Mystifying, enigmatic Mascarons of Baku - sculptural decorations bearing legacy of city’s architectural transformation

Baku, April 11, AZERTAC

One of the distinguished aspects of Art-Nouveau Architecture was mascarons, a decorative ornament that is frightening, chimeric human or animal face, which today elegantly adorns historical and architectural buildings of Baku, the capital of Land of Fire – Azerbaijan, a country located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Art Nouveau style is inspired by the natural world, characterized by sinuous, sculptural, organic shapes, arches, curving lines, and sensual ornamentation.

As decorative ornaments, many of mascarons, featuring human and animal faces, 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.

When mascarons appeared in architecture of Baku?

When Baku was introduced to European architecture 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, personal glory and fame drove Baku’s architectural transformation. On the one hand, there was kind of competition 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 themselves to their clients. Therefore, the downtown Baku is rich in terms of European Architecture, hence with mascarons, too.

If you want to explore some of those mystifying, enigmatic mascarons, then it is worth scrolling down this page and enjoy the rich architectural and historical heritage of the city.

Baku City Hall – Building of Baku City Executive Power, an administrative building in Azerbaijan's capital Baku

The Polish architects designed eye-catching mansions and palaces built for Baku’s oil elite as well as sumptuous civic buildings and cathedrals. Their iconic designs blended the best of local and Western architectural traditions and remain, over a century later, among Baku’s best landmarks – the buildings of Baku City Executive Power, the Baku Railway Station, Institute of Manuscripts, to name a few.

The Building of Baku City Executive Power is an administrative building in Azerbaijan's capital Baku, at Istiglaliyyat Street, 4, which was constructed in 1900-1904.

Designed by Józef Gosławski in Baroque style, Polish architect who moved to Baku from St. Petersburg, the building is built as a monumental landmark to accommodate elective body of city governance then known as Baku Duma, now Baku City Executive Authority.

The luxurious yet austere building, built in the baroque style, symbolizes the work of the City Hall and its huge responsibility for improving the city, the lives of its residents and the wealth of Baku

The most decorated part of the building is the central portal, whose façade is adorned with animal and grotesque mascarons. The central mascarons are lion head figures 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 columns raised on the front of the portal resembling a triumph arch topped with gothic grotesque head figure flanked with two winged fantastical dragon-like grotesques. The columns also feature two identical copies of Baku’s Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms is the shield with three flames in the centre and crowned at the top.

The central portal has three grand arches as walkways to enter, exit or walk through under which prepares over-head hanging mascarons.

Opera and Ballet Theatre

The Opera and Ballet Theatre – located at in one of the crowded places of downtown Baku on weekends, at Nizami Street 95, the building was constructed in 1910-1911.

Designed by Nikolai Bayev in Neo-renaissance style, the architect who studied in St. Petersburg, was built as Mailov Brothers’ Theatre.

The building features many mascarons and 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, mostly, certainly some pf them are simply grotesques and demons, would also represents what type of a theatre this building is.

The walls of the building are also adorned with linear shaped mythological birds - Phoenixes, which are hid, not easily spotted. However, if you look real close, you can see eyes, heads and beaks that decorate top part of central columns of the theatre.


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