İçərişəhər. Icherishekher. The old quarter.
Arriving in Baku, I would always come here first. Each time I would explore the maze of narrow sandstone streets within its walls, and walk past every little pale house – some empty, some with chattering coming from inside. I would drink sahlep on a low sofa at a cafe on Boyük Qala, while watching the street outside wake up; always climb up the Maiden Tower for a first sight of the Caspian Sea; always go into the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, to hear again the stories that Azerbaijan tells about itself.
İçərişəhər is slow and tranquil – the opposite of the Baku outside these stone walls: brash and new, disjointed and agitated.
In a room at the top of some steps, on my first ever day in Baku, I asked for lunch, and the middle-aged man inside gave me soup, bread and tea. As he washed my dishes, he gave me a long talk about Azerbaijan, then came to sit with me. He asked me to come back the next day.
I only realised after I left that I had walked into his house.