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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Oil boom destroys Baku charm
By Chloe Arnold
BBC correspondent in Baku

Street scene in Baku
Historic buildings were built by the Nobel brothers and Rothschilds
The capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, is an historic city with many building dating back as far as the 12th century but some people fear the city's unique charm and character is being destroyed by an unprecedented construction boom fuelled by oil exports.

The corner of Tolstoy Street in Gorky Alley used to be a ramshackle collection of wooden houses with tumbledown roofs and balconies overgrown with grapevines.

Today there is no sign of them - they have been torn down to make way for a hulking multi-storey office complex.

If it is designed like most of the other new buildings going up across the capital, it will have mirrored windows and an underground car park.

Modern intrusions

Baku's skyline is changing - the last few years have seen millions of dollars poured into the country as western companies flock to invest in the lucrative oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea.

Demand for new housing and office space is growing, but many of the city's residents are concerned that the tower blocks shooting up across Baku are destroying its charm.

Baroque-style mansions built by the Nobel brothers and the Rothschilds, who came to Baku a century ago to pioneer its oil industry, are now dwarfed by vast concrete and glass structures.

Fuad Akhundov is an amateur historian who takes guided tours around Baku's walled city, which dates back to the 12th century.

He is one of many who are deeply dismayed by the recent building boom.

"It's truly horrible because it seems that the city that was created by one oil boom at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th centuries is virtually being destroyed by the construction going on now, and frankly speaking this is not the city I would like to live in any longer," he said.

Quake fears

Construction in Azerbaijan is governed by a strict code which is supposed to ensure that all new buildings are in keeping with Baku's historical appearance, but these rules are being flouted.

Critics say unscrupulous construction companies and corrupt officials are to blame.

More worrying, is that Baku lies on a geological fault line and is due for an earthquake sometime soon.

With no proper building regulations, many fear the next tremor here could mean the phalanx of new buildings will simply come tumbling down.


SEE ALSO:
Musharraf seeks Azerbaijan deals
08 Jul 04  |  South Asia
US bonds with new leader in Baku
04 Dec 03  |  Europe


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