The Palace Building
The Shirvanshahs’ palace ensemble was not built on the basis of a single architectural project. However, taking into consideration the purpose of each building its builders contributed to the formation of an architectural landscape with their location.
The palace, the main building of the Ensemble which is the earliest of all the palace constructions was built almost within ten years according to the historians – architects. This is the biggest building of the complex both for its dimensions and for the area it occupies. Its construction was started in 1411 by Shirvanshah Sheykh Ibrahim I, Tamerlane’s ally. But after his death his son Shirvanshah Khalilullah I who was said to be married to Khanika, Tamerlane’s great-granddaughter continued his work.
The two-storey building of the palace numbers about 50 different dimensions and outlines of the constructions connected with 3 narrow winding staircases. The big lancet portal directly leads from the courtyard to the second floor, into a high octahedral lodging covered with a cupola. A small, also an octagonal vestibule, located behind it, connects it with the rest of the lodgings in the palace. A crack-like inlets in the bays of the octahedral lodging served as a means of communication with the lower floor. Only 16 out of 25 rooms on the second floor have survived. The lower floor of the building with 27 rooms served to house the servants and to store the household reserves. It has remained as well as it was built in the XV century. The austerity of the front courtyard of the main façade differs from a richer treatment of the buildings of the other courtyards. The laconic forms, the sunny tones of the smooth surfaces of the walls, the patterned network of the upper windows and window-inlets of the lower floor give a unique expressiveness to the image of the building. The excavations of the rooms on the first floor showed that the palace stands on the rock and below it in the antiquity before the construction of the palace there was a large construction with the foundation of its walls wedging in the foundation of the palace.
Before the Shirvanshahs’ Palace became a museum-reserve it had had to witness in its time a lot of good and sad events. Thus during the Safavis’ occupation of Baku in 1501 the palace became subject to devastation. The entire treasure of the Shirvanshahs - weapons, armour, jewellery, carpets, expensive clothing materials, rare books from the palace library, gold and silverware - was taken away to Tabriz by the Safavis. But after the Chaldiran battle in 1514 between the Turkish armies under the command of Salim I (the son of the conqueror of Constantinople Mahammad II) and the Safavis which ended in the latter’s defeat, the Turks got the treasure of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace as a trophy. Today a part of it decorates the museum collections of Turkey, Iran, England, France, Russia and Hungary. Thus the Istanbul museum keeps Khalilullah I’s chain armour made in 1424 and two helmets belonging to Farrukh Yasar - his son who was his heir among his five surviving sons. Several carpets of the palace were found in the Museum of Albert and Victoria in London, and the ancient volumes of the royal library are in the book depositories of Tehran, Vatican and Petersburg.
In his book “Travel Notes” the Turkish traveller Evliya Chalabi writes that the Turkish commander Mustafa Lala Pasha “brought back the roof, the cupola and the window frames with the glasses of a beautiful building with him” on leaving Baku occupied by him in 1585, “and presented them as a gift to Sultan who erected out of them in the garden “Sultaniye Gasri Humayun” a royal castle rousing amazement for its beautiful view.” The above-mentioned cupola with the tile cover was possibly from the roof of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace.
The Shirvanshahs’ Palace suffered during the bombardment by the Russian squadron from the sea in 1723, during the liberation of the city by the Persian troops and during the seizure of Baku by the Russian army in 1806. After Baku’s annexation to the Russian Empire the palace was transferred to the tsarist military department which bossed here almost for a century. The Shah’s chambers on the second floor were turned into soldiers barracks and the lodgings below them into a stable, arsenals; somebody has painted over the stone paintings in the portal of the burial-vault in green and the shah’s mosque was almost turned into a garrison church at the desire of the Russian military authorities. The military personnel repaired the palace partially and at the same time they adjusted the palace buildings to the arsenals. During the reconstruction the cupolas were destroyed and part of the walls dividing the rooms on the first and second floors was pulled down. The remnants of the cupola, lancet and cruciform ceilings were destroyed and replaced by flat girder ceilings. Some window openings were installed, but the window frames cut in the stone were destroyed. An entry was constructed to the second floor of the north façade of the palace, and a big aperture was made in the wall so that the two-wheeled carts with harnessed horses could drive up straight onto the second floor of the palace from the street. The blue glazed mosaic plasterer of the vaults and cupolas was destroyed. The slots of the bullets are still preserved on the walls, which is the result of the soldiers shooting training.
At the end of the XIX century the military commissariat played a role of a saviour of the entire ensemble willy-nilly. While selecting a site for the construction of Alexandre Nevski’s cathedral the choice fell on the territory occupied by the complex of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace. It was only due to the circumstances that the military had nowhere to go that saved the architectural monument from a complete destruction. In 1920 again the stables, the arsenals, the soldiers’ barracks of the “glorious” XI Red Army of workers and peasants including an infirmary were placed in the palace.
All around was in a miserable desolation, therefore a large group of eminent Azerbaijani historians and archaeologists had to appeal to the leadership of the Azerbaijani Revolutionary Committee with a special letter in the name of the rescue of this unique Medieval archaeological monument. Only following all this, cleaning and restoration work started in the complex. At the very end of the 20s the Museum of Azerbaijani History was registered in the cold, wet lodgings with worn out roofings in the palace which housed it in 1920s-1930s.
The palace is in need of a serious restoration. The restorations of the palace complex in 1920s, 1930s or 1950s were carried out at random, unprofessionally and unsystematically. Since 1992 a new restoration work has started in the building of the palace.