Baku (Azerbaijani: Bakı, IPA: [bɑˈcɯ]) is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, which projects into the Caspian Sea. The city consists of two principal parts: the downtown and the old Inner City (21.5 ha). Baku’s urban population at the beginning of 2009 was estimated at just over two million people. Officially, about 25 percent of all inhabitants of the country live in the metropolitan city area of Baku.
Baku is divided into eleven administrative districts (raions) and 48 townships. Among these are the townships on islands in the Baku Bay and the town of Oil Rocks built on stilts in the Caspian Sea, 60 km (37 mi) away from Baku. The Inner City of Baku along with the Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the Lonely Planet’s ranking, Baku is also among the world’s top ten destinations for urban nightlife.
The city is the scientific, cultural and industrial center of Azerbaijan. Many sizeable Azerbaijani institutions have their headquarters there, including SOCAR, one of the world’s top 100 companies and others. The Baku International Sea Trade Port, sheltered by the islands of the Baku Archipelago to the east and the Absheron Peninsula to the north, is capable of handling two million tons of general and dry bulk cargoes per year. Baku hosted the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.
The city became important after an earthquake destroyed Shamakhy in the 12th century, when the ruling Shirvanshah, Akhsitan I, chose Baku as the new capital. In 1501, Safavid Shah Ismail I laid siege to Baku. At this time the city was enclosed within the lines of strong walls, which were washed by the sea on one side and protected by a wide trench on land. In 1540 Baku was again captured by the Safavid troops. In 1604 the Baku fortress was destroyed by Safavid Shah Abbas I.
On 26 June 1723, after a long siege and cannon fire, Baku surrendered to the Russians. According to Peter the Great’s decree the soldiers of two regiments (2,382 people) were left in the Baku garrison under the command of Prince Baryatyanski, the commandant of the city. In 1795, Baku was invaded by Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar to defend against tsarist Russia’s ambitions to subjugate the South Caucasus. In the spring of 1796, by Catherine II’s order, General Zubov’s troops began a major campaign in Transcaucasia. Baku surrendered after the first demand of Zubov, who had sent 6,000 troops to capture the city. On 13 June 1796 the Russian flotilla entered Baku Bay and a garrison of Russian troops was placed in the city. General Pavel Tsitsianov was appointed Baku’s commandant. Later, however, Czar Paul I ordered him to cease the campaign and withdraw Russian forces. In March 1797 the tsarist troops left Baku, but a new tsar, Alexander I, began to show a special interest in capturing Baku. In 1803, Tsitsianov reached an agreement with the Baku khan to a compromise, but the agreement was soon annulled. On 8 February 1806, upon the surrendering of Baku, Huseyngulu khan of Baku stabbed and killed Tsitsianov at the gates of the city.
In 1813, Russia signed the Treaty of Gulistan with Persia, which provided for the cession of Baku and most of the Caucasus from Iran and their annexation by Russia.
Baku is a city founded upon oil, for to its inexhaustible founts of naphtha it owes its very existence, its maintenance, its prosperity…. At present Baku produces one-fifth of the oil that is used in the world, and the immense output in crude petroleum from this single city far surpasses that in any other district where oil is found. Verily, the words of the Scriptures find illustration here: ‘the rock poured me out rivers of oil.’
Oil is in the air one breathes, in one’s nostrils, in one’s eyes, in the water of the morning bath (though not in the drinking water, for that is brought in bottles from distant mineral springs), in one’s starched linen – everywhere. This is the impression one carries away from Baku, and it is certainly true in the environs.
The first oil well was mechanically drilled in the Bibi-Heybat suburb of Baku in 1846, though a number of hand-dug wells predate it. Large-scale oil exploration started in 1872, when Russian imperial authorities auctioned the parcels of oil-rich land around Baku to private investors. Within a short period of time Swiss, British, French, Belgian, German, Swedish and American investors appeared in Baku. Among them were the firms of the Nobel brothers together with the family von Börtzell-Szuch (Carl Knut Börtzell, who also owned the Livadia Palace) and the Rothschild family. An industrial oil belt, better known as Black City, was established near Baku. By the beginning of the 20th century almost half of world production was being extracted in Baku.
In 1917, after the October revolution and amidst the turmoil of World War I and the breakup of the Russian Empire, Baku came under the control of the Baku Commune, which was led by veteran Bolshevik Stepan Shaumyan. Seeking to capitalize on the existing inter-ethnic conflicts, by spring 1918, Bolsheviks inspired and condoned civil warfare in and around Baku. During the infamous March Days, Bolsheviks and Dashnaks seeking to establish control over the Baku streets, were faced with armed Muslim groups. Muslims suffered a crushing defeat by the united forces of the Baku Soviet and were massacred by Dashnak teams. On 28 May 1918, the Azerbaijani faction of the Transcaucasian Sejm proclaimed the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) in Ganja. Shortly after, Azerbaijani forces, with support of the Ottoman Army of Islam led by Nuru Pasha, started their advance into Baku, eventually capturing the city from the loose coalition of Bolsheviks, Esers, Dashnaks, Mensheviks and British forces under the command of General Lionel Dunsterville on 15 September 1918. Thousands of Armenians in the city were massacred in revenge for the earlier March Days. Baku became the capital of the ADR. On 28 April 1920, the 11th Red Army invaded Baku and reinstalled the Bolsheviks, making Baku the capital of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
With the initiatives for saving the city in the 21st century, Baku embarked on a process of restructuring on a scale unseen in its history. Thousands of buildings from Soviet period were demolished to make way for a green belt on its shores; parks and gardens were built on the land reclaimed by filling up the beaches of the Baku Bay. Improvements were made in the general cleaning, maintenance, and garbage collection, and these services are now at Western European standards. The city is growing dynamically and developing at full speed on an east-west axis along the shores of the Caspian Sea.