The Architectural Development of the City

Ancient Baku arose on the hill near the sea. Beginning from the XII century, in its entire perimeter, the city began to be enclosed with the fortress walls which also put to sea forming a convenient port. This territory of about 22 hectares, limited with the fortress walls is called at present Ichari Shahar, (literally “The Inner City”) and is situated in the centre of Modern Baku. “Ichari Shahar” is a unique monument of town-building art and was included in the UNESCO list of the protected monuments.

With its semi-desert views, strong winds and hot summer Apsheron pre-determined the peculiar character of building the old fortress. There are no gardens here; estates and courtyards are extremely few in number. Closely fitted to one another the carpet-like building has an extremely entangled net of streets, a great number of narrow side-streets and blind alleys. Berezin, the Russian researcher and traveler who visited Baku in the middle of the XIX century described the streets of the Baku fortress in the following way, “…they are so narrow and entangled that when I entered a street, I did not know whether I would be able to get out of it, though I had lived in Baku for a month.” This chaotic state of the building served both to defend the city from the enemy and to soften the blows of the piercing Baku winds. Curvilinear planning of the streets contributed to extinguishing the gusts of the icy Baku “north wind” in winter and created the cool in summer due to the shadows that fell from the walls of the houses surrounding the streets.

More ancient, “assimilated” part of the Baku fortress was its coastal part where the earliest monuments are preserved: the minaret of Mahammad Ibn Abu Bakr’s Mosque (“Sinig-gala”, in the year of 1078) and the tower called “Gyz Galasy” – “The Maiden Tower”. In the XV century on the top of the hill was built a unique monument of the Azerbaijani architecture – the complex of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace. In the XVII-XVIII centuries the trade highway of the city started to grow connecting “Shamakhy Gates” with the coastal part of the city, changing the direction at the Maiden Tower and led towards “the Salyansk Gates”. It also connected 2 markets: “Yukhari (the upper) bazaar with rows of stalls belonging to jewelers and big traders and Ashaghi (the lower) bazaar with groceries and small craftsmen’s workshops. The street known as Great Fortress at present was the centre of public life then and the liveliest place - along with the bazaars there were a number caravanserais, mosques, bath-houses on it. In addition, the street in essence was the main composition of the Medieval city, its main pivot, distinguished among others for its length and considerable width. The others - secondary streets, cutting through the quarters of the city in all directions were rather narrow.

Along with Ichari Shahar (“The Inner City”), a considerable part of the Baku citizens lived in the suburbs united under the single concept “Bayir Shahar”, that is “The Outside City” including a great number of small settlements. In connection with the change of the social-political system and the growth of the economic significance of Baku, beginning from the second half of the XIX century, these settlements are united into a single town-building organism – “vorstadt”.

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The transfer of the centre of the uyezd to Baku in 1859, as well as the rapidly growing oil industry conditioned an impetuous growth of the city, turning Baku at that time into one of the biggest cities of Russia within a short period. The city that went in the territory of 22 hectares all in all within the fortress walls back at the beginning of the XIX century begins to occupy more and more new free territories of the “vorstadt”. In the period from 1806 to 1881 the territory of the city grew to 1300 hectares. So impetuous was the population growth of the city, that it outran all the big cities of Europe and even New York for its rate of growth. The formation process of the city splashing out spontaneously beyond the territory of the historical nucleus began to take shape at the foot of its walls. At the beginning the first streets of the city with their contour followed practically the external contour of the fortress walls, as they were in immediate proximity to them.

At the same time the development of the first complex general plans of the city of Baku started; beginning from 1859 civil engineers and architects set to work on those plans. Gasymbay Hajibababayov’s work occupies a special place among them, according to his numerous projects there was done construction work in different parts of the city. His follower Gafar Ismailov built more than a hundred one- and two-storey dwelling houses, a great number of stalls, mosques, and bath-houses. One of the most interesting architects of the pre-Revolutionary Baku was Ziverbay Ahmadbayov who later became the first chief architect of the city in the Soviet period. At this time the architects who were invited to work, mainly the graduates of Petersburg Institute of Civil Engineers – I.Goslavski, I.Ploshko, E.Skibinski, K.Skurevich, I.Edel, A.Eykhler, N.Baev and others did work a lot and productively. The very first, more detailed, complete and professionally accomplished General plan of the city development of Baku was created in 1898 by a civil engineer N.Fon-der Nonne.

Part of the fabulous incomes obtained from the exploitation of the Baku oil fields was invested by the oil industrialists in the construction of mansions and improvement of the city. The architectural styles and methods used in the construction of the buildings were very diverse and partly depended not on the architects’ professionalism, but on the customer’s whim. Buildings in the styles of “neo-renaissance”, “neo-gothic”, “neo-baroque”, “classicism”, “Empire” and “modern” appeared in Baku. Buildings were constructed in the pseudo-oriental, the so-called “moresque” style, efforts were made to use the elements of the national architecture. Despite the variance of styles, the erected buildings at that period were united by the high quality of the construction work, the truly found dimensions of the buildings, the work on a white stone and by the splendid description of the details. The general character of the architectural methods and forms, the unity of the decorative material - warm-coloured fine-grained limestone - contributed to the formation of an individual artistic appearance of the city.

As a whole when dealing with the architecture of Baku in the period of capitalism one should point out the fact that within a relatively short historical period Baku experienced one of the rapid periods of its development. Owing to its architects’ and constructors’ efforts and talent, Baku obtains an original and unparalleled appearance winning well-deserved fame “Paris of the East”.

However, along with it, the development of the industry and the influx of the population into the city anyway deteriorated hard living conditions of the population. In particularly horrible conditions were the suburbs of the city, its industrial districts where the settlements of Baku oil workers were situated side by side with the industrial buildings and places of oil extraction. Describing the hard conditions of the Baku proletariat M.Gorkiy called them “a brilliantly made picture of the dark hell”. The situation was aggravated especially in the period of World War I and the civil war when the influx of the refugees into Baku increased, but the construction was almost completely ceased.

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After the establishment of the Soviet power in Azerbaijan one of the main tasks was the reconstruction of Baku and improvement of the living conditions of the Baku workers, above all those of the oil workers. For this purpose the best architects of the Soviet Russia were sent to Baku on a mission: Academician A.Shusev, professors L.Ilyin and A.Ivanitski, L.Rudnev, brothers A. and V.Vesnin.

In order to come out of the sharp living crisis a wide-range construction started. Living, administrative and public buildings, clubs and palaces of culture were constructed not only in the suburbs of Baku, but also in its historical centre, as well as in the immediate proximity to it. The vicinity of these buildings with the previous constructions of the past was utterly tactical and not imposing which once more proved the skill of their creators.

Since 1923 a wide programme of constructing workers’ settlements started its realisation. A mere enumeration of the settlements arisen in the oil industry districts of Baku gives the picture of the rate and volume of the construction. On May 1, 1923 the foundations of the workers’ first settlement named after Razin were laid for approximately 25 thousand inhabitants. In 1923-1925 a settlement was constructed in Binagady. In 1924-1926 there appeared small settlements named after Vorovski, Artyom, Novo-Ramamninski. From 1923 to 1929 workers’ settlements were constructed in the White City, Zabrat, Surakhany, Shubany and others. In 1930 Yeni-Surakhany settlement appeared and in 1932-1934 - the settlements of Bina, Lokbatan. The settlement named after Pyotr Montin connected the settlement in Keshla with a part of the city called Zavokzalni. Several types of one- and two-storey houses with an extremely simple and modest architecture of their facades were widely spread in the construction of the settlements. Side by side with the development of living-houses, public amenities: shops, clubs, palaces of culture, hospitals, etc. were also designed.

In the enormous construction of settlements of that period the building of the settlement named after Mammadyarov was distinguished (architects: A.Ivanitski, A.Samoylov). The north-western vicinity of the then Baku, lined with squalid shanties of the poor folk, became one of the most significant, impetuously constructed districts of the city. This was the first experience of a complex building of the entire living district. The district was divided into small-sized, but well-planned quarters. The innovations were special buildings for communal services equipped with laundries, shower rooms, sewing-shops, etc. The green plantations framed the streets of the district and filled a big part of the wide housing estates.

General tendencies are felt in the architectural appearance of the living and public houses built in those years. One of them is a decisive refusal from the entire past and the search of the new one. In those years widely spread was a tendency known as a constructivism, the motto of which was “economy, benefit, beauty”. The constructivism relied upon the laconism of forms, the use of enormous technical and aesthetic potentialities of ferro-concrete. The passion for the constructivism in Baku led to the formation of its local variety - “Baku constructivism”. The application potentialities of the ferro-concrete in mass construction were very limited – metal and concrete were materials in short supply then and therefore it was not ferro-concrete, but its imitation that was used in the construction. Almost all the buildings constructed in Baku in the period of constructivism at the end of the 20s and at the beginning of the 30s were built of the local stone “gyusha” with the subsequent plastering in the texture of the concrete.

Among the most characteristic public buildings of that period one should point out the complex of buildings of electric-railway, Palaces of Culture, Palace of Press, the Intourist hotel, the buildings of the Physiotherapy Hospital, of “Dinamo” Sports Society, of the State Bank, factories-kitchens and some others.

Great work was carried out in those years for planting of greenery. Gardens, squares, parks were laid in the historical part of the city, as well as in its new districts with the compulsory participation of thousands of citizens of Baku in numerous subbotniks. To provide the city with a planting material in 1923 for the first time a nursery was laid which later played a significant role in planting trees and shrubs which expanded year by year in the city. The work carried out by the then leading Soviet town-planners on the development of the general development plans of the city of Baku was significant for its scale. So from 1924 to 1937 three variants of the general plan of the city were developed.

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The middle of the 30s was the period of serious changes in the trend of Baku architecture. There started a planned and thorough study and use of the national architectural heritage of Azerbaijan. The establishment of the Union of the Architects of Azerbaijan in 1934 favoured the successful development of the national architecture. Back in the first years following the establishment of the Soviet power a department of architecture and construction engineering was organised in Baku at Azerbaijan Industrial Institute. By the 30s the department graduated already a considerable number of architects and construction engineers. Among the first to graduate from the department of architecture and construction engineering were S.Dadashov and M.Huseinov subsequently well-known architects. The entire path of the development of the Azerbaijani architecture of the Soviet period is perfectly reflected in the works of these architects. Their joint creative work enabled to erect a whole range of remarkable buildings that decorated Baku.

The end of the 1930s and 1950s are the so-called Stalinskiy period of architecture. In the pre-war and the first post-war years in the architectural practice of Baku there reigned a tendency of building the areas, turning out free by chance. The majority of the erected buildings were concentrated in the central part of the city. The pulling down of the old buildings in this part of the city could not take place, as there lived a large number of population and it was impossible to move them to other places simultaneously. This complicated the regulation of the new building. Still a range of big town-building measures were carried out. For example, Sovetskaya Street (Narimanov Avenue) was cut through, in the full sense of the word, in the extremely tightly and spontaneously inhabited mountainous part of the city. In the 1950s the project of reconstructing Neftchilar Avenue was carried out. In this very period serious work was being carried out on the reconstruction of Husi Hajiyev Street.

The search for originality and national expressiveness led the architects of Azerbaijan to the creation of a whole range of utterly significant public and dwelling houses with an individual architectural appearance. These are living houses of the trusts “Azneft”, “Buzovnaineft”, “House of Actors”, “House of Scientists”, the building of the State Public Library after M.F.Akhundov and others. Side by side the construction of new buildings, the old dwelling fund was also being reconstructed. The one- and two-storey houses in the central part of the city constructed on the border of the XIX and XX centuries were raised to such an unordinary height. At the same time the architects took into consideration not only the constructive peculiarities of this or that building, but also the proportionality of each definite building with its neighbouring buildings, the preservation of the stylistic peculiarities and their harmonious combination with created environment. Within rather a short period it became possible to reform a number of important municipal highways, built up earlier with plain structures.

On such scales of the construction very important was the role of the architects – the big team of the national experts already grown up by that time. Among them were in the first place distinguished M.Huseinov and S.Dadashov who were awarded the degrees of masters of the Azerbaijani architecture according to their merits. Their creative activity was characterised by the fact that they artfully synthesised in their works the architectural heritage of Azerbaijan with the main canons of the classical European architecture. Not less successful were the creative activities of such architects as G.Majidov, E.Gasymzade, G.Alizade, G.Alasgarov, young specialists at that time T.Khanlarov, Sh.Zeynalov and others.

In 1952-1954 the creative collective of the State Project Institute “Bakgiprogor” worked out a regular general plan of the development of the city for the period up to 1976, which was confirmed by the Decree of the Soviet of Ministers of the Republic in 1958.

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The Decrees “On the measures of further industrialisation, improvement of quality and decrease of the expenditure on construction” and “On avoiding extravagances in designing and construction” passed by the Central Committee and the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR laid the foundation for the mass housing construction. The decrees aimed at the provision of the majority of the Soviet people with houses and the creation of relatively comfortable living conditions for them led as a whole to the facelessness and dullness of the mass housing construction. The quality of not only the architectural designs, but also of the construction work fell considerably.

It was decided to realise the construction of new residential districts in Baku in big housing areas on free territories in semicircular form surrounding the city. The creation of the first micro-district on free territories began in 1957-1959. The typical houses constructed at that period were nicknamed by the population as “khrushyeby”. However, within a rather short period of time it became possible to provide numerous families of Baku with fairly good living conditions who had huddled together in maladjusted communal apartments, for in those years the inflow of the parts of the rural population from the districts of the Republic into the capital was considerably intensified. It was mostly possible due to the application of new industrial methods of construction. After the construction of a group of house-building enterprises the first one in Trans-Caucasia, in Baku in 1960 a large-panel construction came to develop at a great rate.

A new stage in the architecture of Baku began in 1960s-1980s. The wide application of concrete, metal, glass contributed to the development of new architectural forms based on the use of constructive peculiarities of new construction materials. A large-scale work was carried out in Baku during this period in the spheres of living and cultural-communal construction, as well as in the development of engineering and transport systems, in the planting of greenery and in the organisation of public services and amenities.

New housing construction was being carried out in the districts already laid by that time such as, “The eighth kilometre” as well as in new districts, dislocated mainly in the south-eastern part of the Baku amphitheatre. This new housing unit area of the city, located on the Ahmadly plateau, consisted in itself of two micro-districts – Ahmadly and Gunashly, as well as the adjacent districts to it, concentrated near the settlements of Zygh and Hovsan. Side by side with the intensive developing of new municipal territories, the construction was also carried out in the historically established central part of the city. In particular, the construction of the ensemble of the main square of the Republic – Square named after Lenin (now Liberty Square), was completed, the Baku seaside was equipped with modern amenities, the construction of the south-eastern part of the Baku amphitheatre was built on and several highways of the city, including Lenin Avenue (now Azadlig Avenue), Moscow Avenue and others were lined with buildings.

The architectural appearance of the capital of the Republic was enriched by the whole range of objects, interesting in plan, large in scale and utterly significant from the point of view of town-building: the buildings of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan (now the building of the President’s Administration), Palace named after Lenin (now Palace “Respublica”), hotels “Moscow”, “Azerbaijan”, “Tourist” (now “Garabagh”), as well as the railway station and seaport.

The growth of the capital investment in the economy of the city, its housing construction and service infrastructure raised the need in the review of the General development plan of the city of Baku for the period to 2000, worked out back at the beginning of the 1970s which was projected by the staff of the Design Institute Bakgiprogor in 1982. By that time Baku had become one of the biggest, most important industrial and cultural centres of the former Union.

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The collapse of the Soviet Empire plunged the entire country including Baku for a long period of time into a chaos and instability. At the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s the construction practically came to a stop in the city. At the same time, the transition of Azerbaijan from a planned socialist economy to a free market economy had an impact on the planning process of its development. “The General plan of economic and social development of Baku up to 2005” affirmed in 1987 presupposed the development of the city in the strict frames of the planned economy. Unfortunately in the transition period many provisions of the plan were violated. Therefore as a legal document the General plan is outdated and practically unfeasible.

Today our ancient, but constantly transforming city experiences a new page of its architectural history. The present stage of the development is marked by a great oil contract signed in 1994 in Baku known as “Contract of the Century”. The favourable conditions for investment in the country created broad perspectives for the construction of modern buildings. Today already the architecture of the city is enriched by highly comfortable dwelling houses being constructed, modern hotel complexes meeting world standards, large supermarkets, buildings of banks, etc. In Baku there appeared commercial lodgings meeting the most pretentious tastes of our compatriots and of foreign specialists working here. Striking examples of them are successfully functioning complexes “Park Residence”, “Park Royal”, “Istanbul evleri”, “Ugur – 97” and others.

A new generation of professional specialists - architects play an active role in the realisation of the present stage of transformation of Baku. F.Yuzbashev, R.Seyfullayev, Kh.Amirkhanov, N.Valiyev, A.Abdullayev, S.Sultanov, M.Shugayev and others make a valuable contribution to successfully change the appearance of the capital of the Republic.