Mohammed Mosque “Synyk-kala” (Broken Tower)
In the history of Azerbaijan architecture, minarets play an important role. The minaret next to the Mohammed Mosque, at which you have now arrived, was built in the year 1078 and is a particularly archaic structure. In its way of construction it is typical of the northern regions of Azerbaijan. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its significance as an outstanding building.
Let us, for this moment, not stick to the chronological order and start with some events in the year 1723: Peter I., czar of Russia, called “the Great”, made a strategic decision: In order to conquer Persia, he intended to capture the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. He sent a fleet, and in the summer of 1723, 15 combat vessels lay before Baku. Their commander issued an ultimatum for the town: They were to surrender immediately or an attack would follow. The Khan of Baku declined. The reaction of the Russian warfleet was not long in coming and under thunderous fire, parts of the city wall and the minaret collapsed.
All of a sudden, the wind turned, as it often happens in the bay of Baku. The ships of the attackers were driven out into the Caspian Sea.
The residents of the town witnessed this and, according to the legend, interpreted it as a sign from Allah. Instantly, they began with the rest oration of the defensive walls. Unfortunately, the efforts were not rewarded. The walls did not have enough time to dry, and the troups of the czar were finally able to capture the town. It was decided by residents to keep the minaret tower destroyed as a reminder of the aggression and it has ever since been seen as a symbol of the the town’s residents’ power of resistance. It is proudly called “Synyk-kala” – the Broken Tower.
Russian listeners of this trip through Icherisheher, and those who come from the eastern parts of Europe, may probably have entirely different associations with “Synyk-kala”.
‘Brilliantovaja Ruka’ is the key term — “The Brilliant Hand”. A Russian production of 1969, this comedy gained cult status. People like to insert whole passages of dialogues in conversations. The story of clumsy Semyon Gorbunkov, who accidentally gets involved in a diamond smuggling, is actually set in Turkey. But director Leonid Gaidai resolved to shoot several scenes in Baku — one of them right here, in front of the Mohammed Mosque.
If you are able to quote lines from the movie, the authors are happy to invite you to a cup of tea at the second to last stop — the Mugam Theatre — providing they are present.
But let us leave the trivia now and turn to some words about the importance and architecture of the building.
The body of the tower is rather plain, although the carefully chiselled stones are proof of the stonemasons’ skillful mastery of their material.
Its stern appearance stresses the building’s function: To call believers to the prayer and to demonstrate the presence and power of Islam.
This relation is not only accomplished through the tower’s form and function: A date stamping, carved into stone, is evidence for the fact that in front of us lies the very building that was the first one to be explicitly connected with Islam, the prevailing religion in the country. This inscription is still preserved and can be found on the northern side of the mosque, next to the entrance. Engraved in Kufi, one of the oldest Arabic scripts, it says: “This mosque was built by Ustad-Rais Muhammad ibn-Abu-Bakr in the year 471.” Converted to Christian calculation of times, this is the year 1078/79.
The original mosque from the 11th century is not preserved, but excavations documented that it was built on top of the original grounding, adopting its outlines.