Baku–or Baki, as it is often known, is the capital of Azerbaijan and the largest city and port in the Caucasus region. It sprawls over the Absheron peninsula in a natural amphitheater bounded by mountains to the west and the Caspian Sea to the north, south and east. A cosmopolitan city run according to secular principles, it is an appealing destination where locals, expats and visitors of different ethnicities mingle with ease.
“If oil is king, Baku is its throne” said British journalist James Dodds Henry, who traveled to Baku in 1905. Natural resources have played an important role in Baku's history. Thanks to rich oil and gas reserves, the Absheron peninsula has developed into a highly urbanized area encompassing three major cities (Baku, Sumgait and Khyrdalan) and several dozen small towns and villages.
Some say that Baku's name comes from “Baguan” or “Ateshi-Baguan”, meaning “place of God” or “fires of God” in Median–an old language that is related to Persian. If this is true, it is likely rooted in Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion in the region between the 7th century B.C. and 7th century A.D. Perhaps "fires of God" refers to the abundant natural gas and oil erupting from the earth.
Those who have experienced the strength of the city's Khazri (north wind) and Gilavar (south wind) argue that the name Baku is most likely derived from the Persian phrase “Bād-kube,” meaning “wind-pounded." The Khazri blows mostly in summer, providing a refreshing respite from the burning sun and average temperatures in the high 80s Fahrenheit. The Gilavar generally blows in winter, mitigating the cooler temperatures, which can drop to the mid-30s Fahrenheit at night. Thanks to these winds, the climate remains bearable all year round, with long summers and long winters melting into one another.
Within Baku's Old City you can find the Palace of the Shirvanshahs (Kings of Shirvan), Maiden Tower (Giz Galasy), Muhammad Masjid [Mosque], several other masjids, caravansaries (inns), carpet workshops and more. Many of these historic buildings operate as museums today, welcoming visitors to explore the history and traditional architecture of Baku.
Baku has a population of between two and three million, depending on whether you include the city's sprawling suburbs. There is fluid movement of people, with some Azerbaijanis flocking to the city and others leaving to work in neighboring countries such as Russia and Ukraine. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent independence of Azerbaijan, many Russians and Russian-speaking minorities left the country. However, Baku retains a mix of predominantly Shia Muslim locals along with Jews, Russian Orthodox Christians and Catholics.