Maiden Tower [slideshow]

25 May

The most majestic and mysterious monument of Baku is Giz Galasy – the Maiden Tower rising in the south-eastern part of the fortress of Ichari Shahar. This unique building of the Azerbaijani architecture does not have any analogues in the East. The Maiden Tower has attracted attention by its majestic appearance for centuries in the historical center of Baku, in the territory of the Icheri Sheher (Old City). The Maiden’s Tower is situated in the South-East part of the Icheri sheher. This unique monument of Azerbaijan architecture was built in two periods. Most Azerbaijani scholars think the lower part of the monument, the first 13.7 metres, dates from VII-VI centuries BC.

The height of the tower is 29.5 metres and the diameter 16.5 metres. The thickness of the walls is five metres at the base and four at the top. The tower is an eight-storeyed cylindrical-shaped block of coastal rock. Each of the eight floors of the tower is crowned with a stone cupola with a round hole. The floors are connected by means of a stone staircase built into the walls. Day light penetrates the tower through narrow windows, wider on the inside. From the first floor there are some niches in the walls inside which was a clay pipe, 30 cm in diametre. A well 21 metres deep can be accessed from the second floor. In the southwest part of the tower are some inscriptions written in kufi print which is translated as “The Tower of Masud, Davud’s Son”.

Historians suggest that Masud ibn Davud was a grandson of Sultan Mahmud, one of the Seljuk rulers. It was suggested that Davud oglu Masud was the name of architect who built the Maiden’s Tower. The name Maiden’s Tower is a symbol of invincibility. Scholars from several eastern countries, such as Iran, have studies the Tower, but have not formed a decisive argument, proving the real purpose of the building.

The Maiden Tower, one of the most significant monuments of Baku, keeps a lot of secrets. It is still not known nor the exact purpose or date of construction of the monument. Existing versions and guesses are often refer to the genre of non-scientific fiction, and do not take into account the structural and architectural features of the tower. Transformation and restoration works conducted at different times significantly changed the original concept of the architect and made the study of the tower even more complicated. In addition, after the last restoration work performed in mid-1960’s, almost all the documentation on the changes disappeared from the archives and now the scale of alterations are left to guess.

According to the type of stone and its position, schoars think these inscriptions were rebuilt into walls of the Maiden’s Tower in the 12th century during reconstruction work. In 1960 restoration work was carried out. The unusual form and originality of the tower are always of great interest to Azerbaijani scholar.

Porcelaine dishes, ceramics and glassware have been found in the Maiden’s Tower and nearby during excavations. These excavations prove that the Maiden’s Tower played an important role in the system of defence towers of Absheron.

It is also rather hard to define the primary functional purpose of the Maiden Tower. The original construction of the tower as a defence structure gives rise to doubt. It is of little use for a defence because of the small area and the lack of the conditions for a long stay. The existing narrow window openings are directed towards the sea and is not intended to repulse the attack of the enemy. Though it is somehow possible to defend oneself from the enemy only from the top of the tower. Besides, it has been calculated that it could be possible to build another wall around the city with the stones and lime spent on the construction of the tower. There are versions that primarily the tower was constructed as a temple of fire (the word “Gala”- “tower” has another meaning in Azerbaijani – “to light a fire”), a Zoroastrian hut (that is the tower, where on the top were laid the bodies of the people for the black kites to tear to pieces), an observation point. But it is doubtless that in the XII century this splendid tower was part of the defence system of Baku and was the main citadel of the Baku fortress, one of the most powerful fortresses of the Shirvanshahs. In the XVIII-XIX centuries the Maiden Tower was used as a beacon. The beacon in the tower began to give light since June 13, 1858 but until then a fortress flag had been hoisted on it. Later with the growth of the city the lights of the beacon on the tower began to mingle with the night lights of the city and the beacon was transferred to the Nargin Island (Boyuk Zira).

The word “Maiden” is also found in the names of the other towers in the territory of Azerbaijan and the East and perhaps it means “unsubdued”, “impregnable”. There are a number of legends connected with the etymology of the name of the Baku “Maiden Tower”. According to one of them, the shah fell in love with his own daughter and decided to marry her. Terrified by the forthcoming marriage with her father, and wishing to dissuade him, the daughter asked him to build a tower and wait until its construction was completed. When the tower was ready, the shah did not change his mind. And then the girl climbed the tower and threw herself into the sea.

Closely analysing the legend it is possible to surmise that the possibility of the marriage between the father and the daughter is believed to date the legend back from the pre-Islamic period. Besides this, the legend testifies to the fact that the Caspian Sea was swashing at the very foot of the tower. Irrespective of the etymology of the legend, its plot was the favourite theme of many artists and poets. In 1923 Jafar Jabbarly, the famous Azerbaijani playwright wrote a poem called “the Maiden Tower”. The first Soviet film made in Azerbaijan in 1924 was also based on the plot of the legend. “The Maiden Tower” is also the name of the first Azerbaijani ballet, composed by Afrasiyyab Badalbayli in 1940.

The tower has repeatedly been restored and modified. The last restoration happen in the 1960s. In 1964 the Maiden Tower became a museum, and since 2000 has been included in the UNESCO list of the monuments.

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