Isn’t there too much marble in Baku?
There is a semi-arid climate with hot summer, the air is polluted due to busy vehicle traffic in Baku, but every time a new park is laid out, there is more and more marble rather than green grass and trees in the city.
Who decides, how much grass should there be in a park? It turns out that there is a regulatory document in Azerbaijan, under which, each citizen of the city is entitled to 7-10sq.m. park area, whereas the distance to them should not exceed 15-20 minutes walking time. The municipal park area shouldn’t be less than 15ha. At the same time, 70% of territory of the gardens, parks, squares, should be occupied by vegetation.
Are the aforesaid rules observed in Baku parks?
It’s now called the ‘National Park’ and it is goes down along the Baku bay coastline. It was rebuilt and expanded many times. The youth no longer remember the ordinary stone curbs and asphalt potholes, from which the water was splashed out.
Landmarks: former parachute tower (now it’s just an electronic board showing air temperature and time); famous ‘Zhemchuzhina’ (Pearl) café. The novelties of the ‘fat oil years’: Park Bulvar (Eng. Park Boulevard) and Crystal Palace shopping malls. The latter hosted the Eurovision song contest in 2012. There is a great variety of exotic plants that were brought from various countries. Here, there are also numerous cafés and a couple of ‘elite’ restaurants. The embankment is packed in all-too-common marble.
There are also lawns, but sitting or lying down on them is prohibited. Although it’s not written down in any laws or rules, but we were chased away by a guard anyway. When we requested him to explain the ban, he said the turf was quite heavy, it was hard to tend it and it should not be trampled.
The Officers’ Park
Laid out in Soviet times, as early as during the WWII, this park avoided total ‘marbling’. Although it was renewed and made more ‘civilized’, but those alterations worked in its favor. Huge trees and shrubs, wide clean lawns have been preserved here.
The park is under the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry, rather than of the municipal executive authorities.
Everything has changed in this park after the reconstruction. Even the park name has been changed from the old ‘Third Garden’ into the ‘Park after Dede-Qorqud’. Initially, it occupied about 100 ha. land area, whereas now it’s just 6ha. An artificial lake has been made and the crumpled asphalt has been replaced by marble slabs in the park, which is regarded nowadays as the second largest after the Boulevard.
The citizens’ opinions with regard to such transformation vary. Indigenous Bakuvians, who get nostalgic for ‘narrow streets’ at every given opportunity, are discontent with the new park’s ‘synthetic’ appearance. Whereas the youth, on the contrary, take pleasure of rolling in the grass, since it’s not prohibited here.
The Molokan Garden
The Molokan Garden in the city center has been also ‘repaired’. Now it is called the Khagani Garden, adjoining the same-name street. In the 19th century, this garden was surrounded by caravanserais that accommodated the Christian-Molokans, who brought products for sale from the rural areas. The garden was renamed several times from Mariinsky to Ashum Aliyev Garden and then to January 9 Garden, but it is still popularly referred to as the Molokan Garden. Its area isn’t large in size, just 8ha.
There are two-storey restaurants near the fountain here, benches are lined along the paths, there is also the children’s playground and a small rock-climbing wall. As for the restaurants, Baku parks tend to be easily encrusted with them, in general.
The Governor’s Garden
The Governor’s garden is the city’s oldest park. It used to be the summer residence of the head of the Baku province (later the Public Assembly House) in the period of Tsarist Russia.
It was also known as Mikhailov Garden, the Revolution Garden. The garden starts from Icheri Sheher metro station and heads along the fortress wall towards the Boulevard. Live music is often played and fountains are operating there in summer. Unlike the new parks, there are a lot of trees there. It’s particularly beautiful in spring, in the period of chestnut blossom. Even parrots could be found there. It is said that the birds once fled from the zoo to settle there, in the garden, in the 90s.
The soil in the Governor’s garden is better than that in other parks, because in the period of its foundation, under the special decree of Baku fortress commandant, Roman von der Hoff, who disliked the saline soil of the Absheron, all merchants entering the fortress were imposed a duty – an obligation to import black soil. Today, the park is officially referred to as Aliaga Vahid Garden, in honor of the prominent Azerbaijani poet of the early 20th century.
The Winter Garden
The Winter Garden was laid out in 2013, on the place of old neighborhood, in the very heart of the city. Its foundation was preceded by demolition of old houses, lengthy litigations and protests: the residents were discontent with pecuniary compensation for housing.
There are almost no trees now in the Winter Garden, except for the nursery plants along its perimeter. It basically consists of even lawns, marble and restaurants. There is a parking lot underneath the garden. Relying on the AzerTaj state news agency, 2,000 trees are growing in its territory.
Heydar Aliyev Park
It’s not a single park, but rather a couple of twin-parks, located predominantly in the commuter areas. A monumental gateway with a title at the entrance is the major landmark here. Tree nurslings are planted along the central alley, there is marble everywhere, some neat benches, a couple of paid rides and coffee&tea houses here.
And what about parks, where one can not only sit on a bench, but also run and take a stroll? There was such a park in Bakihanov settlement. The park is now referred to by the settlement’s former name-‘Razin Park’. It was laid out in the 70s: trees were planted and the water system was laid there, turning it into the whole grove with some small animals, like squirrels, harboring there, to say nothing of the birds.
The park was so huge, that even the orienteering tournaments were organized there. Athletes, including rock-climbers, exercised there. The park reached as far as the rock massif, the so-called Razin mount’. The Young Traveler children’s group of the Nizami Youth Creativity Center delivered its classes there until recently.
However, for many years, the park was gradually destroyed. It was ‘cut off’ its land areas for construction of villas, its soil was removed and pothole were filled with debris. Then the waste waters started draining there.
Evgenia Najafova is the head of the Young Traveler group and organizer of various sports events. It was painful for her to observe how the Razin park was gradually turning from a real wood into a boggy dump site. “We tried to remove the waste from there on our own, but what can some dozen of children do, if this waste appears over and over again?”
At first, some enthusiastic athletes tried to stand up for this park. They appealed to the executive authorities, intending to initiate re-organization of the park. However, the officials neglected the problem and people had to put up with the fact that the only suitable place for training within the city boundaries was going to disappear.
It’s not the ‘inappropriately laid out marble parks’, but rather tree felling that irritates Baku residents most. Last summer, the residents of Baku’s Nariman district even organized a protest rally and blocked the road, along which the trees were cut down. The reason for cutting down trees was quite common for Baku – it was planned to launch the construction works there. The construction company lawyer claimed, the court had ruled out in their favor.
The rally participants were dispersed by the police.
As it turned out later, the executive authorities had sanctioned housing development there. This, however, came as a surprise to the Ecology Ministry officials: “Those were years-old trees. We are going to turn to the police, so that the case could be thoroughly investigated.”
According to Farid Huseynov, the Chair of the Azerbaijani Greens’ Movement, Park&Garden Development Committee at the executive government is in charge of landscaping works. The executive government is that very body that one should apply to in case there is a dried up or diseased tree in the yard, that is about to fall on the house dwellers’ heads. The executive authorities, in turn, notify the Ministry of Ecology on the aforesaid. The latter conducts an examination and afterwards issues a tree felling permit – Irada Ibrahimova, the Ecology Ministry spokesperson, explained.
However, more often than not, the executive authorities actually decide such issues bypassing the Ecology Ministry.