Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Mosque, An Icon and Somethings Teeny Weeny.

Posing in front of Shirvanshah Palace Complex and a sculpture by Nail Alakbarov.

After spending a few hours in Gobustan, it was back to Baku. On the way, we made a short pit stop at Bibi-Heybat Mosque, located just on the outskirts of the city. The current structure, which was built in the 1990s, is a recreation of the mosque with the same name built in the 13th century by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad II Ibn Ahsitan II. The original 13th century mosque was blown up by the Bolsheviks in 1934 as part of the Soviet anti-religion campaign.

In 1994, after Azerbaijan gained its independence, then president Heydar Aliyev ordered the construction of a new building for Bibi-Heybat Mosque at the same place where it was destroyed. The layout and size of the complex were restored on the basis of photographs taken shortly before the explosion. The new mosque was inaugurated in 1999.



A small cemetery is situated on the hillside across the street from the mosque.


The mosque is located right along the shores of the Caspian. Unfortunately, it's situated right behind a shipping yard so it doesn't exactly have the best view of the turquoise colored waters of the sea.


Rafael and Fanya waited outside as Pat and I entered the mosque. We took of our shoes. So strange to only see one shoe in the slot. Of course, that's my right shoe.

My new reality.  It's a very lonely time for my right foot Teva.

We entered a small room. In the center was a square shaped section that housed four tombs one of which had the words *Imam* inscribed on a plaque. We both surmised that someone important is entombed here but neither of us had a clue who that was.  Later I read it that Ukeyma Khanum, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. The stone inscription indicates that she was a member of a religious family: "Here was buried Ukeyma Khanum, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, the granddaughter of the sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, the daughter of the Seventh Imam Musei Kazym, sister of the eighth Imam Riza".




On our way out, we also took a peek inside the small prayer hall where several men were praying. We didn't enter....obviously because this was the men's section. A local man, who saw us peeking in, told us that the woman's section was downstairs i.e., in the basement and pointed to the outside stairs that led to the entrance. We thanked him but since neither Pat nor I had any interest in going to the women's section, we just passed it by.

We spent a few minutes taking in the not-so -nice view before leaving.   The mosque is literally situated behind an oil shipping yard.  When you stand at the edge of the portico and look over the rail, this is what you see.  How ugly is this view for a mosque??  I don't know if this place was here when the mosque was reconstructed but I'd like to think it was not.  I cannot imagine that Heydar Aliyev would have approved this.



The familiar sight of the Flame Towers in the distance.

We met back up with Rafael and Fanya and continued on our drive to the next site of interest which turned out to be the Heydar Alieyev Cultural Center. We were there to simply admire the building which is the work of the famed architect Zaha Hadid.  It is truly a magnificent icon of modern architecture!  It's stunning to look at - it just takes your breath away.

The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center.  Colorful animal sculptures by Cracking Art can be see around the grounds.

Zaha Hadid was an British Iraqi architect. She was the first Arab woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, winning it in 2004. She received the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Sadly, she just passed away literally a week ago on March 31, 2016, dying of a heart attack in a Miami hospital, where she was being treated for bronchitis.

A  trio of snails by Cracking Art.

From the grounds of the center, you have clear view of a sail shaped building.  That is the soon to be opened sail shaped, 33 floor, luxury residence and hotel that carries the Trump name.   The Trump Hotel and Tower complex was constructed and is owned by a company called Garant Holding, which is controlled by Anar Mammadov, who is a son of Ziya Mammadov, Azerbaijan’s transportation minister.  Apparently, The Donald struck a lucrative deal with Garant Holding for his name to be used.  Up until recently, Ivanka Trump was overseeing the project.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump, the Presidential candidate.   I find it a hypocritical that he wants to prohibit Muslims from entering the US yet he has no qualms about conducting his personal business, with large profit gains, in Muslim countries, including Azerbaijan.  He should stick to developing real estate and keep his personal political views to himself.


Enough about The Donald. Back to the Heydar Aliyev Center and admiring something beautiful.  The building is situated on a grassy hill, near the center of Baku. It's position makes the very modern and impressive building truly stand out against the surrounding landscape and the bright blue sky.  Thankfully, it was a blue sky today!         

Apparently, Hadid did not like straight lines and the fluid outline of this building is proof positive of that. The only things that are straight are the metal sections separating the panes of glass.  Rafael parked the car at the front entrance.

From every side, the building looks different.

The front of the building.

Today's billboards.  Too bad, we don't have time to catch a performance.  I'd do it just to get inside the building :-)

Inside, all we got to see was the lobby where there is a small gift shop and reception desk. If we wanted to go further, we had to pay. We decided to not go in.


On our ride from the airport, we did pass by the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center and I remember Yalchin mentioning that we should come see it.  I'm really glad that we did because it is a very stunning looking building!

Right across the street from the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, another very modern looking structure is under construction.  At first glance, it has the shape of a luxury yacht.  Rafael did tell us what this place will one day be but I can't remember what he said and I can't find any information about it on the web.



After seeing the Cultural Center, Rafael took us back to our hotel.   We said our goodbyes to Fanya and confirmed with Rafael on the pick up time for tomorrow - we're hitting the road!

Pat and I dumped our stuff and used the facilities before heading out again. Though it was well passed our lunch time, we decided to forego lunch and visit the miniature book museum instead. The museum, which is located about a 5 minute walk from our hotel, is the only museum of miniature books in the world.  The books in the museum were collected by Zarifa Salahova (the sister of Tahir Salahov, a renown Azeri painter and draughtsman) over a period of 30 years. Her collection consists of more than 6,500 books from 64 different countries. The museum was opened to public viewing with the hope of promoting childhood literacy

It took us a while to find the place mainly because I wasn't reading Google maps properly.  Yes, user error.

There was no entry fee. The museum is a single room and the entire collection is housed inside several bookcases.



The largest book was small at best and the smallest was microscopic.  Here are photos of a few that caught  my eye.

These little ones were smaller than matchboxes.

They really look like small versions of larger books!

There was a collection of autographed books.

One bookcase held books written in English.

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the 5th century BC. Attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, the text is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare. It is commonly thought of as a definitive work on military strategy and tactics. 

The microscopic books.  I'd tell you what they were but there was no way to read the cover text.  Too small. :-)

This wasn't a book but a piece of etched stone, carved to fit inside a small oyster shell.

I liked the accordian books.  I don't know how else to describe them.

There were a few of these unique looking books.  Just two pages but folded in a very different fashion.

Book on a spool.  Presumably, you have to unroll the *thread* to read the words.  I think this more art than literature.

From the museum, we walked to a nearby street in search of a place for a bite to eat.  We stopped for a quick photo op in front of this sculpture which stands in front of the Shirvanshah Palace complex.  The piece which is titled, "Seven Beauties" was created by Nail Alakabarov.  The sculpture is a stack of seven amudi, Azeri teacups which are very similar in shape to a classic tulip shaped Turkish teacup.


Our second meal of the day would be our lunch/dinner meal. We settled on a place called the Muse Cafe. We had walked by it several times before and we decided to check it out. The cafe is located on the top floor of the Icheri Sherer Hotel. I slowly climbed the four flights of stairs to reach the cafe. There, we got a table with nice view and ordered our lunch.

Before we ordered our food,  I took a few photos of the view of the old and new cities, from the restaurant.

That's the bust of Aliaga Vahid in the lower right hand corner of the photo.

The ultra modern glass structure is the Icherisheher Metro stop.


Pat ordered olives for her salad/appetizer and lamb entrecôte which in Baku is two lamb ribs plus one small chunk of meat. She washed her meal down with a glass of Ayran. I ordered eggplant rolls stuffed with crushed walnuts (badımjan ruleti) which I think is classically Turkish dish. For my main, I had yarpaq dolması which is meat stuffed grape leaves. I am a stuffed grape leaves addict. I can never have enough of the stuff. To go with my meal, I had duşes - that's how it was spelt on the menu. I had no clue what it was but upon sipping, I declared it to be a cream soda like soda. Not bad. Sweet, fragrant and fizzy.

My glass of soda in the foreground, Pat's glass of ayran in the background

The eggplant rolls which Pat and I shared.

My dolma which I did not share :-)

After our meal, we headed back to the hotel. It was already close to 5p. It was the end of our day. We are leaving Baku tomorrow and we have a few things to do to get ready so I am finishing up this blog posting so I can get to my to-do list which will start with posting up some photos on Facebook. I know people are interested in seeing where we've been and what we've been up to and I don't want to disappoint anyone. After that, I need to take a shower. I have to figure out a way of keeping my cast dry!!

Adios from now and goodnight from Baku!