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Icherisheher State Historical-Architectural Reserve

Icherisheher (Walled City of Baku), the pearl at the heart of Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage, has a history of thousands of years and is located in the historic centre of ancient Baku, the capital city of the ancient state of the Shirvanshahs and symbol of the Azerbaijani statehood. This unique historic ensemble has been called the Acropolis of Baku, Old City or Icherisheher. It was the famous Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl who noted that Baku and its surrounding areas may have been one of the first centres of human civilization.    

Icherisheher got its name following the economic development of the 19th century. As the oil industry developed in Baku, the city expanded beyond the fortress walls, so there became an inner and an outer city. The inner city is still a living organism with an infrastructure and is home to 1300 families. The unique historic monuments and wide range of tourism options make Icherisheher one of the most popular tourist attractions in Azerbaijan.

It is axiomatic in the study of world history that Baku and the Absheron Peninsula as a whole were one of the first sites of the establishment and development of ancient culture. Among the cultural artefacts discovered here, the numismatic materials, key to archaeology over the last 200 hundred years, are of special value. Thus, among the findings recovered from excavations in various parts of Absheron are obsidian and cowrie cockleshells, which were widely used in barter before money. They are evidence that there was barter across the Southern Caucasus from the Bronze Age (4th millennium BC – 2nd/1st millennium BC), including in Icherisheher, the primary dwelling place in what is now Baku. To be more precise, the oldest coin found in Icherisheher is a copper coin made during the reign of Khashayar (Xerxes), son of Darius I and ruler of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire (485-465 BCE). The coin has the king’s portrait and the image of a ship and was discovered in 1994, near the Mohammed Mosque. These findings give reason to believe that the Baku fortress was a city of antiquity. The discovery of coins from the Achaemenid period indicates that this territory was recognized by ancient cultures and participated in certain trading relations.

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 Icherisheher. 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 neighbouring 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 centres 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 Icherisheher complex of historical-architectural monuments is the greatest cultural inheritance of the Azerbaijani people and is a source of much interest for guests of Baku and tourists. 

Icherisheher (“Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower”) was inscribed on the World Heritage List at the World Heritage Committee’s 24th session held in Cairns, Australia on 27 November - 2 December 2000. These monuments damaged by an earthquake were later inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger at the 27th session of the World Heritage Committee held on 4 July, 2003. Following relevant orders and decrees of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Ilham Aliyev, efforts to protect and preserve the Walled City and the surrounding historical and architectural monuments were intensified. A long-term strategy on architecture and historic preservation was adopted. Immediate and successful measures taken to protect and preserve the Walled City of Baku and the surrounding monuments made it possible to remove the Walled City of Baku and the surrounding monuments from the List of World Heritage in Danger and restore previous status of those historical monuments at the World Heritage Committee’s 33rd session held in Seville, Spain, on 22-30 July, 2009.