Finding a good souvenir is always a dilemma. It should fit in your luggage and meet your budget, look nice on your wall or be practical and good for everyday use. Whatever your criteria for appropriate souvenirs are, this article should inspire you on your search.
Every time friends visit we are sure to leave time for souvenir hunting. The selection of trinkets in Baku is overwhelming and the prices for the same items differ from store to store.
If you are looking for a little treasure and are not too shy to bargain the souvenir shops in Icheri Sheher (Old City) are the best bet. Look left and look right to find hidden shops. They might have the best deals.
A nice souvenir that fits in everybody’s budget are refrigerator magnets (ca. AZN 1). They depict the waterfront, flame towers or the maiden tower. They are available everywhere and make a good gift to give away to friends. I found that the glass magnets that show high resolution pictures of Azerbaijan’s main sites in brilliant colors are especially pretty.
2. Scarfs, bags and purses
Being a country on the silk route Azerbaijan flourished due to its location. Azerbaijan’s silk scarfs (ca.AZN 20) make an authentic gift relating to this past. The vibrant colors and patterns are intriguing and obtainable in every souvenir shop. Further items that bear national ornaments include decorated bags and purses (starting at ca. AZN 5 ). Bargaining is highly recommended!
A reoccurring symbol you might find often on scarfs, clothing or public buildings is the Buta symbol. Buta means “fire” in Sanskrit (Indian language) and is the Azerbaijani national ornament. Azerbaijan has a long history of Zoroastrianism, fire worship. Therefore, this symbol relates to the sacred meaning of fire and represents a talisman providing protection from evil spirits.
The regional pottery is colorful and available as bowls, plates or in shape of pomegranates that come as a set of three or one piece (ca. AZN 15-40). The pomegranate is the local super fruit full of vitamins that is utilized for juices, sauces and dishes. If you happen to be in Azerbaijan on November 2nd visit the pomegranate festival to try the different pomegranate products and to receive a blessing by the pomegranate prince.
4. Crude oil paintings “neft paintings”
Oil is the main income for Azerbaijan. It brought wealth, investment and development to this country. In my opinion, the perfect gift to represent this country is an oil painting: The shop owners call them the “Neft paintings”. Usually, oil paint is paint with pigments based on vegetable oil. Not the “neft paintings”! They are in fact painted with crude oil from Azerbaijan depicting oil towers, life in the city in ancient times or even the Flame Towers. Crude oil paintings are not very common in the art scene, and therefore make an outstanding souvenir that is worth a story. There are a few artists that use crude oil in their paintings (e.g. Piers Secunda) but only one prominent Azerbaijani artist Sabir Chopuroghlu uses exclusively his fingers to create art with oil that he gathered from the crude oil paddles, just outside the city. Sure enough his paintings are not cheap but you can find affordable “neft” paintings from local artists in the various souvenir shops. Depending on the size of the pictures the prices range between AZN 5 for a small to AZN 30 for a midsized painting.
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This country is prominent for its culture of carpet waving. The ornaments of the carpets differ by the region they are originating from and the complexity of ornaments. Main colors used in Azerbaijani carpets are red, blue, green, yellow and cream. Locally sold carpets have two main patterns: Symmetric forms in vibrant colors on local carpets from Azerbaijan and flowery patterns in fading colors from south Azerbaijan/Iran. These carpets tell stories if one can read them. Also, every village has their own patterns and by knowing them you can understand where the carpet was made. The price ranges between a few hundred Manat to several thousand depending on the size, age and quality of the carpet. In 2010 Azerbaijan’s carpets have even been added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Beware! Before buying a carpet consider the bureaucratic requirements for customs. Carpets and other antiques will require an export certificate. The laws are very strict regarding the age of the carpet and the certificate document. This can also mean that the line between custom cleared items and “carpet smuggling” is very thin.
If you have more time in Baku to spend on adventures you can find the good deals by visiting the 8-km Bazaar. Right off the Xalqlar Dostlugu Metro stop. The multiple level bazaar is a cultural shock. You can easily get lost wandering in the alleys of various stands and tiny shops. Clothing, household items bridal gifts everything is there. Just like a gigantic mall only without any directions or exit signs. I happened to find a pretty metal sugar bowl for my aunt, who likes ornamented items.
Should you happen to be near the 28th May mall drop in the long stretched underground bazaar underneath the square in front of the shopping mall. Take the staircase that looks like the Metro entrance to enter the secret Azeri shopping district. After a long search I had found really nice T-shirts with Azerbaijan’s flag there.
If you are interested in the bazaar experience and enjoy big diversity of fruits Baku has many fruit and vegetable bazaars/markets. Check out AngloInfo’s list of markets in and around the city.