Maiden Tower

Icherisheher (Inner City), the rarest pearl in the cultural heritage of the Azerbaijani people and the pride of every Azerbaijani, is the historical centre of ancient Baku, which was the capital of the Shirvanshah State. This state with its thousand years of history, symbolises Azerbaijani statehood. At the heart of Icherisheher stands Maiden Tower (Qız Qalası), one of the most spectacular and magnificent architectural monuments of Baku’s historic buildings.

The Tower was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in 2000. Maiden Tower is 28 metres high on its northern side and 31 metres high on its southern side. The walls are 5 metres thick. In appearance the Tower is cylindrical in form with a supporting wall of almost the same height. The eight storeys are separated from each other by stone floors. They are connected by steps built into the south-eastern wall.

Originally, however, there were no steps between the first and second floors. There are two vertical spaces within the walls. One of them, a well cut in stone, opens directly onto the third floor. The well is 21 metres deep. Water from the well has been analysed and found to be suitable for drinking. Many researchers state that Maiden Tower was initially built for religious purposes and that it was a temple where religious ceremonies were held. They say it was connected with the beliefs and rites of the local people who at that time worshipped the sun.

The video installation here is about the sacred nature of fire for the Azerbaijani people from ancient times. For some scholars, it was a Zoroastrian temple. The dead were laid on the top of the temple as food for the birds, then the bones were slid down pipes in the walls and buried. On this basis they date Maiden Tower to the 8th -7th centuries BCE. Some scholars believe that the Tower was a fortified part of the Shirvanshahs’ defensive structure and was used to send signals from the top to other towers in times of danger. Since Maiden Tower is aligned so that the ancients could observe the sun’s rise at significant times of the year as well as some of the most important celestial objects, other scholars have insisted that the monument was used as an ancient observatory.

The first floor displays archaeological artefacts dating back to the 2nd -1st centuries BCE that were discovered during excavations around Maiden Tower. They inform us of Baku’s history as an ancient city. Asaf Zeynalli Street (between the Tower and the Muhammad Mosque), where the artefacts were found, is probably the oldest part of the city. As the level of the Caspian Sea has fluctuated over the centuries,  and some ancient cities are known to have been inundated, parts of ancient Baku are probably still under the waters. An electronic screen displays a brief summary of the materials displayed on all the Tower’s floors.

A video on the second floor features different hypotheses on the purpose and function of Maiden Tower.

For some scholars, it was a Zoroastrian temple. The dead were laid on the top of the temple as food for the birds, then the bones were slid down pipes in the walls and buried. On this basis they date Maiden Tower to the 8th -7th centuries BCE. Some scholars believe that the Tower was a fortified part of the Shirvanshahs’ defensive structure and was used to send signals from the top to other towers in times of danger. Since Maiden Tower is aligned so that the ancients could observe the sun’s rise at significant times of the year as well as some of the most important celestial objects, other scholars have insisted that the monument was used as an ancient observatory.

Maiden Tower is 28 metres high on its northern side and 31 metres high on its southern side. The walls are 5 metres thick. In appearance the Tower is cylindrical in form with a supporting wall of almost the same height. The eight storeys are separated from each other by stone floors. They are connected by steps built into the south-eastern wall. Originally, however, there were no steps between the first and second floors. There are two vertical spaces within the walls. One of them, a well cut in stone, opens directly onto the third floor. The well is 21 metres deep. Water from the well has been analysed and found to be suitable for drinking.

There is a model of Icherisheher, the soul of Baku, on this floor of the Tower. The model represents the historical architectural monuments to be found within Icherisheher: the globally significant Maiden Tower, the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, Muhammad Mosque and the nationally significant Arcade religious-architectural complex, the Haji Bani bath, the Multani and Bukhara caravanserais, the Double Tower Gates, the Agha Mikayil and Qasimbey baths and the small caravanserai. In the centre of the model, a red-lit monument displays external and internal views on a video screen.

Here there is a display of electronic books. As you scroll through them, various pages from the Tower’s history will be revived before your eyes and the Tower will share its mysterious secrets. Book I — “The Legends of Maiden Tower”, Book II — «Maiden Tower Festival», Book III — «Maiden Tower in Art».

On this floor you see a model of the eight-pointed emblem that is the state symbol of Azerbaijan. In the spirit of patriotism, scenes from Azerbaijani films (battle scenes from the films Babek and Nasimi) and a Diorama based on the artist K. Hippius’s engraving, «Sea View of Baku», as well as a display of defence weapons and daggers on the glass animation.

Many researchers state that Maiden Tower was initially built for religious purposes and that it was a temple where religious ceremonies were held. They say it was connected with the beliefs and rites of the local people who at that time worshipped the sun. The video installation here is about the sacred nature of fire for the Azerbaijani people from ancient times.

The animation “Ancient Observatory” suggests that, from its structure and position, Maiden Tower was used as a solar observatory. The astronomers observed sunrise on the horizon. The structural features of the building, especially the position of the base, are oriented to suit some of the most important events in the solar cycle.

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