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Culture & People


The architecture of Azerbaijan typically combines elements of East and West. Many ancient architectural treasures such as the Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs in the Walled City of Baku survive in modern Azerbaijan. Entries submitted on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list include the Gobustan State Reserve, the Fire Temple of Baku, the Momine Khatun Mausoleum and the Khan Palace in Sheki.

Among other medieval architectural treasures reflecting the influence of several schools are the Shirvan Shahs' palace in Baku, the palace of the Shaki Khan's in the town of Shaki in north-central Azerbaijan, the Surakhany Temple on the Absheron Peninsula, a number of bridges spanning the Aras River, and several mausoleums. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, little monumental architecture was created, but distinctive residences were built in Baku and elsewhere. Among the most recent architectural monuments, the Baku subways are noted for their lavish décor.


Azerbaijani Literature refers to the literature written in Azerbaijani, which currently is the official state language of the Republic of Azerbaijan and is spoken by about a quarter of the population of Iran. Its closest relatives are Turkish and Turkmen. Azeri is a dialect of Oghuz branch of Turkic languages, and as such, is mutually intelligible with other Oghuz dialects spoken in Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East.

As a result of the language policy of the Soviet Union, Russian is also commonly spoken as a second language among the urbane.

Apart from the Epic of Dede Korkut, which may date to 9th century and was first transcribed by 14th century, the earliest known figure in Azeri literature was Pur Hasan Asfaraini, who composed a divan consisting of Persian and Turkic ghazals. In Persian ghazals he used his own name, while his Turkic ghazals were composed under a pen-name of Hasan Oghlu.

Nizami Ganjavi who was born in Ganja is considered the greatest romantic epic poet in Persian literature, who brought a colloquial and realistic style to the Persian epic. His heritage is widely appreciated and shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

In 14th century, Azerbaijan was under the control of Qara Qoyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu Turkic tribal confederacies. Among the poets of this period were Gazi Burhanaddin, Haqiqi (pen-name of Jahan-shah Qara Qoyunlu), and Habibi. The end of 14th century was also the period of starting literary activity of Imadaddin Nesimi, one of the greatest Turkic Hurufi mystical poets of the late 14th and early 15th centuries and one of the most prominent early divan masters in Turkic literary history, who also composed poetry in Persian and Arabic.

Under the Soviet rule, particularly during Joseph Stalin's reign, Azeri writers who did not conform to the party line were persecuted. Bolsheviks sought to destroy the nationalist intellectual elite established during the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, and in 1930s, many writers and intellectuals were essentially turned into mouthpieces of Soviet propaganda.

An influential piece of post-World War II Azeri poetry, Heydar Babaya Salam (Greetings to Heydar Baba) was written by Iranian poet Mohammad Hossein Shahriar who had already established himself as a notable Persian poet. This poem, published in Tabriz in 1954 and written in colloquial Azeri, became popular among Iranians and the people of Azerbaijan SSR. In Heydar Babaya Salam, Shahriar expressed his identity as an Iranian Azeri attached to his homeland, language, and culture. Heydar Baba is a hill near Khoshknab, the native village of the poet.

Persian and Arabic literature have greatly influenced Azeri literature, especially in its classical phase. Amongst poets who have written in Persian and have influenced Azeri literature, one can mention Ferdowsi, Sanai, Hafez, Saadi, Attar, and Rumi. Arabic literature, especially the Quran and Prophetic sayings, has also played a major role in influencing Azeri literature. Amongst poets who have written in Arabic and have influenced Azeri literature, one can mention Mansūr al-Hallāj who has had a wide ranging influence in the Sufic literature of the Islamic world.


The film industry in Azerbaijan dates back to 1898. In fact, Azerbaijan was among the first countries involved in cinematography. When the Lumière brothers of France premiered their first motion picture footage in Paris on December 28, 1895, little did they know how rapidly it would ignite a new age of photographic documentation. These ingenuous brothers invented an apparatus, patented in February 1895, which they called the "Cinématographe" (from which the word "cinematography" is derived). It's not surprising that this apparatus soon showed up in Baku – at the turn of the 19th century, this bay town on the Caspian was producing more than 50 percent of the world's supply of oil. Just like today, the oil industry attracted foreigners eager to invest and to work.

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