces layered atop one another.
7. Beyond the Walls: The Oil Boom
The late 1800s witnessed the onset of the oil boom in Baku, leading to the city's expansion beyond the confines of Icheri Sheher. The outer fortress walls were dismantled, and the moat between the walls was filled in.
Construction of buildings outside the walls commenced, transforming Baku into the sprawling metropolis it is today. Nevertheless, many structures within Icheri Sheher have endured the test of time, though some have been reconstructed.
A Living Heritage
Remarkably, Icheri Sheher remains a living, breathing testament to Baku's history. Approximately 3,000 people still call the Old City home, preserving the district's cultural heritage and ensuring its continued relevance in modern Baku.