Trans Eurasia travel

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Museums in Baku

The first museum in Azerbaijan appeared in the late 19th century, when a school museum was established in the village of Nehram. In the beginning of the 20th century the Administration of the People's schools opened the Pedagogical Museum; around the same time the closed museum of Baku branch of the All-Russian Technical Society was established.

In 1921 the Azerbaijan State Museum, the exhibition, which was divided into sectors dedicated to archeology, history, ethnography and nature was opened. Later the department of art was added. After that, on the basis of the collections of the museum the Azerbaijan State Museum of Theatre (1934) and the Azerbaijan State Museum of Fine Arts (1936) were established. The Azerbaijan State Museum itself was transformed into the History Museum of Azerbaijan (1936).

In 1972 Baku received the world's only museum of carpets. The exhibitions of the museum were shown in more than 50 countries: England, Holland, Israel, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Russia, Turkey, France, etc.


Except in Baku, Azerbaijan has really only two types of museum: historical museums and 'house' museums. Both have a predictable format and content, which, after a couple of visits you'll start to find cosily familiar or crashingly monotonous. Fortunately few charge entry fees so there's no need to fear stepping inside except for the embarrassment of waking up the slumbering attendants. Even if you don't understand the language, you may be treated to a guided tour in Russian or Azeri if only because you're the first visitor that week. There's also the comical formality of signing the guest book - the few people that do visit manage to fill acres of paper with their reflections. Occasionally guest books started in the 1970s have not yet been filled up. The communist-era entries can make intriguing reading (eg at the Nanmanov Apartment in Baku).

House museums

House museums are the mothballed homes of the great and the good, filled with personal effects of the one-time resident. Fascinating if you know of the individual concerned but hardly a draw for the average foreign tourist. A notable exception is Stalin's father's hovel in Gori, Georgia.

Historical museums

There's one in almost every mid-sized town/provincial capital. Some such museums do have knowledgeable directors (Goychay, Qazax, Davachi) and in a few cases they are situated in attractive buildings with an historic importance of their own (eg Lankaran, Ordubad, Qabala, Quba, Ganja). Almost inevitably the displays follow the same basic progression they start with some neolithic spearheads and probably a papier-mache tableau of cavemen and a tatty troop of stuffed animals or birds. Then there'll be a very cursory blast through 7000 years of history depicted in one or two rooms with a few copper pots, Jujums, etc. and a carpet or two. Then you reach the room of WW2 ('Great Patriotic War') relics.

The most interesting part of the museum is usually the photo-board depicting local scenes of architectural or archaeological interest. Sadly, the wardens who trail behind you like vultures don't always know exactly where to find half the sites depicted. Instead you're likely to be hurried on to give due honour to photos commemorating 20 January 1990, the Xojaly massacre, and portraits of Karabagh war heroes which fill the majority of later rooms.