Maiden Tower (Baku)

Maiden Tower (Baku)
Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshahs' Palace and Maiden Tower *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Baku Maiden Tower.jpg
Country Azerbaijan
Type Cultural
Criteria iv
Reference 958
Region ** Europe
Inscription history
Inscription 2000 (24th Session)
Endangered 2003–2009
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO

The Maiden Tower (Azerbaijani: Qız Qalası) or also known locally as Giz Galasi located in the Old City, Baku in Azerbaijan is an ancient tower with cultural affinity corroborating the presence Zoroastrians, Sassanians, Arabs, Persians, Shirvanis, Ottomans, and Russians. Built in the 12th century, as part of the walled city of Baku, the Maiden Tower, with the Shirvanshahs' Palace dated to the 15th century, are an ensemble of historic monuments which have been inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage List of Historical Monuments as cultural property under category iii, in 2001. It is one of the most noted landmarks and Azerbaijan's most distinctive national emblems, and is thus featured on Azeri currency notes and other official letter heads.[1][2]

The Maiden Tower houses a museum, which presents the story of historic evolution of the Baku city. It also has a gift shop. The view from the roof takes in the alleys and minarets of the Old City, the Baku Boulevard, the De Gaulle house and a wide vista of the Baku Bay. In recent years, the brazier on the top has been lit during the nights of the Novruz festival.[2]

Consequent to the receding of the sea shore line of the Caspian Sea, a strip of land emerged. This land was developed between the 9th and 15th centuries, when the walls of the old city, the palace including the huge bastion of the Maiden Tower were built.[3]



There are a number of competing explanations for the name, the most prominent of which is the legend of a maiden (said to be the daughter of the Khan of Baku[4]) who threw herself off its top to her death in the waves below.[5] In some sources she was said to be the sister rather than the daughter of the king who was actually incarcerated by her brother and to escape from the ignominy of incarceration she jumped to death from the top of the tower. Another explanation for the name is testament to the fact that the tower has never been taken by force (hence a metaphorical reference to 'virginity') and the fact that some believe that it was once a Watch Tower [Azeri: Göz Qalası] which can account for its name.

The Maiden Tower set in the south-east part of Icheri Sheher, has mystique and hoary history and legends that are linked to two periods, though not conclusively established. The area was first settled in the Palaeolithic period.[6]

Depiction of Maiden Tower on Azerbaijani manat (1993)

Sara Ashurbeyli, a prominent historian and expert in the history of Baku has calculated that the tower foundations, which extend 15 metres below ground level and the bottom three stories above ground, were originally built between the 4th and 6th centuries AD and points out the marked difference in the stone used in the tower compared to the stone used in the medieval city surrounding it.[7] This view is partly supported by historian Bretanitskiy who has postulated that the tower was partly built in the 5th to 6th centuries and then later in the 12th century.[7] The site was believed to have used originally during the Sasanid era as a Zoroastrian temple.,[8] An inscription located 14 metres high on the south wall which in old Kufic script mentions Qubbeye Masud ibn Davud or Kubey Mesud ibn Da’ud , an architect active during the 12th century; he was the father of architect who built the Mardakan Round Tower.[9] However it is disputed as the inscription, unlike the Madakan Tower does not actually reveal him to have been the architect, although it is generally agreed that much of the modern tower dates back to the 12th century.[7] Prof. Ahmadov believes that the tower was used as an astronomical observatory from the time of this reconstruction, due to the fact that 30 hewed stone protuberances on the tower's lower section and the 31 protuberances on the upper section, linked with a stone belt, correlate to the days of the month.[7]

According to recent archaeological excavations, carried out in 1962–63 on the ground floor of the tunnel, the tower was built on a large rock sloping toward the sea, and the buttress structure projecting out from the main tower provided stability to the tower. Further excavations have also revealed wooden girders, each 14 metres (46 ft) high, at the foundation of the tower. This has been inferred as an earthquake resistant design. It has also been conjectured that the cylindrical shape of the tower with 5 metres (16 ft) thick base walls tapering to 4.5 metres (15 ft) (4 metres (13 ft) is also mentioned) provided the solid foundation on which it has survived over the centuries. It is also mentioned that the tower was built at one go and not at different times as inferred by other scholars.[10]

The tower and other wall structures now under the UNESCO list were strengthened during the Russian rule in 1806 and have survived.[11]

The Maiden Tower is depicted on the obverse of the Azerbaijani 1 to 250 manat banknotes of 1992–2006,[12] and of the 10 manat banknote issued since 2006,[13] as well as on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 5 qəpik coin minted since 2006.[14]


The entrance
Architectural details of the Maiden Tower

The tower, which is Baku's most distinguished landmark, described as the "most majestic and mysterious monument of Baku, the Gyz Galasy", built on solid rock foundation, demonstrates right on the coast line, a fusion of Arabic, Persian and Ottoman influences. It was constructed alongside a natural oil well.[15] It is a cylindrical eight storied structure that raises to a height of 29.5 metres (97 ft) with a base diameter of 16.5 metres (54 ft). The internal space available in the tower is said be adequate to accommodate 200 people. A long solid projection to the main tower faces east, which is oriented towards sunrise pointing to the equinoxes, which has led to the conclusion that it was built as an astronomical tower; while the buttress faces east, the door access to the tower faces southeast. Each floor of the tower has a shallow vaulted roof, "a stone cupola" that has a central opening. The thickness of the walls varies from 5 metres (16 ft) at the base tapering cylindrically to 3.2–4.2 metres (10–14 ft) at the top floors. All floors are connected by staircase which abuts the circular wall and are lighted by narrow windows or niches which have a flare towards the inner well. The structure built in stone masonry exhibits varying finished surfaces, which is inlaid with local grey limestone. The alternate courses of stone laid in gypsum plaster gives a black and white banded effect. The northwestern part of the tower retains the original surface finish. There is also a beak-like projection, a buttress, curved in shape, made in masonry. The earliest stonework has square corners.[2][16][17]

A detailed examination of the construction features of the tower by archaeologists suggests that the stone masonry, both on its interior and exterior surfaces, is diamond shaped and is seen at the top as well as at the bottom of the tower wall. The diamond shaped cut seen as a decorative feature, particularly on the outer face of the west side wall, is ornate at the top and plain at the bottom of the wall; a subtle feature noted throughout the tower suggests that it was built as one monolith unit at one period. However, the recent renovations are stated to be crude.[16]

Water Well

Another notable structure seen in the tower is a water well of 0.7 metres (2.3 ft) diameter, which is 21 metres (69 ft) deep (its depth is up to the aquifer) that has been discovered at the second floor of the tower. It has an entrance also at the ground level which was discovered by Archaeologist Abbas Islamov during a recent study of the tower. This well has been interpreted as rainwater harvesting structure and the water is said to be clean and fresh (though close to the sea). The ceramic pipe (30 centimetres (12 in) in diameter) plumbing seen running down from the niches of the tower into the well was meant as a supply source. Since the ancient plumbing system is said to be in its original form, it needs to be cleaned and its layout ascertained by further studies to describe the drainage network that was originally built as part of the tower. The ceramics of the plumbing system and the silt deposited in them could also help to fix the age of the tower by using thermo-luminescence technique.[16][17]

Also seen in the tower, between the 2nd floor and the 7th floor, is a gutter of semicircular shape at every floor. It is made of ceramic pipes fitted one above another and joined by lime mortar. The pipes are presumably produced with the potter's wheel technique. They are 20–25 centimetres (7.9–9.8 in) in diameter with 2.2 centimetres (0.87 in) thick walls and each segment is 40–45 centimetres (16–18 in) long. Similar gutters are seen from the ground floor up to the foundation level but with the four cornered ceramic pipes of 22 centimetres (8.7 in) × 18 centimetres (7.1 in) size, which run outside through the wall.[10]


Subsequent to the declaration of the entire cultural property including the tower and the city walls as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in 2000, there was an earthquake which caused damage to the property. UNESCO, noting the lack of efforts by the national authorities to adequately conserve this cultural heritage then listed these monuments under the "List of World Heritage in Danger," from 2004 to 2009 with the comment "Loss of authenticity due in part to the earthquake in 2000 and to the urban development pressures". However, after the concerned authorities evolved a Conservation Master Plan and assured of adequate conservation and management of the property, the " in danger" tag attached to the heritage site has been removed by UNESCO in 2009. It was also requested that the State Party would submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2010, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and progress made for consideration by the World Heritage Committee at its 34th session in 2010.[11][18][19][20]

In popular culture

The legendary tale of the king falling in love with his daughter and she committing suicide by jumping from the Maiden Tower has been the subject of many Azerbaijani poems and plays. However, the ballet titled “Maiden Tower", was the first Azerbaijani ballet composed by Afrasiyyab Badalbayli, in 1940. This ballet is performed at Baku´s Opera and Ballet Theatre. However, the story line is a modified version of the legend. According to the modified version of the Ballet, the king on his return from his war campaign found that his wife had given birth to a daughter instead of a son. He became furious and ordered killing of his baby daughter. However, the baby's nanny took her away to a secret place where she grew up to a beautiful lady. At age seventeen she got engaged to a lover. At this juncture, the king chanced to see her, wanted to marry her and therefore took her away and kept her in the Maiden Tower. The girl's lover was furious with this turn of events and he managed to kill the king. He then ran to the Maiden Tower to rescue his lover. However, when the girl heard sound of foot steps approaching towards the tower, she thought that it was the king coming to see her and she immediately committed suicide by jumping down from the tower.[10][17]

As of 2011, the tower also participates in "Earth Hour," a campaign against climate change in which large buildings "go dark" for an hour to draw awareness to the cause.[21]

Picture gallery

See also

  • Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape
  • Fire Temple of Baku
  • List of World Heritage Sites in Azerbaijan


  1. ^ "Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower". Retrieved November 25, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Baku (Azerbaijan); Evaluation Report" (pdf). Retrieved November 25, 2010. 
  3. ^ Blair, Sheila (1992). The monumental inscriptions from early Islamic Iran and Transoxiana. BRILL. p. 155. ISBN 9004093672. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  4. ^ A. Henry Savage Landor (2009). Across Coveted Lands, Volume 1. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 23. ISBN 1113610409. 
  5. ^ James Dodds Henry (1905). Baku: An Eventful History. A. Constable & Co., ltd.. p. 11. 
  6. ^ Lonely Planet 1000 Ultimate Experiences. Lonely Planet. 2009. p. 191. ISBN 1741799457. 
  7. ^ a b c d Ibrahimov, Dr. Kamil. "The Mystery of the Maiden Tower". Visions of Azerbaijan. pp. 22–26.,83/. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  8. ^ Avesta. History of Zoroastrism
  9. ^ Ашурбейли Сара. История города Баку: период средневековья. Баку, Азернешр, 1992, p. 149
  10. ^ a b c Dr. Kamil Ibrahimov. "The Mystery of the Maiden Tower". Visions of Azerbaijan.,83/. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "Walled City of Baku". World Heritage Site. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  12. ^ Central Bank of Azerbaijan. National currency: 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 250 manat. – Retrieved on 25 February 2010.
  13. ^ Central Bank of Azerbaijan. National currency: 10 manat. – Retrieved on 25 February 2010.
  14. ^ Central Bank of Azerbaijan. National currency: New generation coins. – Retrieved on 25 February 2010.
  15. ^ Peoples of Western Asia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. 2006. p. 53. ISBN 0761476776. 
  16. ^ a b c Ronnie Gallagher and Betty Blair. "Secrets of the Maiden Tower:What They Reveal about Early Man's Beliefs". Azerbaijan International. Retrieved November 25, 2010. 
  17. ^ a b c "The Maiden Tower". Window to Baku. Retrieved November 27, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Decision – 27COM 7B.59 – Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower (Azerbaijan)". 
  19. ^ "Decision – 28COM 15A.29". 
  20. ^ "Decides to retain the Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower (Azerbaijan) on the List of World Heritage in Danger". 
  21. ^ Rustamov, Elshan. "Девичья башня на час останется без света ради природы". Retrieved 26 March 2011. 

External links

Coordinates: 40°21′58.20″N 49°50′14.10″E / 40.366167°N 49.83725°E / 40.366167; 49.83725

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