Samad Vurgun, Baku
Written by Nailya Bentley Illustration by Marion Vitus
The journey down one street in Baku, Azerbaijan: the city of lights and fountains, ancient and modern architecture, a palette of cultures, and generations of history.
Anyone who was born in Baku and then, like me, moved away, will speak of the city with nostalgia. For us, the people who remember Baku the way it was, the changes that are happening rapidly all over the city are not easy to accept. And Baku seems to be changing by the hour, with buildings and illuminated fountains sprouting like mushrooms, and glitzy shop fronts appearing on every corner.
But, despite the concerns that the city would become too modern and lose its history behind the polished façades, there are still plenty of spots that maintain their original character. Baku is a city of contrasts: from the medieval cobbled streets of Icheri Sheher(the old city) to modern developments and beautiful hotels; from expensive Western style restaurants to traditional kebab and chai shops.
If I were to pick my favourite street though, it would probably have to be Samad Vurgun, the street of my childhood.
Many streets in Baku have changed names since the Soviet times; but this one, named after a well-known Azerbaijani poet, remains. It cuts through the city in a long, straight line; all the way from the top, where you find the city Medical University and a few hospitals, down to the town centre.
As you walk along, you will pass three green parks. One of them, across the road from the old Blue Mosque, is the Dede Gorgud Park, which nowadays, after a major reconstruction, boasts the first enclosed ice rink in Baku, and a beautiful play area for children.
Next, you will encounter my childhood favourites: the big enclosed circus arena and one of the best known markets in town, Teze Bazaar.
Teze Bazaar is where you go if you want to see everything Azerbaijan has to offer when it comes to local produce. From fruits and spices to Beluga caviar and the meat counters, Teze Bazaar has a section for everything. Even now, in rainy England, if I shut my eyes, I can see old ladies sitting on stone steps selling home-‘grown’ chicken eggs, hear the loud voices of the fruit sellers, and smell the fresh herbs.
As you pass the market, the street will take you farther down the hill to one of the busiest pedestrian streets in Baku: Torgovaya, or Nizami Street.
Always crowded, vibrant, and buzzing, Nizami Street witnessed many generations of courting couples, and old men in traditional hats selling bunches of lemons.
You are in the very heart of Baku now, and whichever winding little street you might take from here, you will find something fascinating; whether it is the ancient wall surrounding Icheri Sheher and the Shervan Shahs’ Palace, the locals’ favourite Fountain Square, or the Boulevard with its luxurious shops and the beautiful Caspian seafront.
Distance: 1,684 km
Flight Time: 3 hours
Frequency: Daily flights