Towers of Absheron, Baku

Towers and Castles of Apsheron

Maiden towerBy the XI-XII centuries, Baku became a large commercial seaport on the Caspian Sea. For safety reason the Shirvanshakh dynasty’s rulers initiated a large-scale building activity to strengthen the city’s fortification works. The fortress was protected with three rows of walls built around it and also with a deep moat dug near it. Furthermore, the mountains surrounded the city were built up with additional defensive structures in a form of flag towers and small fortresses All these towers and palaces made up a city’s common defensive system which is located on the Apsheron Peninsula today.

The beginning of the construction of the towers and castles dates back to the XI-XII centuries. They include the famous Maiden Tower, Sabil fortress, Ramana fortress, Mardakyand fortress and Shikh fortresses. These fortresses were mainly occupied by a military post which was to form the city’s first line of defense in case of attack. In the XI-XIV centuries Baku was subject to attacks of the Turks-Seljuks, Mongols and Russ. In year 1175 Shirvanshakh Akhistan with the help of the towers and fortresses existed by that time, managed to prevent the occupation of Baku by the Russ who had arrived there by 73 ships. These towers, in addition to their defensive function, were used as flag ones. When enemies were approaching the city, its defenders used to burn oil on their tops, thus, warning the city folk about the danger.

One of the castles forming the defensive system of Baku was the Bayil Castle submersed almost completely under water. The fortress was built opposite the city in the XIII century in the Bayil bay, but due to the earthquake of 1306 the water level there dramatically increased, and the fortress found itself deep in water. The castle was shaped in irregular rectangular. It was girded by 1.5-m wide walls with 15 towers built along their perimeter. The fortress location was chosen so as to protect Baku from attack from sea.

Mardakan fortressThe Maiden Tower was also a part of the Baku’s defensive system, though whether this function was its main one, the scholars cannot say as yet. The Maiden Tower is an 8-storey building resembling a cylinder by its shape. In the XVIII-XIX centuries the tower was used as a lighthouse.

In the township of Ramana, near Baku, there is another fortress of the XVI century – Ramana Fortress. It was built of white stone. The fortress height is 15 m. The Ramana Fortress was built by Shirvanshakhs’ order for defensive purpose. According to documentary records, in the Middle Ages, there was an underground way running from the Ramana Fortress to the Maiden Tower.

In Mardakyan township not far from Baku there is another defensive fortress – the Mardakan fortress built in the middle of the XIV century by Shirvanshakh Akhsitan’s order in honor of the victory over the defeated enemy. The fortress was used as a place for accommodation of a military post and as an observation post. The fortress’ height is 22 m.

The Shikh fortress or Ishyg Galasi (Light Fortress), another one defensive fortress is located in the same village. This 16 m-high fortress was built in year 1232 as an observation post.