The oldest section of Baku, Azerbaijan is known as Baku Old City, Inner City, or Icheri Sheher. It is located in the heart of the city and, appropriately, is also the city’s historical core. Defensive walls surrounding the area date from the 12th century, and within it is a city of winding and narrow streets which pass a number of historical sites, including the Maiden Tower, a large stone fortress built in the 12th century; the Shirvan Shah Palace, built in the 15th century but is now a museum; and, the Synyk-Kala Minaret and Mosque built in the 11th century. Outside the walls are modern buildings rising up the hills overlooking one of the bays of the Caspian Sea.
Baku Old City is divided into several quarters that also serve as social divisions. Some of the main neighborhoods are Seyyids, a quarter of clergymen; Juhud Zeynallilar, a Jewish quarter; Aghshalvarlilar a quarter of city nobles; Gemichiler, a quarter of shipbuilders and sailors; Noyutchuler, a quarter of oil workers; Hamamchilar, a quarter of public bath workers; Arabachilar, a quarter of wagoners and cart-drivers; Gilaklar, a quarter of merchants from Gilan; Lezgiler, a quarter of Dagestani armourers and blacksmiths; and, Bozbashyemeyenler, a quarter of “those who do not eat meat.”
Other places of interest include the Baku State University, several theaters and museums, and an opera house. Educational institutions used to abound in Baku Old City, but most of them have been closed and replaced with modern state secular schools and kindergartens. A local bookstore that sells mostly secondhand and some new books is a popular landmark especially for Bakuvian students and book collectors because of the shop’s low prices.
Because of its architecture and heritage influenced by various cultures such as the Zoroastrian, Arabic, Persian, Sassanian, Russian, Ottoman, and Shirvani, Baku Old City, including the Maiden Tower and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, was named a World Heritage Site by the World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in December of 2000, making it the first in Azerbaijan to receive the distinction.