The 1907 British music hall song written by John A. Glover-Kind “Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside” could have been written about the Baku, truly!
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:
So just let me be beside the seaside
I’ll be beside myself with glee
And there’s lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside!
Beside the sea!
Well, actually I didn’t hear the “brass band play tiddely om, pom, pom” yesterday, as I walked in the Spring sunshine along the three-kilometer length of the promenade [here termed the “bulvar”] but the music coming from the three children’s carousels dotted along my path did give it the right sort of holiday ambiance.
Lovers walked hand in hand [all of them dressed in black jackets and blue jeans] or sat on the new black and gold benches that face out to sea and dot the tree-covered gardens. These act as a barrier between the “prom” and the prosaically named Neftchilar [or Oilworker] Street. Millions of oil dollars have been and continue to be spent on beautifying this stretch of real estate, reclaimed from the sea more than one-hundred years ago.
It is thanks to Baku’s Mayor R.R. Hoven back in the 1880’s that the Bulvar exists at all. In his proto-green policy, he demanded that all ships docking in Baku from Iran should use good, fertile soil as ballast. This was to be unloaded in Azerbaijan before they could receive their cargo of oil… Within twenty years, there was enough good soil to create an embankment twenty metres wide, opposite the private residence that is now the headquarters of SOCAR, the national oil company. A Polish engineer Kazimir Skurevich, designed the first promenade that was planted up with trees and shrubs capable of coping with Baku’s dry and windy climate.
Improvements were made over the years with pleasure gardens and walks created along the way and the extension to the site of the present day puppet theater and on to the port-arrival building three kilometers away. The Bulvar has always been popular with Buku residents but towards the end of the Soviet period, the gardens became neglected and fell into disrepair…
What a difference a few years makes! I have sometimes been sad at the changes wrought across the city that have led to the demolition of historic buildings and over-enthusiastic rebuilding of others but I have no complains about this part of town.
There is something for everyone, a pier for fishermen, a road-train for the kids, teashops for the men [OK, Western women can go there but I’ve never seen an Azeri woman darken their doors] and juice bars for all.
As we progress into Summer and it gets progressively hotter, more and more people will take to the Bulvar in the late evening to walk hand in hand, catch the cooling breeze and eat candyfloss from the stalls…