Baku is the capital, the largest city, and the largest port of Azerbaijan. Located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, the city consists of two principal parts: the downtown and the old Inner City. Baku is a member of Organization of World Heritage Cities and Sister Cities International. The city was also bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but was eliminated on 4 June 2008. In 2007 Culture Ministers of the member-states of the Organization of Islamic Conference declared Baku to be the capital of Islamic Culture in 2009.
Baku is divided into eleven administrative districts, or raions (Azizbayov, Binagadi, Garadagh, Narimanov, Nasimi, Nizami, Sabail, Sabunchu, Khatai, Surakhany and Yasamal) and 48 townships. Among these are the townships on islands in the Baku Bay and the town of Oil Rocks built on stilts in the Caspian Sea, 60 km (37 mi) away from Baku.
The city became important after an earthquake destroyed Shamakhy and in the 12th century, ruling Shirvanshah Ahsitan I made Baku the new capital. In 1501, Safavid Shah Ismail I laid a siege on Baku. At this time the city was however enclosed with the lines of strong walls, which were washed by sea on one side and protected by a wide trench on land. In 1540 Baku was again captured by the Safavid troops. In 1604 the Baku fortress was destroyed by Iranian shah Abbas I.
On 26 June 1723, after a lasting siege using cannons, Baku surrendered to the Russians. According to Peter the Great's decree the soldiers of two regiments (2,382 people) were left in the Baku garrison under the command of Prince Baryatyanski, the commandant of the city. In 1795, Baku was invaded by Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar to defend against the tsarist Russia beginning a policy of subduing the South Caucasus to itself. In the spring of 1796 by Catherine II's order General Zubov's troops started a large campaign in Transcaucasia. Baku surrendered after the first demand of Zubov who had sent 6,000 militants to capture the city. On 13 June 1796 the Russian flotilla entered the Baku bay and a garrison of the Russian troops was placed in the city. General Pavel Tsitsianov was appointed the Baku's commandant. Later, however, Czar Paul I ordered him to cease the campaign and withdraw the Russian forces. In March 1797 the tsarist troops left Baku but a new tsar, Alexander I began to show a special interest in capturing Baku. In 1803, Tsitsianov reached an agreement with the Baku khan to compromise, but the agreement was soon annulled. On 8 February 1806, upon the surrendering of Baku, Huseyngulu khan of Baku stabbed and killed Tsitsianov at the gates of the city. In 1813, Russia signed the Treaty of Gulistan with Persia, which provided for the cession of Baku and most of the Caucasus from Iran and their annexation by Russia.
The first oil well was drilled in Bibi-Heybat suburb of Baku in 1846. But the large-scale oil development started in 1872, when the Russian imperial authorities auctioned the parcels of oil-rich land around Baku to private investors. Within a short period of time Swiss, British, French, Belgian, German, Swedish and American investors appeared in Baku, among them were the firms of the Nobel brothers together with the family von Börtzell-Szuch (Carl Knut Börtzell) (Sweden/Finland/Poland/Hungary, who also owned the Livadia Palace) and Rothschilds, and industrial oil belt, better known as Black City, was established near Baku. By the beginning of the 20th century almost half of the oil reserves in the world had been extracted in Baku.
In 1917, after the October revolution, in the turmoil of the ongoing World War I and breakup of Russian Empire, Baku came under the control of Baku Commune led by a veteran Bolshevik, Stepan Shaumyan. Seeking to capitalize on the existing inter-ethnic conflicts, by spring 1918, Bolsheviks inspired and condoned a civil warfare in and around Baku. During the infamous March Days, using the support of the Dashnak Armenian militia in the city, and under the pretext of suppressing Musavat party, Bolsheviks attacked and massacred thousands of Azeris and other Muslims in Baku.
On 28 May 1918 the Azerbaijani fraction of the Transcaucasian Sejm proclaimed the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in Ganja. Shortly after, Azerbaijani forces, with support of the Ottoman Army of Islam led by Nuru Pasha, started their advance onto Baku, eventually capturing the city from the loose coalition of Bolsheviks, Esers, Dashnaks, Mensheviks and the British forces under the command of General Lionel Dunsterville on 15 September 1918. Baku became the capital of the ADR, and two years later - when on 28 April 1920, the 11th Red Army invaded Baku and reinstalled the Bolshevik power - the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
Historical city core
Icheri Sheher - an old inner city of Baku.
The centre of Baku is the old town, which is also a fortress. In December 2000, the Inner City of Baku with the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower became the first location in Azerbaijan classified as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
Most of the walls and towers, strengthened after the Russian conquest in 1806, survived. This section is picturesque, with its maze of narrow alleys and ancient buildings: the cobbled streets past the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, two caravansaries (ancient inns), the Maiden Tower (nice view of the harbor), the baths and the Juma Mosque (it used to house the Carpet and Applied Arts Museum, but now is a mosque again; the carpets got moved to the former Lenin museum). The old town also has dozens of small mosques, often without any particular sign to distinguish them from the next building.
In 2003, UNESCO placed the Inner City on the List of World Heritage in Danger, citing damage from a November 2000 earthquake, poor conservation as well as "dubious" restoration efforts. The Martyrs' Lane, formerly the Kirov Park, is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and also to the 137 people who were killed on Black January, 1990.
During Soviet times, Baku was a vacation destination where citizens could enjoy beaches or relax in now-dilapidated spa complexes overlooking the Caspian Sea. The climate is hot and humid in the summer, and cool and wet in the winter. During the winter gale-force winds sweep through on occasion, driven by masses of polar air (strong northern winds Khazri and southern Gilavar are typical here); however, snow is rare at 28 m below sea level, and temperatures on the coast rarely drop to freezing. The average annual temperature of Baku and that of the Earth differ by less than 0.1 °C (32.2 °F): it is 14.2 °C (57.6 °F). The southwestern part of Great Baku is a more arid part of Azerbaijan (precipitation here is less than 150 mm (6 in) a year). In the vicinities of the city there are a number of mud volcanoes (Keyraki, Bogkh-bogkha, Lokbatan and others) and salt lakes (Boyukshor, Khodasan etc.).
Until 1988 Baku had very large Armenian, Russian, and Jewish population that contributed to cultural diversity and added in various ways (music, literature, architecture) to Baku's history treasure chest. Under Communism, the Soviets took over the majority of Jewish property in Baku and Kuba. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev has returned several synagogues and a Jewish college nationalized by the Soviets, to the Jewish community. He has encouraged the restoration of these buildings and is well-liked by the Jews of Azerbaijan. Renovation has begun on seven of the original eleven synagogues, including the Gilah synagogue, built in 1896, and the large Kruei Synagogue. The new Azerbaijan constitution grants religious freedom and asserts that there is no state religion.
Currently vast majority of the population of Baku are ethnic Azerbaijanis (more than 90%). The intensive growth of the population started in the middle of the 19th century when Baku was a small town with the population of about 7 thousand people all in all. The population increased again from about 13,000 in the 1860s to 112,000 in 1897 and 215,000 in 1913, making Baku the largest city in the Caucasus region.
Baku has been a cosmopolitan city at all times during its history.
More than 94% of the residents of Baku practice various forms of Islam. A small minority of the population (about 4%) are Christians (majority Russian Orthodox Church, Georgian Orthodox Church and Molokans). Baku also has three Jewish communities, namely the Ashkenazim Jews, the Mountain Jews, and the Georgian Jews.
The basis of Baku's economy is petroleum. The existence of petroleum has been known since the 8th century. In the 10th century, the Arabian traveler, Marudee, reported that both white and black oil were being extracted naturally from Baku. By the 15th century oil for lamps was obtained from hand dug surface wells. Commercial exploitation began in 1872, and by the beginning of the 20th century the Baku oil fields were the largest in the world. Towards the end of the 20th century much of the onshore petroleum had been exhausted, and drilling had extended into the sea offshore. By the end of the 19th century skilled workers and specialists flocked to Baku. By 1900 the city had more than 3,000 oil wells of which 2,000 of them were producing oil at industrial levels. Baku ranked as one of the largest centres for the production of oil industry equipment before World War II. The World War II Battle of Stalingrad was fought to determine who would have control of the Baku oil fields. Fifty years before the battle, Baku produced half of the world's oil supply: Azerbaijan and the United States are the only two countries ever to have been the world's majority oil producer. Currently the oil economy of Baku is undergoing a resurgence, with the development of the massive Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli field (Shallow water Gunashli by SOCAR, deeper areas by a consortium lead by BP), development of the Shah Deniz gas field, the expansion of the Sangachal Terminal and the construction of the BTC Pipeline. The old Inturist Hotel was one of Baku's largest, now being renovated, but overshadowed by the newer Hyatt Park, Hyatt Regency, Park Inn and Excelsior.
Baku Stock Exchange has been operating since February 2001.
Bulk power supply of Baku is provided by five 110 kV lines. As of 8 February 2008 three of them (total length 23.6 km/15 mi) have been completely refitted and modernized with their carrying capacity being doubled. Three 110 kV and twelve 35 kV substations were commissioned recently. Water supply is secured by several lines, the purest water comes from Khachmaz and Shollar lines.
As Azerbaijan's centre of education, Baku boasts many universities and vocational schools. After Azerbaijan gained independence, the fall of Communism led to development of a number of private institutions. Baku also houses the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan founded here in 1945 .
Baku has a vibrant life regarding theatre, opera and ballet, drawing both from the rich local dramatic portfolio and from the international repertoire. The main movie theatre is "Azerbaijan Cinema". The Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, designed by architect N. G. Bayev, is one of the most ornate music halls in the city. The State Philharmonic Hall with excellent acoustic conditions often holds performances outside, in a pleasant park. The Carpet and Applied Arts Museum exhibits the carpets from all periods, styles and from both Azerbaijan proper and the Azeri provinces in Iran. Baku also houses country's biggest art museum - Azerbaijan State Museum of Art, a depository of both domestic and foreign works of art, Western and Eastern, and the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijan Literature.
Heydar Aliyev Palace, one of the main venues featuring sizeable performances, has recently reopened after a major refurbishment. Some of the most popular discotheques and night clubs are opened till the early hours of the morning.
Most of the pubs and bars are located near Fountain Square and are usually open until the early hours of the morning. There are several British, Scottish and Irish style public houses. There is also a Jazz Club. The Baku International Jazz Festival is organized annually.