February 17, 2017


by Prof Mahir Khalifa-Zadeh and Leyla Khalifazadeh

azGlobalContext.org, Toronto-based Media and Analysis Center, Canada
azglobalcontext.org (Canada)
17 February, 2017
Maiden Tower (Qiz qalasi), Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku's Holy Fire Temple-Tower (Maiden Tower), reconstruction by Prof Davud A.Akhundov

Baku Maiden Tower, painting, Tahir Salahov
The Maiden Tower (Azerbaijani: Qiz qalasi) is a legendary and world-famous landmark in Baku, Azerbaijan; and since 2001, the tower, along with Baku's Walled City (Old City) and the Palace of Shirvan-Shahs, has been included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.


Numerous scientific sources have confirmed the Maiden Tower as being a paramount example of Zoroastrianism and pre-Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan and Iran. In particular, some archaeological and architectural evidence indicate the tower to be the Holy Fire Temple-Tower of Zoroastrians, dating back to approximately the eighth to seventh century BC. As scientists argue, the tower had seven fire exits on the top, symbolizing the Zoroastrian "seven steps" or "seven skies" to get to heaven.

Legends and mysteries

There exists a rich pool of mysteries and legends related to Baku's Maiden Tower that have come down to the present day. However, a number of key mysteries remain unresolved: What is the purpose of the tower? Why does the tower have the kind of design it has?

 Undoubtedly, the tower is covered by a cloud of legends and epics deeply rooted in Iran's and Azerbaijan's hist01y, religion, and culture. Some legends have even become the subject of scenarios for ballets and theatre plays that have themselves become part of Azerbaijan's national heritage and identity. In particular, one such play is the Maiden Tower ballet, a world-class Azerbaijani masterpiece created by the Azerbaijani composer Afrasiyab Badalbeyli in 1940, of which a remake was performed in 1999.

Interestingly, up to 20 legends are related to the Maiden Tower, a large number of which connect to Baku's medieval or Islamic period. However, at least two such legends (which have come down to the present day) are deeply rooted in Baku's Zoroastrian or pre-Islamic period. We believe that the most impressionable and colorful story to come out of Baku's ancient Maiden Tower is the Zoroastrian legend of the virgin girl savior with fire-colored hair.

Legend of the Fire-Color-Haired Virgin Girl Savior

A long time ago, there existed the ancient town-fortress of Baku. The fortress had a Fire Temple-Tower. At one point in Baku's history, the enemy managed to encircle the fortress. The enemy requested that Baku's people surrender; however, they refused. Consequently, the enemy launched a siege to demolish the fortress and capture all the inhabitants into slavery. As a result, many fortress defenders died while attempting to stop the enemy's attacks.

 The enemy's commander ordered the cutting of water supply lines in an attempt to overthrow the fortress's defenders. Everybody in the fortress was thirsty. They had no water, nor food-only blood and death. The supreme magi, together with the other priests, thus prayed to the Holy Fire kept in the fortress's Fire Temple­ Tower, asking the god Ahura Mazda to help and protect the people. They prayed day and night, asking the All-Mighty and Merciful Ahura Mazda to save their lives and push back the enemy.

Finally, the supreme god Ahura Mazda heard the magi and people's prayers. One day, people saw a large piece of the Holy Fire falling from the top of the Fire Temple-Tower. A beautiful girl came up from the fire. She had long fire-colored hair. The crowd went down on their knees and started to pray to her. The girl said, not worry. I am here to help and protect you! Give me a sword and helmet! The enemy must not see my girl's hair. Open a fortress gate!"

Meanwhile, the enemy commander was waiting outside for a one-on-one fight with the fortress pahlevan. If the fortress pahlevan were to win the fight, the enemy's army would subsequently back away. However, if the enemy commander were to win, the fortress would be destroyed, and the surviving inhabitants would be enslaved.

The fortress gate opened, and the enemy commander saw the pahlevan coming to fight. Thus, the heavy battle began. In one of the god-blessing moments that ensued, the fortress pahlevan unhorsed the enemy and put a knife directly on his neck. The enemy commander screamed, "You win! Who are you? Take your helmet off. I want to see your face, Pahlevan!" He took off the helmet and saw that the fortress pahlevan was a beautiful girl with long, fire-colored hair. He exclaimed, "Oh, you are a girl! You are a brave and beautiful girl! If the girls of Baku are so brave, I will never capture your fortress! Do not kill me, beauty!"

He fell in love with her because of her beauty and bravery. He asked her to marry him. Of course, the girl did not kill him. She fell in love with him too because of his open heart.

In the end, the enemy did not capture the Baku fortress, and the locals named it the Maiden Tower.

The following legend indicates the tower's Zoroastrian roots as well:

Legend of Why Baku Tower's Fires Stopped Burning

Once upon a time, the enemy besieged the fortress of Baku. However, Baku's people refused to give up. They decided to fight and defend their lives. They fought with great bravery, but the situation inside the fortress increasingly worsened. The enemy launched a tight siege to overthrow the defenders and cut off their water supply.

 Meanwhile, the supreme magi and other priests prayed to the All-Mighty God Ahura Mazda in the fortress's Holy Fire Temple-Tower. They prayed to Ahura­ Mazda for help.

After several days of nonstop prayer, Ahura Mazda heard the priests' blessings and prayers. A strong and devastating earthquake occurred, perishing the enemy troops. Thus, the All-Mighty Ahura Mazda destroyed the enemy and Baku's people escaped slavery, but the Holy Fires stopped burning on top of Baku's Fire Temple­ Tower.

Comments: Why is Baku's Tower Named the Maiden Tower?

Except for the legendary background, there is no historical explanation or any archaeological or written evidence describing why the tower was named the Maiden Tower. Therefore, we cannot exclude the possibility of a religious explanation.

 We believe that the tower is named the Maiden Tower because it was never destroyed by the enemy. From a religious perspective, this means that the temple was never humiliated or desecrated by evil (Ahriman, or Angra Mainyu in Zoroastrianism). Therefore, if the tower was not desecrated by the enemy/evil (Ahriman), it continues to be "virgin" (untouched)-hence, a "Maiden" tower­ temple of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda.

*Mahir Khalifa-zadeh, professor, Ph.D., regular contributor to international outlets on global politics and security, member of the Canadian Political Science Association, Toronto, Canada.

**Leyla Khalifazadeh, university student, Toronto, Canada

1- Baku's Maiden Tower Legendary Monument of Mystery, Azerbaijan International, Los Angeles Office Box 5217, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413, USA, http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/42_folder/42_articles/42_maidentower.html

2- Maiden Tower Secrets of the Maiden Tower: What They Reveal about Early Man's Beliefs, Azerbaijan International, Los Angeles Office Box 5217, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413, USA , http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai143_folder/143_articles/143_mt_secrets.html

3- Sara Ashurbeyli, New evidences on the history of Baku and the Maiden Tower, in Azerbaijani, Journal of Arts, N2 (14), Azerneshr publishing house, 1972, Ашурбейли С. Б. Новые изыскания по истории Баку и Девичьей башни. Гобустан. Альманах искусств №2(14). Азернешр, 1972 (на азерб. языке)

4- Davud A.Akhundov, The Architecture of Ancient And Early Medieval Azerbaijan, In Russian, Baku, 1986, ISBN 5-94628-118-6, Azerneshr publishing house, pp-311, Ахундов Д. А. Архитектура древнего и раннесредневекового Азербайджана. Баку, Азернешр, 1986, ISBN 5-94628-118-6, стр-311, http://www.ebooks.az/book_0NetTl4d.html#

5- Hassan Hassanov, Baku's Maiden Tower. A Pagan Monument of Baku, in Russian, ISBN 9789952273793, Baku, 2014, Гасан Гасанов, Девичья башня : Бакинская Девичья Башня; Языческий комплекс Баку, 2014, стр 487, ISBN 9789952273793

6- Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair, The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, Oxford University Press, 2009, Vol N2. ISBN 9780195309911, page-239, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195309911.001.0001/acref-9780195309911

7- Azerbaijan. Pre-Islamic History, Encyclopedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/azerbaijan-iii

8- Mahir Khalifa-zadeh, On the Problem of Ancient Baku's Location, edited by Prof Ziya Bunyatov, Newspaper Bakinsky Rabochiy, in Russian, Baku, Nov 24, 1988, https://ca.linkedin.com/in/prof-mahir-khalifa-zadeh-02a43844

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