We visited Azerbaijan back in June – a country bordered by Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Iran.
The approach to the city centre of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, by night was spectacular. Baku sits on the Caspian Sea and is like Paris meets Dubai with a mix of lovely old architecture and many glitzy modern buildings.
The following morning, we wandered through the meandering alleys of the old city – all built on different angles to confuse invading armies. An older Azeri lady passes us with her arms full of groceries and disappears through one of the doorways, pushing aside the sheet over the door into the dilapidated building. There’s a gentrification going on here – the buildings are being sold off to fancy hotels, who then modernise them, which sadly is changing the character of the place.
On the way out of the old town, we see a plastic bag with leftover bread tied to the front fence of one of the houses. Bread is holy in Azerbaijan and it is said that eating bread with someone seals a bond of friendship. Bread can’t be put out with the rest of the rubbish, which leaves superstitious Azeris to come up with other ways to dispose of it.
Cruising out on the ferry one night, we see the modern architectural jewel of Baku – the flame towers. These three buildings have been constructed in the shape of a flame and have 10,000 high-powered LCD luminaries which flash images at night in unison to create a spectacle of colour. Flames appear one moment and a person walking across the buildings waving the Azeri flag the next.
The economy in Azerbaijan is heavily reliant on oil and in 1848, close to the city, the first modern oil pump in the world was installed here – which incidentally is still pumping oil today and well worth seeing.
A day trip south of the city took us to the fire temple. Although the majority of the population of modern Azerbaijan is Muslim, the people once followed Zoroastrianism – a religion that worships fire. The temple has a fire altar in the middle of the courtyard with monk’s quarters set in the fortress-like walls around the outside.
On the final day, we visit Yanar Dag – a natural gas fire which blazes continuously from the ground. While it is believed that shepherds in the area accidentally lit the gas back in the 1950’s, our guide proudly proclaims that there have been reports from 1,000 years ago which describe the fires out here.
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Article originally published in the Tweed Valley Weekly.