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Please enjoy our first topic in section Travel to Azerbaijan – Maiden Tower
After Easter weather in Baku usually gets warmer, the habitants start going out more to enjoy warm sunny days and forget about cold Baku winds for next six months. One of such nice weekend mornings I went to the Old City to visit the Maiden Tower where I was not for a while and was eager to see the changes after its recent restoration. After a short walk from home to the downtown, I approached the fortress wall to enter the Old City through the forged gates. While strolling down the paved streets towards the Maiden Tower I was enjoying the view of the old building warming up under warm rays of sun, the trees getting greener, cafes and shops waiting for visitors and comfortable, peaceful atmosphere of the Old City guarded by the ancient fortress wall.
The Maiden Tower is the tallest object in the Old city it is 28 meters high on its northern side and 31 meters on the southern side; the walls are 5 meters thick. The building is cylindrical in form with a buttress that is approximately the same height.*
I got my ticket, climbed the metal stairs to enter the tower’s ground floor where bright sunny light and warmth disappeared to surrender to the cool air. The steel spiral staircase in the middle of the round room took me to the first level; from here all eight stone floors were connected by a narrow staircase in south-eastern section of the wall.
There are two vertical shafts within the tower wall. One is a stone-cased water well opening onto the third floor. The second narrow shaft, running down from the top floor through the while tower, includes ceramic pipes slotted into each other; their purpose is still unclear.*
Scientists and researchers have long been unable to reach common ground concerning the Maiden Tower’s purpose and history of construction, which remain mysterious. Its location at the center of Baku bay, its height, the thickness of its walls, the protected entrance area and several other factors lead us to assume that the tower was built for defensive purposes in the 12th century. However, given that the tower’s structural composition and the building techniques employed are similar to those of fortifications constructed on the lands of Azerbaijan in the 5th -6th centuries; there are grounds for believing that the tower dates from that period.*
Those who doubt this hypothesis stress that the Maiden Tower lacks certain characteristics of defensive building. Thus, before the 1960s restoration there were no floors within the tower. The space below the top platform was empty. That space, as well as the positioning of the windows and the structure as a whole, indicates that it was a religious building, important for rituals and ceremonies. Research pursued in this direction points to the tower being built in the 8th century BC by local tribes that worshiped fire and the sun.*
A bird’s-eye view of the tower recalls the shape of a “buta”, a symbol of fire, light and sin which has been in wide use in Azerbaijan since ancient times. Further, the placement and layout of the upper four windows allows sun rays to penetrate directly into the tower on December 22, the winter equinox. Some theories propose that on that day, the shortest day of the year, the augurs held rituals at that tower to restore the sun’s power and renew its cycle.*
Since the Maiden Tower enables observation of the annual movement around the sun and certain important celestial bodies, there is a group of scientists that adheres to the hypothesis that the monument was used as an observatory. Another theory has it that the original structure, which has not survived to the present, or has been subjected to fundamental change, may have been built in the 4th-3rd millennia BC.*
There was a feeling of antiquity inside of the tower, it was in stonework of walls, in pits trampled down in stone stairs during centuries, and it was in the air. As I climbed the stairs thousands images of people who were in this tower and left their traces were sweeping in my head. Each floor of the tower was equipped with informative exhibits but I could not spend much time with them now as I wanted to reach the top floor’s observation platform to breathe some fresh air and to get sunlight.
On the last floor, just before the exit to the observation platform I noticed two policemen sitting on the coach, which reminded me that the top of the tower had been also a suicide site before the police post was established here.
I walked out to the observation platform where the wind was stronger and yes, here I got everything I wanted last twenty minutes- the fresh air, the sunlight, the Caspian which I can never get enough of, and a view of the Old city from thirty meters height. While standing on the top of the tower I thought about the mystery around purpose of this tower and other ancient monuments around the world which cannot be solved by modern people leaving us with guesses and admiration of their architecture.
I took the stairs to go back inside of the tower. Again, the bright light rapidly disappeared and I was temporarily in darkness, I ducked down as the ceiling was very low and held the handrails, the stairs were more uncomfortable now so the sport shoes here were must.
As soon as I stepped on the floor I got a surprising question from the policeman on the couch: “Bro, got a cigarette?” The question cleared my mind; I replied that I do not smoke and hurried to the downstairs.
The outside was nice and sunny, the square was already filled with tourists, and somehow I felt the smell of freshly baked bread. I headed to the nearest café, ordered tea with lemon, cherry jam and freshly baked gogal.
* the text is taken from The Maiden Tower exhibits.
Photos and Article by Ismail M. (Baku Office)