Baku (estimated population 1,782,000) is the capital of Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea. Greater Baku includes almost the whole Apsheron peninsula, on which Baky proper is situated.
The city was a leading Soviet industrial and cultural centre and until World War II was the country's chief petroleum centre. It handled one of the greatest volumes of freight (mainly oil and oil products) of any Soviet port.
Oil drilling (especially on the Apsheron peninsula and offshore) is the major economic activity, and Baku has many oil refineries and factories that produce oil-field equipment. Other important industries include shipbuilding and the processing of food and tobacco.
The city was first mentioned in a 9th century chronicle; but as early as the 6th century BC oil and gas wells in the area were worshipped, and shrines were made of constantly burning fires.
Baku was a great medieval trade and craft centre. It flourished in the 15th century under the independent Shirvan shahs and from 1509 to 1723 under Persian rule. Captured by Peter The Great in 1723, it was returned to Persia in 1735. Russia annexed it definitively in 1806.
Oil production began in the late 19th century.
Taken by the Bolsheviks in 1917, the city was occupied during the next two years by the White Army and its foreign allies (mainly Britain).
From 1918 to 1920, Baku belonged to the independent, anti-Bolshevik Azerbaijan republic.
In January 1990, Baky was the scene of fierce fighting as Soviet forces put down Azeri militants who had declared independence.
The Old City, comprising the 13th-century fortress of Bad-Kube, has narrow, winding streets, several mosques, and the 17th-century palace of the khans of Baku, who were vassals of the Persian shahs. The mosque of Synyk-Kala dates from the 11th century and the Maiden's Tower from the 12th.
In the European-style New City are the university (est. 1920), the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, and many other educational and cultural institutions.