There’s something slightly unreal about arriving in Baku. The trip from the airport sets the scene. For starters, there’s the taxi fleet – London-style cabs painted regal purple, by decree of the First Lady. Faux medieval crenellations line the velvet-smooth airport highway; closer to town they yield to the fluid lines and gleaming white tiles of what looks like an Azerbaijani space centre but is, in fact, the Heydar Aliev Centre, a cultural complex designed by celebrity architect Zaha Hadid.
Surveying it all from posters and statues across the land is the silent-movie star visage of Aliev himself, the former President and founder of the modern state. This is Alice in Wonderland meets Ali Baba. [Read more…]