Day 1: Azerbaijan Scoping Trip

Written by Dominica D'Arcangelo, Heritage Without Borders co-founder

Heritage Without Borders has been invited to Azerbaijan to look at opportunities to support museum professionals in Barda.  We are collaborating with the Oxford-based project, Nizami Ganjavi Programme for the languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus.

I said good-bye to my family on Tuesday evening and headed for Heathrow for an overnight flight to Baku!  After an uneventful flight full of as much sleep as I could grab, I arrived.  Just off the plane, I saw a woman was holding a sign with my name on it.  She asked me to follow her.  She didn’t say much, but did ask for my passport and took me through several secure doors bypassing what appeared to be the ‘normal route’ through immigration.  It seemed to me that I was either getting VIP treatment or was in serious trouble.  I was directed to a car which took me a large glass building very near the airport.  When I entered the grand lobby, I was very relieved to see my colleague, Paul Wordsworth sitting there, nonchalantly with a coffee.  I’m pretty sure that I was looking dazed and confused and just as tired as someone looks after only 4 hours of sleep sitting upright in an airplane seat.  

After a quick change in the hotel, I was ready for some local sightseeing.  Our hotel is in the lovely old town of which we did a lap and then wandered out of the city walls to the fabulous 19th century section of the town.  After a very tall coffee, I was very excited to circle around to the city’s grand promenade on The Caspian Sea!  

Luckily, Paul had noticed a small museum near our hotel which belongs to the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, so we stopped in.  Paul gave me some valuable insight into Azerbaijani archaeology and the work he is doing in Barda.  I enjoyed my visual tour of Azerbaijan’s stone, bronze and iron ages, not least because I need to do a session to 8-year olds on that theme and I captured some good images.   

Next on our itinerary was a tour of the National Museum of History of Azerbaijan.  We were met by the Museum’s director, Naila Valikhanly.  The Museum displays archaeological finds on the ground floor and upstairs maintains restored palace rooms which was built before the Revolution in 1895-1901 to serve as dwelling house   for well-known entrepreneur, philanthropist Hadji  Zeynal Abdin Tagiyev and his family.  We were told of scenes from an upcoming film based on the book, Al and Nino, which was recently filmed in the very majestic ‘oriental’ room of the palace.  The palace is amazing and fuses grand 19th century gilded European splendour, with fabulous Ottoman and Islamic details..   

The Azerbaijan partner of the Barda project met us there and we enjoyed a personal tour by the director of the archaeology, the palace, the conservation section and the archaeological archives stored under the museum.  I was very hungry after all of the day's events and a delicious 5 course lunch followed with further discussions about Barda and the archaeological project and looking at ways that HWB might be able to help there.

Then, Paul and I had a meeting at The British Council.  We were really happy to hear about the exciting initiatives and programmes that they are running in the country and the larger region.  Also, we had a chance to make sure that they were kept up to date on our project plans, so that they can support the networks that we are helping to create.  Meeting and talking to people who feel as passionate about connecting professionals internationally to make changes is one of my favourite parts of my job.   

So, yes, my first day in Baku went on and on and I enjoyed every minute of it.  Tomorrow we drive 4.5 hours to Barda and I cannot wait to meet the team, see the site and visit the local museum.   

I would like to thank the Nizami Ganjavi Programme for the languages and cultures of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus for making my trip possible and to Paul for organising it.