Baku Days: The architectural legacy and tragic end of the first oil Barons

XI Red Army in Baku 1920

On the 28th April 1920 the Red Army marched into Baku, bringing Azerbaijan into the Soviet sphere of influence.

By this time, the city had been a boom town for nearly fifty-years. Oil money had poured in, enriching the few Azerbaijani’s lucky enough to own land where oil had been discovered and those with entrepreneurial skills. This money allowed the wealthy elite to build private homes, charitable institutions and public buildings of epic grandeur.

Nobel oilwells, Baku

Soon after the establishment of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic, foreign companies that had been extracting oil were expelled, all private and corporate wealth was expropriated and homes and other buildings built with oil money confiscated, thus ending an egocentric, competitive building spree that had lasted nearly thirty years. 

Their private homes were taken over by the state and used either as public buildings or divided up into apartments. Surprisingly, many have survived seventy years of Soviet neglect and have been or are being restored to their former glory. 

Next to  the Maiden’s Tower on the Bulvar stands the palatial former residence of Issa-bey Hajinski (1862-1918). He was a famous oil baron, nobleman and public figure during the first Oil Boom. A wealthy landowner, he discovered oil on his property and also owned a kerosene refinery in the industrial “Black City”.

Hajinski died shortly before the Bolsheviks took power in Baku and his three sons fled the country. According to an unverified report, one of them, Ahmad, tried to return to Baku along with the Germans during World War II. He was captured and escorted to Baku as a prisoner and subsequently sentenced to death.










 The building was finished in 1912 and is now divided into private apartments. 

Further along the Bulvar stands a building that houses the headquarters of State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic. This was formerly the mansion of Mir-Taghy Mir-Babayev, a talented Azerbaijani folk singer.

At a wedding banquet at which he was invited to perform, one of the groom’s close relatives was so deeply moved that he presented him with a gift of a piece of land. The land was rich with oil deposits, the extraction of which made him him a very wealthy man. According to legend, Mir-Babayev emigrated soon after the Soviet invasion and moved to France, where he was lived in poverty until his death. 





 The building was designed by P. Stern in 1893 and construction was completed in 1896.

The building known as the Wedding palace was built as a private home in the French Gothic style, by Murtuza Mukhtarov in 1911-1912.

Despite being born into a poor family and not having access to formal education, he managed to become a highly qualified, self-taught engineer and one of the best boring specialists in Baku. In 1890 he founded what became a substantially sized oil company with two divisions, employing 2,500 workers. The company manufactured machinery for derricks and bored new oil wells.

Taganova met and married Ossetian noble lady, Liza-Khanum in about 1910. Soon afterwards he commissioned their new residence. The couple didn’t have children but Khanum, arranged a boarding school for poor and orphan girls to be constructed inside the palace. In 1914, the building became the first Female Moslem Philanthropic Society in the country.

Legend has it that in 1920, he vowed that “as long as I’m alive, no barbarian will enter my house in soldier boots.” When a Red Army soldier finally entered the building on horseback, Mukhtarov shot him then turned the gun on himself. 

Ironically, the widowed Liza-Khanum was forced to live in the basement of the palace that had been built for her, while the building became the headquarters of the XI Red Army. She finally managed to escape to Istanbul thanks to a false marriage to a Turkish diplomat. Unfortunately, he deprived her what little she was able to take with her to start a new life. She lived on until the mid 1950’s.


Strangest of all is the Ismailiyya, a mansion built in memory of Baku’s richest oil Baron Musa Naghiyev’s only son, Ismayil, who died in his youth of tuberculosis. Built in a rather eclectic style, the exterior is in Venetian Gothic revival style while the interior is Neo-Classical.

He was born into a very poor family near Baku and started his career as a cargo carrier. Later, he began investing in real estate and finally became the largest rental property owner in Baku owning more than 200 buildings. He was also known in Baku as the most stingy and tight-fisted of the millionaire tribe.

In March 1918, the palace was looted and gutted with fire by with the support of Bolsheviks in an attempt to take control of the city. Naghiyev died the following year before the palace could be rebuilt.

After the Bolshevik occupation in 1920, the Soviets rebuilt the palace but they were not able to return it to its original state of splendor.

Much of the factual information and some of the images were derived from articles that first appeared in Azerbaijan International Magazine:

About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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2 Responses to Baku Days: The architectural legacy and tragic end of the first oil Barons

  1. hugh paxton says:


    Nice post!

    I suggest you approach Rough Guides. They pissed me around for seven years before finally inviting me to write a Rough Guide to Namibia. The timing was unfortunate. I’d just left the country. But I reckon you could do a great Az Rough Guide and maybe the editors might actually send you a contract and advance before you move to Papua. Or die at the ripe old age of 111.



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