The Towers of Baku, Azerbaijan

We’ve been in Baku for about a month, and we’ve been fascinated by all of the history here. We think that a brief intro to the history of Baku will help you appreciate your visit.

People have been living in Baku’s territory since the Stone Age, so Baku’s architectural scenery is somewhat of a paradox, with both ancient and ultra-modern buildings juxtaposed all over the city. Some of the most recognizable highlights of the Baku cityscape are towers, and it makes sense that these towers also reflect the city’s unique amalgam of archaic and contemporary styles.

The Maiden Tower (Qız Qalası) is at least 800 years-old, but some scholars postulate that the tower’s foundations were originally built in the 4th-6th century AD. It is unclear where the name originates from, but several Zoroastrian and Islamic legends offer apocryphal explanations. According to one of the most famous legends, a princess asked her father to build a tower for her to delay her arranged marriage to a man she didn’t love. When the tower was completed, she committed suicide by jumping from the top. This legend was portrayed in the first Azerbaijani ballet, “Maiden Tower,” composed in 1940.

The tower was built by Zoroastrians before the arrival of Islam in Azerbaijan. Anciently, it was a place of worship meant to house a sacred fire that rose from seven exits at the top, symbolizing the Zoroastrian belief that there are seven steps to heaven. The tower may have also been used as a watchtower or astronomy observatory.

The Maiden Tower is about 100 feet tall with a diameter of about 50 feet. Visitors can go to the top of the tower for AZN₼10 (about USD$5.90).

The Flame Towers (Alov Qüllələri), on the other hand, are a recent addition to the city. These three towers are shaped like flames, in reference to Baku’s oil-based economy, and they were completed in 2012. Construction cost about USD$350 million, One tower is a hotel, another contains residential apartments, and the third is an office building. You can spend a night in the hotel for about USD$150. The hotel also houses a cinema, which shows mostly Russian films with an occasional English film. Tickets are less than USD$4.

The towers are perhaps the most prominent structure in Baku—at nearly 600 feet-tall, they are visible from nearly anywhere in the city. At night, the entirety of the towers light up with LED lights displaying fire, a waving Azerbaijani flag, and several other animations on a loop. The best views of the towers are from the Baku Boulevard, right next to the Caspian Sea, but it is also impressive to see them up close.

The towers of Baku are a constant visual reminder of the city’s extensive history. Ancient and modern sights blend together, creating a beautiful collage that is unique to Baku.

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