Baku Architecture Tour Baku Travel Guide

Mascarons of Baku

Most mystifying, enigmatic, inexplicable mascarons of Baku

Origins of Mascarons

As a reaction to the eclectic styles that dominated Europe, Art Nouveau manifested itself in architecture in decorative elements: the buildings, full of curved and sinuous lines, received ornaments inspired by organic shapes such as plants, flowers, and animals, both in terms of design and the use of color. Inspiration of animal elements produced in specific term, mascarons.

As decorative ornaments, mascarons feature human and animal faces. Many of them originate in Greek and Roman mythology with specific purpose. Initially, they were mainly used to scare evil spirits preventing them entering house. Later, Art Nouveau movement popularized wide use of mascaron in architecture particularly during later 19th and early 20th century.

The mythological figures and personas that look like frightening, horrifying, comical, tragic, joyful, and neutral have now been adopted as one of defining aspect of new art in architecture. However, they were accepted as new art, the original use of purpose of the mascanors remained useful in an attempt to explain them. Anna Kavelchenko summerizes them into beautiful women as femme fatale, medusa-gorgon, fauns and satyrs, grotesques, demons, chimeras, antique gods, masks, green man, animals.

How Mascarons appeared in Architecture of Baku?

Baku was introduced to European achitecture influences in the first oil boom era during late 19th century and early 20th century. Architects of European origin, Polish, German and Russian, most whom were students of Saint Petersburg Institute of Civil Engineering, brought various influences including Art Nouveau.

Riches of Baku’s Oil Barons for personal glory and fame drove Baku’s architectural transformation. On the one hand, there was kind of competion among the oil barons that who has built the most extravagant and grandeur mansion in Baku. On the other, young aspiring architects were putting their talent at test to prove themselve to their clients.

All these were undergoing at the same time when Art Nouveau overtook the European cities. The architects of Baku were clrealy aware of the Art Nouveau movement and took their chances in leaving leagcy in this movement for future. Thus, Baku got introduced to the mascarons in late 19th and early 20th century.

Nonetheless, mascarons are not only used in Baku’s Art Nouveau Architectures, however, they are the most breathtaking. Mascarons are also found in all achitecture styles whta has been desinged by architects of European origin from that era.

Due to the fact the first oil boom ended with Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and subsequent occupation of Baku by the communists in 1920, the European architecture movement spread in a very limited geographic area, the Downtown Baku.

The Downtown Baku is rich in terms of European Achitecture, hence with mascarons, too. Here we explore this neighbourhood to discover and map the mascarons of Baku.

Baku Town Hall

The most decorated part of the Town Hall is the central portal. Animal and gorotesque mascarons beautifies the facade eloquently. The central mascarons are lion head figures (see image below) that stand centrally above the aches from ground floor from three sides.

The second floor of the central portal is more eloborate and detailed. Two composite greek order coloums raised on the front of the portal resemblimg a triumph arch topped with gothic groteque head figure flanked with two winged fantastical dragon-like grotesques. To the sides of the columns (see image below) two identical copies of Baku’s Coat of Arms from Imperial Russian era are placed. The Coat of Arms is the shield with three flames in the centre and crowned at the top.

Second Floor of the Portal
View of Top Right Corner from North

Two winged fantastical dragon-like grotesque is similar decoration adopted by Jozef Ploshko in one of his architecture Masterpiece, The Palace of Happiness at Murtuza Muxtarov street. Both are close friends and colleaques stadied in Saint Petersburg and perhaps got infleunced by the same architecture schools.

Central Portal has three grand arches (see images below) as walkways to enter, exit or walk through under which prepares over-head hanging mascarons for a seeting to haunt passersby.

Mitrofanov’s Residence

View of Pediment of an Entry to Mitrafanov’s Residence

Mitrofanov’s Residence is one the most decorated architectures of the Baku Oil Boom Era. Influence of French neo-renaissance movement is recognizable and all greek order styles has been generously applied. Mascarons were also widely utilized for purpuse of decoration. The most decorated is the central entry to the residence.

View of Mascarons on the Central Entry

Wide range of mascarons are used. Antique Gods, Greek mythological Satyrs, Greenman, lion head figures and grotesques. See few of them below.

Opera and Ballet Theatre

  • Address: Nizami Street 95
  • Constructed in 1910-1911,
  • Designed by Nikolai Bayev in Neo-renaisance style, Armenian-origin architect who studied in St. Petersburg,
  • Built as Mailov Brothers’ Theatre.
View of Opera and Ballet Theatre. Source: Sefer azeri / commons.wikimedia.or

The Opera and Ballet Theatre is one of the crowdiest places in Baku Downtown on weekends. There are many myth and legends surronds relates to how the theathre was built. And Bayev’s imaginery thought thoughts of decoracting facade and interiors add more to mysteriousness of the theatre as such assymmetrical design of the southern facade (see the image above), bizzare fire in 1987 right after the renovation and above all heart-melting love story that gave the ideo to Daniel Mailov to built an Opera Theartre in Baku.

Due to its use of purpose, we see more of mascarons, although, it is quite difficult to identify if they are masks representing theatrical comedy and tragedy. Interestingly they all are produced in duplicate numbers. Assuming they are masks, motsly, certainly some pf them are simply grotesques and demons, would also represents what type of a theatre this building is.

Left Top Corner of Opear and Ballet Theatre
Two Identical Grotesques
Four Pheonixes without clear body and wings

The only mascarons which are not masks are those linear shaped mythogogical birds, Pheonixes. They are hid, not easily spotted, but if you pay careful atention, you can see eyes, heads and beaks. They decorate top part of central coulumns of the theatre.

Walking Tour of Mascarons in Architechture of Baku

Below see the best collection of the mascarons pictured in various streets in Baku. Loocation of the mascarons have been attached to their address.

Mirzebekov’s Residence in Neo-Classic Style

Residential Arpartment in Neo-Classic Style

Isa Hajinski Residence in Art Nouveau/Eclecticism

Commercial Bank in Art Nouveau Style

Greek God Hermes and his staff

Femme Fatale Mascarons of Art Nouveau Style

Commercial Shop in Art Nouveau Style

Art Nouveau Grotesque

Fantasy Bath House in Neo-Classic Style

Israfil Hajiyev Residence in Art Nouveau Style

Residential Apartment in Art Nouveau Style


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