Mascarons are decorative ornaments featuring human and animal faces in achitecture. They were mainly used to scare evil spirits preventing them entering house. Over the time decorative purposes were widely adopted across various architecture styles, primarily European.
They may look like frightening, horrifying, comical, tragic, joyful, and neutral. Anna Kavelchenko summerizes them into beautiful women as femme fatale, medusa-gorgon, fauns and satyrs, grotesques, demons, chimeras, antique gods, masks, green man, animals.
Baku was introduced to European achitecture influences in the first oil boom era during late 19th century and early 20th century. The influences were, of course, brought by architects of European origins, Polish, German and Russian, most whom were students of Saint Petersburg Institue of Civil Engineering. Riches of Baku’s Oil Barons for personal glory and fame invited them. Therefore mascarons are mostly found in that achitecture by them from that era.
The Downtown Baku is rich in terms of European Achitecture, hence with mascarons, too. Here we explore this neighbourhood to discover and map the mascarons of Baku.
Baku Town Hall
- Address: Istiqlaliyyat street 18
- Constructed in 1900-1904,
- Designed by Józef Gosławski in Baroque style, Polish architect who moved to Baku from St. Petersburg,
- Built as a monumental landmark to accomodate elective body of city governance then known as Baku Duma, now Baku Executive Authority.
The most decorated part of the Town Hall is the central portal. Animal and gorotesque mascarons beautifies the facade eloquently. The central mascarons are lion head figures (see image below) that stand centrally above the aches from ground floor from three sides.
The second floor of the central portal is more eloborate and detailed. Two composite greek order coloums raised on the front of the portal resemblimg a triumph arch topped with gothic groteque head figure flanked with two winged fantastical dragon-like grotesques. To the sides of the columns (see image below) two identical copies of Baku’s Coat of Arms from Imperial Russian era are placed. The Coat of Arms is the shield with three flames in the centre and crowned at the top.
Two winged fantastical dragon-like grotesque is similar decoration adopted by Jozef Ploshko in one of his architecture Masterpiece, The Palace of Happiness at Murtuza Muxtarov street. Both are close friends and colleaques stadied in Saint Petersburg and perhaps got infleunced by the same architecture schools.
Central Portal has three grand arches (see images below) as walkways to enter, exit or walk through under which prepares over-head hanging mascarons for a seeting to haunt passersby.
- Address: Corner of Said Rustamov 3 and Hasan Abdullayev streets
- Constructed in 1898-1903,
- Designed by Iohann Edel in Neo-renaisance style, German-origin architect who studied in Moscow,
- Built as a residence for Oil Baran, Dmitry Mitrofanov.
Mitrofanov’s Residence is one the most decorated architectures of the Baku Oil Boom Era. Influence of French neo-renaissance movement is recognizable and all greek order styles has been generously applied. Mascarons were also widely utilized for purpuse of decoration. The most decorated is the central entry to the residence.
Wide range of mascarons are used. Antique Gods, Greek mythological Satyrs, Greenman, lion head figures and grotesques. See gallery of the below.
Opera and Ballet Theatre
- Address: Nizami Street 95
- Constructed in 1910-1911,
- Designed by Nikolai Bayev in Neo-renaisance style, Armenian-origin architect who studied in St. Petersburg,
- Built as Mailov Brothers’ Theatre.
The Opera and Ballet Theatre is one of the crowdiest places in Baku Downtown on weekends. There are many myth and legends surronds relates to how the theathre was built. And Bayev’s imaginery thought thoughts of decoracting facade and interiors add more to mysteriousness of the theatre as such assymmetrical design of the southern facade (see the image above), bizzare fire in 1987 right after the renovation and above all heart-melting love story that gave the ideo to Daniel Mailov to built an Opera Theartre in Baku.
Due to its use of purpose, we see more of mascarons, although, it is quite difficult to identify if they are masks representing theatrical comedy and tragedy. Interestingly they all are produced in duplicate numbers. Assuming they are masks, motsly, certainly some pf them are simply grotesques and demons, would also represents what type of a theatre this building is.
The only mascarons which are not masks are those linear shaped mythogogical birds, Pheonixes. They are hid, not easily spotted, but if you pay careful atention, you can see eyes, heads and beaks. They decorate top part of central coulumns of the theatre.
Below see more of the mascarons pictured in various architecture in Baku.