Administration of State Historical-Architectural Reserve Icherisheher under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan
About Icheri Sheher
Understanding the development of medieval Icherisheher and urban life in Baku is key to understanding the current economic, material and moral culture of present day Azerbaijan.
Historical and archeological materials show that Baku, like many other Azerbaijani cities, emerged as a result of the growth of an economically advanced and densely populated ancient settlement. Resources such as oil and salt were a key factor for the growth of Baku from a small settlement into a thriving city.
In ancient times, Baku was one of the most densely populated cities not only in the Southern Caucasus but also in the Middle East. The favorable climate, natural and geographical conditions, abundance of natural resources, and its location along world trade routes facilitated the economic development of Baku. The mild climate, fertile soil, and rich water resources were basic factors for the economic development that started from the beginning of the century. In the beginning of the Greco-Roman era, geographer Claudius Ptolemy (70-147AD) mentioned Baku as Baruka or Gaytara among 28 towns in the territory of Albania in his work “Geography.”
The recognition of Baku as a “sacred” land of fire has played a significant role in its history. Christianity, idolatry and fire worship spread here before the Arabian conquest and their shrines existed in various parts of Azerbaijan. Ancient Baku was also one of the main holy places of fire-worship. Sources also contain information that Baku was invaded in 624 AD by Byzantine Emperor Iracly (610- 641 AD) and that many sacred monuments were destroyed during the invasion.
Icherisheher is an entity with its own fate. Some cities have fallen outside of the reach of military and political events while others have been engulfed in the thick of historical events. Some cities have not been able to endure plundering, feudal conflicts and natural catastrophes. As for Baku, the favorable climatic conditions, strong economy, trade and handicrafts have allowed it to prosper throughout time.
The diverse architecture of Icherisheher demonstrates the workmanship of skilled architects and craftsmen and takes us back in time to the past.
When we see the narrow, crooked streets and squares of Icherisheher which still exist today, we can trace the gradual changes that occurred in the city over the centuries. Within its walls, we can imagine that we are traveling back in time to the past. Tracing urban planning traditions in “cultural layers,” we can almost see and hear the people who lived and worked here and their devotion to their crafts and livelihoods.
Crowded market squares, bustling streets and large districts emerged in Icherishher. There were internal community (mahalla) structures which had been developed primarily as an economic centre. Specifically, local government played a key role in the household and economic activities of its residents and neighboring settlements, maintaining close economic and cultural ties with areas near and remote. One of the key factors in Baku’s rise to an advanced city was its transformation into one of the handicraft centers of the country. Various handicraft sectors were developed here including the production of goods such as pottery, metal and glass wares which provided local people with a variety of necessary goods. One of the significant factors of the city economy was the production of valuable goods. Building and maintaining a water supply, sanitary and sewage systems, and planting works all played an important role in the development of the city. Many of these public works projects were achieved during Baku’s medieval period.
The city, built on a high hill in the form of an amphitheatre, is exposed to the sea in the lower part, and is surrounded by the Caucasus mountains in the upper part. With its triple row of fortress walls, the Maiden Tower and other fortification facilities, Icherisheher appeared to be an impressive stronghold.
Like other medieval towns, all the buildings within the fortress walls of Icherisheher (the Walled City - Shehristan) were of a defensive nature in terms of their tactical and strategic functions. The urban pattern of the city suggested a real labyrinth. Large squares and wide streets gradually narrowed and shrank into a geometric design that allowed the full involvement of residents in defensive activities.
When the city walls or the warriors could not withstand the enemy, the citizens would join in the defensive actions. First, the cavalry could not enter the narrow streets and blind alleys because it was impossible to turn back or to drive the horses into such narrow alleys. The enemy troops who entered Icherisheher became lost in these alleys as if falling into a trap. Then residents, adults and children alike, would pour tar or boiling water onto the enemies or throw stones at them. In this way, citizens were able to stand up together against the enemy, displaying the courage to defend their country and city from hostile forces.
Even now, the national army and armed forces study the defensive skills of our ancestors. Icherisheher and its defensive fortresses are symbols of patriotism and a great source of national pride and dignity.