Azerbaijan, a country that only became an independent state a little over 20 years ago, is changing and modernizing incredibly fast. Now that the country has gained its political independence, it is striving for a cultural independence. The capital, Baku, is moving forward and changing itself and its architecture in ways to shed its Soviet past.
When I visited Baku about five years ago, it was pretty similar to the way it had been ten years ago when I lived there, aside from all the construction everywhere. When I visited last year, in 2012, the changes were astonishing. There were several new buildings, new parks, new attractions. It was all so incredible and modern, yet there was still a taste of the old and traditional Azerbaijan.
As mentioned, within the course of a few years, Azerbaijan has rapidly modernized itself. Take the housing, for example. I visited several new apartments when I visited the last time, and they were certainly nothing like the old apartments from the Soviet era. They were large and spacious, with high ceilings and big rooms. The people living in them added brand-new furniture, more contemporary than traditional. It was nothing like the house I’d lived in when living in Baku many years ago.
Another big alteration in Baku that I noticed was the parks, especially the Bulvar (Boulevard) and Targova (Fountain Square). The Bulvar still had a number of its old restaurants but also featured several new ones. Foreign trees and shrubs and flowers were planted everywhere. Small statues were also placed throughout the park, and there were lots of new carousels and rides in the small amusement park.
Fountain Square had new, modern fountains built in the place of many of the old fountains. The very long, old fountain that had been in the middle of the square was replaced with a walkway, and around it were a couple of fountains, such as one consisting of large metal balls and a pyramid fountain. The biggest fountain was renovated and surrounded by arches and columns and long white stairs.
I also saw in Baku incredible new buildings such as the Flame Towers, the Park Bulvar mall, and the Heydar Aliyev cultural center. I had noticed the construction of the Flame
Towers a few years ago, but I never could’ve imagined that the product would be as beautiful as it is today. The Flame Towers are three towers in the shape of flames, representing the naturally occurring fires of Azerbaijan. The Towers are a housing residence and are the highest buildings in the city. At night, the Flame Towers light up in beautiful colors. Sometimes, they’ll light up with moving pictures of fire, and sometimes with the colors of the flag—blue, red, and green.
Another new structure in Baku, the Park Bulvar mall, is a large shopping mall that includes a movie theater, very nice restaurants, and a bowling alley. The front of the building is shaped like a large egg, made out of glass. The rest of it is a contemporary structure with a curvy top.
A third building that is amazingly built is the Heydar Aliyev cultural center. It is a single building containing a library, a museum, and a performance hall. The large building is extraordinarily shaped, having several slopes and curves along the surface. It is enormous, and I can only imagine how difficult it was to build such a place. It truly is a unique building in a unique city.
Despite the fact that Azerbaijan, especially Baku, is modernizing faster than the blink of an eye, it still has several spots and monuments that represent its history and past. Even though there are many new housing residences that are different and new, many people still live in their old apartments that contain their family’s past, history, and memories. And although the parks such as the Bulvar and Fountain Square have changed, the Bulvar is still a place where you can go out for a walk, to enjoy yourself, to stare out into the sea, just as you could more than 100 years ago. And the Fountain Square is still the same square, with the same shops and cafes, just different fountains.
Though there may be several new buildings, there are many historical places in Baku to visit as well. Old City Baku, Gobustan, Maiden’s Tower, and Ateshgah are just a few of the many symbolic and historical sites in and around Baku.
So, as Baku does plan to add 30 new buildings a year for 15 years and is rapidly modernizing and becoming independent with its culture, its new character is perfectly balanced with its sense of a historic past.
Post written by Nazrin Garibova. Nazrin is an upcoming 10th grader at Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia, in the United States. She and her family lived in Azerbaijan until she was four-and-a-half years old.