Icheri Sheher (Old City), the pearl at the heart of Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage, has a history of thousands of years and is located in the historic centre of ancient Baku, the capital city of the ancient state of the Shirvanshahs and symbol of Azerbaijani statehood. This unique historic ensemble has been called the Acropolis of Baku, Old City or Icheri Sheher. It was the famous Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl who noted that Baku and its surrounding areas may have been one of the first centres of human civilization.
Icheri Sheher got its name following the economic development of the 19th century. As the oil industry developed in Baku, the city expanded beyond the fortress walls, so there became an inner and an outer city. The inner city is still a living organism with an infrastructure and is home to 1300 families.
In December 2000, the Old City of Baku with the Palace of Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower became the first location in Azerbaijan classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Three years later, in 2003, UNESCO placed the Old City on the List of World Heritage List, citing damage from a November 2000 earthquake, poor conservation, and "dubious" restoration efforts.
In 2009 The World Heritage Committee praised Azerbaijan for its efforts to preserve the walled city of Baku and removed it from the endangered list.
For a long period of time, an explicit symbol of the Old City was a mulberry tree located behind the Djuma Mosque. It was believed that the tree was several hundred years old. The tree made its way into many sayings and songs popular in the Old City, and became a local landmark. The place where that tree was located was referred to as Mulberry Tree Square. However, in the 1970s the mulberry tree was cut down, because of the nearby construction works.
Another popular landmark of the Old City is the local bookstore that sells mostly second-hand, but also new books. Situated amongst the Bukhara and the Multani Caravanserais, the Maiden Tower, and Hajinski’s Palace (otherwise known as Charles de Gaulle House, because he stayed there during World War II), it is a popular destination of Bakuvian students and bibliophiles, mostly because of its low prices.
The old city of Baku is depicted on the obverse of the Azerbaijani 10 manat banknote issued since 2006.