Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower
The Walled City of Baku, also known as Icherisheher, or Old City, is a remarkably well-preserved medieval city. Having been built on a site inhabited since the Paleolithic era, it contains traces of heritage from ancient times. Defensive walls dating from the twelfth century give the site its title. The Walled City showcases many unique architectural features across its twenty-two hectares. One particularly striking element is the Maiden Tower (Giz Galasy), which dates from between the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. The Shirvanshahs’ Palace, built between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, features a residential building (Divankhane), the Shirvanshahs’ tomb, a palace mosque with a minaret, and a bathhouse.
A later addition is the mausoleum of court scientist Seyid Yahya Bakuvi. The Walled City is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting Azerbaijan.
The site was placed on the World Heritage List in 2000 and on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003 due to significant damages sustained during the earthquake of November 2000 and pressures from encroaching urban development and a lack of conservation policies and capacity. However, in recent years, Azerbaijani authorities have redoubled their efforts to preserve this important site. In 2009, the property was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Some sixty kilometres south of Baku lies Gobustan, “the land of the dry riverbed” which boasts the best concentration of rock art and archaeological traces in the region. This unique landscape, situated between the Caspian Sea and the south-eastern outcrops of the Greater Caucasus, is notable for its three flat-topped hills (Boyukdash, Kichikdash and Jinghirdagh) covered by large calcareous blocks of Absheron limestone. Mud volcanoes, known as ‘Pil-pile among the local population, also dot the landscape; these volcanoes erupted sporadically in ancient times and resulted in the emission of millions of tonnes of earth and billions of cubic metres of combustible gases. Over the course of the succeeding centuries, natural forces caused the beds of limestone to split into fragments.
Tens of thousands of years ago, humans began to inhabit the region, finding natural shelters in the caves and canopies formed by the fallen limestone. These labyrinthine mountain-top landscapes also proved useful as natural traps when hunting. Most remarkably, Gobustan is home to thousands of prehistoric rock engravings. These traces attest to the world’s longest continuous tradition of rock art, from the end of the Upper Paleolithic Era through the Middle Ages. Other archaeological vestiges of Gobustan’s early residents also remain intact, including inhabited caves, settlements and burials.
Today, Gobustan is home to more than 60,000 exhibits, all registered and housed in the newly-built and equipped museum building. In recent years, the Azerbaijani authorities have implemented sweeping changes, including legal and administrative measures, for the protection and preservation systems affecting the entire landscape. The Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape was placed on the World Heritage List in 2007.