The Diary of Young Explorers is a collection of travel accounts from Ankur, Giulio, and Caspar, who are documenting their experiences while journeying from Venice, Italy to Xi'an, China. You can read the introduction to their adventure here: The Diary of Young Explorers: Retracing the Ancient Silk Roads.

 

On Thursday the 6th of April the Silk Roads project team met with Shahin Mustafayev at the National Academy of Science in Baku, Azerbaijan. Shahin Mustafayev is a member of the International Network for the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform and is an important figure in studying and telling the story of the Silk Roads. At this meeting, we discussed the history of the ancient trade route and its impacts on Azerbaijan, and particularly Baku.

Few countries embody the historic amalgam of cultures and religions that formed the Silk Roads as clearly as Azerbaijan. Perched on the Caspian Sea below Georgia and above Iran, Azerbaijan formed one of the principal cultural and commercial routes between East and West, but also between South and North. The relative safety of passage for traders, as well as the local industry and protections for peoples of diverse religions and cultures, meant that Azerbaijan was a preferred destination for Silk Roads travellers moving between China and Europe, but also travellers from the Russian North toward Persia and Arabia.

Of particular interest was the impact of the Silk Roads on Baku as a city; a city that’s name stems from the shortened Persian name for the city Bād-kuye, meaning “wind city”, as well Bād-kube, meaning "wind-hitting", as referencing the presence of a consistently strong wind in Baku. Due to its advantageous location on the Caspian Sea, Baku has naturally been a haven for traders from across Central Asia since Roman times. From the 8th to the 16th century Baku was ruled by the Shirvanshahs, who built the immense fortifications for which Baku is known for today, including the Old City walls, the Maiden Tower and the Nardaran Fortress. The Shirvanshahs were a dynasty of fused Persian and Arab descent, and were empathetic toward peoples and travellers of different cultures and religions, leading to a blossoming period for Baku and the commerce of the Silk Roads.

Baku was also renowned for being an important cultural and religious centre, hosting diverse religions such as Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. While the city is inhabited primarily by Azeri Turks, it retains its cultural heritage influenced heavily by both Persian and Arabic cultures. The Atashgah ‘Fire Temple’ is a clear example of the intercultural dialogue which has shaped Baku through the ages. While the ‘Fire Temple’ was the key religious site for Zoroastrianism in the area, Hindu and Persian inscriptions explain how this temple was used as both a Hindu and Zoroastrian place of worship.

© UNESCO
© UNESCO / Baku's Ichari-Shahar (known as the Old City or Inner City)

This confluence of cultures meant that, in some ways, Baku has evolved to be a city which truly epitomises the Silk Roads. The Islamic world’s 1st Opera House was built in Baku, demonstrating the impact of Western influences, notably from Paris. On the other hand, Baku is also home to two Confucius Institutes, and a number of other places of the study of Eastern cultures. Architecturally Baku represents the coming together of Eastern and Western cultures as well as the modern and the old Silk Roads. Modern sky scrapers, such as the Flame Towers, and the European-style buildings surrounding Baku’s iconic Old City, create an eclectic mix of architecture which reflects the proud history of the cultural diversity of this great city.

 

Read their previous entries here:

-Introduction