There is a very high chance that Azerbaijan is not on your must-see list of places. But that is ok, after all, the country hadn’t really been recognized as a touristic destination until the last couple of decades. With that said, if your an advocate of landscape and architectural photography, perhaps it is time to reconsider.
As the biggest city in the Caucasus region and capital of Azerbaijan, Baku (also known as Baki or Baky) lies on the coast of the Caspian Sea, on the peninsula of Absheron. The city has three major subdivisions: İçəri Şəhər (ancient city), the city built by the Soviets, and the newer part of the city.
Baku is known globally for its large oil industry, with oil exports contributing a great deal to Azerbaijan’s overall budget. Before World War II, Baku was one of the major centers of oil production in the world, and the renowned Battle of Stalingrad occurred to determine who would have control over the oil fields of the city. Fifty years before the war, though, Baku produced half of the world’s oil supply.
So much richness “extracted” from the land and sea has also pushed for ambitious architectural projects, granting Baku with much of its puzzling personality, which attracts travel photographers from around the globe. Among places to visit and photograph within the fortress of Baku, are ancient structures from the Middle Ages, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and picturesque modern-day architectural endeavors, which can all be seen on foot in one day.
Below are our top 5 places for a photo session in Baku:
Heydar Aliyev Center
Winner of the Design Museum of the Year award in 2014, the cultural center is already eyeing the bold structure of the world-famous architect Zaha Hadid. The shape of the building resembles a rising wave, from the ground to the sky, followed by a gradual descent down the earth. It is not only a tribute to postmodern architecture, it refers to an eternal cycle. The building portrays the history of the country, is also impressive by the latest technology it contains. This is a great spot to set up the tripod and wait for the movement of the sun to shift the position of the shade, providing an array of high-contrast photos.
The Palace of Shirvanshah
Within the walled city is this palace that was once the seat of the sovereign dynasty of Azerbaijan during the Middle Ages. It stands on the highest hill in the ancient city of Baku, unobstructed by other buildings and evoking an incredible contrast with the rest of the (mostly) modern architecture of the city.
The Maidens Tower
Another of Baku’s local icon is the Maiden’s Tower (Qız Qalası). It is not known for certain when it was built (it is estimated to be at least the 12th century) or for what reason, but it is one of the most famous landmarks in Azerbaijan and is present, for example, in Azeri currency notes. At its base, the walls are up to five feet thick and again, the fact it stands amongst modern buildings enhances its charm.
The complex was inaugurated in 2013 and its largest tower, measuring 190 meters and with 39 floors, is the tallest skyscraper in Baku. But the highlight is even for its flaming-like shape, and its facade converted into giant display screens with the use of over 10,000 high-power LED luminaires. It consists of three buildings divided into apartments, offices, and a hotel.
These buildings are the best example of Azerbaijani modern architecture and are the ideal setting for a night photo shoot. The easiest way to get there is through the funicular, which reaches 100 meters from the towers.
Built in the 1990s, it is a re-creation of the mosque with the same name, dated to the 13th century, by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad II Ibn Ahsitan II, which was completely destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1936. Locally it is known as “Fatima Mosque”, thanks to the description of Alexandre Dumas during his visit in 1840. In it is the tomb of Ukeyma Khanum – a descendant of the prophet Muhammad – and today is the spiritual center of the Muslims of the region and one of the main monuments of Islamic architecture in the country. It is also a great scenery for playing with composition and using the building’s symmetrical shapes to create interesting architectural photographs.
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