— Baku (Баку) ~ 1910-1917

The Apsheron Peninsula, where Baku is situated, has a great climate, fertile soil and a large bay for ships to anchor in so it’s not surprising that the city’s history goes back to ancient times. It was a flourishing city as far back as the 8th century and in the 16th century, the Persians took it over although it maintained its autonomy under a separate Khan.

The burning Ateshgah of Baku - Photo by Urek Meniashvili

The burning Ateshgah of Baku – Photo credit: Urek Meniashvili

Ancient Greeks and Romans, including Pliny the Elder, remarked about the «eternal fires» around the Apsheron Peninsula, which were created by the natural seepage and ignition of gas from the ground. The «Fire Temple», which is situated in Surakhani, an ancient village 16km from Baku, is an old Zoroastrian Ateshgah, a Hindu castle-like temple dedicated to Jwala Ji, and the priest was known as the athravan (keeper of the fire).

Yanar Dag

Yanar Dag (Click to enlarge)

Just 25 kms northeast of Baku is a mud volcano called Yanar Dag, which sits above a pocket of natural gas that constantly shoots out 3m jets of flames into the air. As there is no seepage of mud or liquid from Yanar Dag to extinguish it, the fire always burns.

Baku became famous for its oil back in the 16th century and the first oil well was drilled down to 21m with percussion tools in 1846. No wonder it was such a thriving town at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century!

Baku has a district called «Ichari Shahar» (aka Inner City) which is the historical core of the city. The Maiden Tower has been dated back to the 12th century, and some researchers believe that there are buildings there which were built in the 7th century. When the Russian Empire annexed Baku, they set about repairing the city walls and extending the fortifications during 1807-1811. At the time there were just two gateways into Ichari Shahar – one was called the Salyan Gate (which gave me warm fuzzies to read 😀 ) while the other was the Shemakha Gate. As the city expanded, it moved outwards from the city walls so that new districts appeared in what was known as «Bayir Shahar», the Outer City.

From: Azerbaijan International (Autumn 2002 (10.3)) Huseingulu Sarabski writes: «Baku was divided into two sections: Ichari Shahar and Bayir Shahar. The Inner City was the main part. Those who lived in the Inner City were considered natives of Baku. They were in close proximity to everything: the bazaar, craftsmen’s workshops and mosques. There was even a church there, as well as a military barracks built during the Russian occupation. “Residents who lived inside the walls considered themselves to be superior to those outside and often referred to them as the “barefooted people of the Outer City”.»

«Baku developed considerably from the 1860s. In 1859, after the earthquake in the city of Shemakh the regional centre was moved to Baku and the region (guberniya) itself was named after Baku. However, the most important factor was the oil production that started in the 1870s. Baku had been a calm city until then and lagged far behind Tbilisi (Tiflis) in significance.
European entrepreneurs opened companies and representations in Baku and started to invest capital. Among them were the Nobel Brothers and Rothschild family. Baku started to develop rapidly outside the old city walls where major administrative, public and commercial buildings were built. But Icheri Sheher [sic] (the inner city), established in the Middle Ages, remained the centre of the city and maintained its prior significance. The officials and the rich preferred to live there and constructed luxury houses in the vicinity of the baths and mosques.»
[Source: 19th century Architecture of Tbilisi as a reflection of Cultural & Social History of the City by Nino Chanishvili]

Click to enlarge

I don’t know if Anya lived with her parents once she married Joseph, or if she had her own house, but certainly Joseph addressed his mail to her father’s house. Joseph wrote … Baku, Bayilov Private house E.V.B. To: A.V.Borodinoff  For Anya

I tried to find out if I could find out anything about  «private houses» in Bayilov, to no avail 🙁 Obviously there were no house numbers or street addresses back in those days, which is a shame, as it would have been good to have had something solid, but still!

Bayilov was a settlement on the coast approximately 6kms from Baku as the crow flies, and it was a long slog to get there back in the late 19th century. However in 1889 horse-drawn trams started servicing Baku and its surrounding areas, including Bayilov.

Tramcar route Station-Bayilov. Photo credit : Elkhan Jafarov

Tramcar route Station-Bayilv. Photo credit : Elkhan Jafarov

Apparently in winter the trams were all closed up, windows and all.  However in summer the trams were completely open – no doors and no windows – and occasionally people fell out of one when it went around a corner too sharply!!  Imagine that  😮

In 1895 horse-drawn trams operated on four routes …

Line 1: Station – Bayil Cape.
Line 2: Station – Shemakhinka.
Line 3: Bayil Cape – Shemakhinka.
Line 4: Station – Black City.

Now, did Anya and her family use the trams to get from Baku to Bayilov or did her father have a car?

In 1911 there were just 36 cars in Azerbaijan and the Ford Motor Company had started selling cars there 7 years earlier, in 1904.»

I read an article in the Azerbaijan International Magazine about the first car in Baku and was amazed to see that they said a lot of wealthy people lived in Balakhani, because when I researched about the «Black City» I read there was «an industrial district of Baku which included the “oil villages” of Surakhani, Bibi-Heybat, Balakhani and Sabunchu».

The magazine gave a description about the people who lived in Balakhani …

«Every yard had its own oil well. People from Balakhani used to wear very expensive apparel with gold and silver jewelry to all the ceremonies. The men wore “Bukhara caps” [tall black sheepskin hats from Bukhara] and their swords and pistols were inlaid with precious gems.»

That really surprised me that anyone would have lived in the «Black City» (Russian: Чёрный город)  😮  That name was the name given to the oil producing area, for obvious reasons, with all the belching out of smoke and soot.  Why on earth would wealthy people want to live with an oil well in their front yard, for crying out loud?!!

Oil wells in the Black City

Oil wells in the Black City




Old Photos

Here are a few photos which I got from my cousin when she scanned her mother’s photo album.  I can only assume that they were taken in Baku, but I honestly have no one to confirm or deny that.

Click to enlarge

This appears to be to be a photo taken on a ship off Baku, only because I’ve seen other men with caps like the guy at the back in pictures of Baku.  The officers appear to be Russian but I don’t know if they were merchant seamen taking oil away to foreign ports or if they were friends, or even relatives, who were in the Imperial Navy.


Click to enlarge

A family photo of the Borodinoffs taken in Baku – but who is the girl standing next to Anya on the left? I have absolutely no idea 🙁


Click to enlarge

I recognise people in this photo who’ve appeared in other ones but their names are unknown to me. From left to right:  -?-, Anya (was she married by then or not?), -?-, Maria, her stepmother, -?- but it could be Lida, Akim Borodinoff, -?-.



Click to enlarge

The numbers on the people were put there before I got this photo and I’m sure that my cousin would have scanned the names had they been listed anywhere in the album, but unfortunately I have no idea of who the others were.
Back row: No 1 (first left)
– Maria Borodinova, Akim’s wife
Middle row seated: No 2 (2nd left)
– Akim Borodinoff; No 6 (3rd left) – Anya Nozadze
Again, I assume it was taken in the Borodinoffs’ house in Bayilov.  Why, I don’t know, but it does look like it could be.


Г.Я Георгенбургер был аптекарем в городе БАКУ. (G.Ya. Georgburger was an apothecary in the city of BAKU.) I think the photo is of a young relative of my grandmother in his family’s droshky, perhaps going to school?

Transport around town would have been on droshkies in those days, little carriages pulled by horses and the Russian driver would flap his reins while saying «Nu poshol» («Nu, let’s go») to get his horse to get moving  😀


Click to enlarge

Anya and two more people we don’t know, but who were obviously close friends or relatives, as they’ve appeared in other photos.

Click to enlarge

When I saw a photo of a … what? … market? or caravanserai? outside the walls of Baku it reminded me of the photo of Anya on the camel …



Married Quarters for Officers of 206 Salyan

I read in the 2002 Autumn edition (10.3) of the Azerbaijan International Magazine that there was a military barracks inside Ichari Shahar (see paragraph quoted near the beginning of this page) and so I rechecked the website about Joseph’s regiment/battalion and saw that in 1868 the battalion was indeed stationed in Ichari Shahar.

«The staff of the battalion consisted church clergy, and to place the church was then fitted in the fortress (Icheri Sheher [sic]), in the so-called “dark rows”, near the Maiden Tower, the building is old, or of the original church of St. Nicholas – the first Orthodox church in Baku, which has since became known as the battalion church.»
[Source: 206-й пехотный Сальянский полк]

I haven’t been able to find out if the barracks included married quarters for officers or not, so I’m going to assume that officers lived outside in private villas around Baku.

Perhaps they did have a house initially but when Joseph got called away during WWI, Anya probably moved in with her parents.

So, when Joseph sent a telegram to Anya telling her to leave Baku immediately and head for Vladivostok, she would have told her parents and Lida, and they must have all grabbed whatever they could and caught the first train out of Baku.

I’m still clueless what Joseph was doing in Vladivostok at the time though  :/



Home » -- Baku (Баку) ~ 1910-1917 » Baku in the pre-Revolution years

Baku in the pre-Revolution years

Pictures of Anya and her family and scenes of Baku when she was there

**NB when you click on the album, the screen will show the top of this page. Please just scroll down to see the pictures**


Ichari Shahar – The Heart of Baku by Mir Teymur (Azerbaijan International)


Pictures of old Baku …







Pio-Ulski.com claims no credit for any images posted on the site, unless explicitly stated.

All copyright goes to their respective owners.