Baku, capital of the Azerbaijan Republic, is a large industrial, scientific, and cultural centre. Today the boundaries of Baku encompass a considerable part of the Apsheron (Absharan) peninsula. The territory of Baku is about 2,200 km2, it's population is about 2.5 million people. Historians give different explanations to the origin of the name Baku. Some suggest that the word comes from the Persian bad kooh (wind mountain) or badkube (wind-beaten). There also exists an idea that Baku received its name from the name of tribe Bakan, or Bagi which lived on the Apsheron peninsula between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries BC.
Baku was indicated as an important centre on the map of Ptolemei in the second century AD. There are unique archaeological treasures around the city, dating back approximately twelve thousand years. During excavations, a cultural layer dating back to the middle of the first millennium BC was found on the territory of Baku. The town was built up intensively under the Sasanids. But the Caspian Sea changed its level every 700 years, and the coastal part of the town was flooded many times. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Baku became a commercial centre of the Shirvan Shah's State. At that time, the City Walls, the Mohammed's Mosque (1079) and some other monuments were built.
In the twelfth to fifteenth centuries, with the development of Sufism, and especially, Hurufism, Baku became the cultural capital of the country. After an earthquake the capital of Shirvan Shahs was moved from Shemakha to Baku. It was then that the Shirvan Shahs Palace, the masterpiece of Azerbaijan architecture, numerous mosques, madrasas, caravanserais, hammams and many other monuments were built.
In the second half of the nineteenth century when Baku began capitalist development, the territory of Icheri Sheher became a place of intensive construction of apartment houses. Ancient buildings were destroyed and new houses with all modern utilities were built.
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The Shirvan Shah Complex is located on a rocky hill in the western part of the walled city of Baku known as Icheri-Sheher. It was built by the Shirvan Shah Dynasty, who moved their capital from Shamakha in northern Azerbaijan to Baku in the twelfth century following an earthquake. Although it was founded in the thirteenth century, many structures in the palace were built in the fifteenth century. The palace was originally integrated into the urban fabric and was later enclosed with a peripheral wall.
The Shirvan Shah Complex is divided into five courtyards at three different levels. The highest level contains the Divankhana within its own enclosure, the main palace residence with its walled courtyard and the mausoleum of the court astronomer Seyyid Yahya Bakuvi, adjoined by a small mosque now in ruins. The Old Mosque and the Royal Tomb (turba) occupy the intermediary level, while the lowest contains the ruins of the royal bathhouse (hammam) and a water reservoir. The palace has five gates; one adjoining the Divankhana leading into the residence and a second across the mausoleum at the top level, two along the northern wall of the mid-level courtyard and a fifth along its southern wall next to the Old Mosque. Each courtyard is also connected to the adjoining courtyards with gates and passageways.
It is generally accepted that the divankhana was built in the fifteenth century, during the reign of Shirvan Shah Farruh-Yessar. Enclosed within an arcaded courtyard to the north of the main palace residence, it could be accessed equally from the urban alley to its west, and from a royal gate along its southern courtyard wall. The dome octagonal divankhana is wrapped on five sides by a raised portico and is entered primarily from the tall pishtaq of the rectangular gallery adjoining its southern wall. While many scholars, suggest that this pavilion sewed as the royal court, others have claimed that the existence of a crypt that it was built as a tomb. The Quranic inscriptions above the portal appear to support the latter claim.
The Shirvan Shahs' Residence
A gate at the southwest corner of the divankhana courtyard leads to the courtyard of the main palatial residence, which has an octagonal fountain at its center. The construction of the royal residence was ordered in 1411 by Shirvan Shah Shaykh Ibrahim I. It is a two-storied building with a monumental pishtaq on its western elevation. It leads into a round entry hall that connects, via a narrow passageway, to an octagonal hall to its northeast, from where corridors lead to the palace rooms. Both floors contain twenty-five rooms of various size and shape, of identical yet irregular organization. Apart from the entry hall, which was originally domed, the rest of the palace is covered by a contemporary flat ceiling of iron girders and concrete.
The Mausoleum of Seyyid Yahya Bakuvi (Dervish Mausoleum) and Keykubad Mosque
At the southeast corner of the palatial complex, enclosed within an irregularly shaped courtyard slightly lower than the adjoining courtyard of the main palace residence, stands the Mausoleum of Seyyid Yahya Bakuvi, also known as Dervish Mausoleum. It consists of an octagonal chamber covered with a pyramidal roof and is quite similar to Anatolian Seljuk tombs of the thirteenth century. It is attached to the wall of the oldest structure of the complex, the Old Mosque, originally named Keykubad Mosque. Now in ruins, the mosque had a square plan with four piers supporting a central dome.
The Palace Mosque and the Royal Tomb
The mid-level courtyard contains the Palace Mosque and the Royal Tomb of the Shirvan Shahs. Oriented north-south, the mosque consists of a square domed prayer hall, a smaller domed praying hall for women next to the portal to the northwest, and a single minaret at the northeastern corner. The round minaret has a restored muqarnas balcony with an iron balustrade and rises to about twenty meters above ground. Its date of construction, 1441, is given in an inscriptive band under the balcony. The mosque has three entrances; a central portal at the northern façade and two side portals facing east and west.
The royal tomb of the Shirvan Shahs resembles the Palace Mosque in size and form, however, it is oriented east-west, facing the portal connecting it to the upper level. It is entered through a pishtaq with a muqarnas semi-dome. Inside, four square burial vaults are placed at the corners of a square central hall flanked by four iwans. The central hall is crowned by a hexahedral vault, which is decorated with stars on the exterior. An inscriptive plaque above the entrance names the patron Shah Khalil Ullah I and gives the date of construction 1435-1436.
The Royal Bathhouse
The bathhouse (hammam) is situated on the lowest courtyard terrace. Its walls were unearthed along with a cistern in archeological digs 1939. The bathhouse consists of two (men's and women's) sections with small square rooms organized around octagonal halls. The halls were probably covered with domes. Scholars mention that the cistern was perhaps one of the largest in Baku. The Royal Bathhouse was burrowed into the ground to preserve the heat.
The Palace of the Shirvan Shahs is built from large, grey stone blocks decorated with insets of carved stone. A restoration project in 1920 demolished from later additions to the original fifteenth century palace. Today, it is characterized as a public monument and contains a museum with exhibitions on the historical architecture of Baku. The stone inscriptions from the thirteenth century Bayil (Baylov) Castle, which now lies in the Baku Bay, are displayed around the Mausoleum of Bakuvi.
The Shirvan Shahs Palace was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2000 along with the Walled City of Baku and the Maiden's Tower, and amended to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003.
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