Azerbaijan straddles Eastern Europe and Western Asia, creating a melting pot of cultures and varied scenery. From seaside resorts to ancient mosques and minarets, mud volcanos and modern architecture, Azerbaijan has many spots waiting to be explored. This is a country that blends the old and new and brings together the natural and man-made elements to create a truly spectacular scene. Stay in the cities, or head off the beaten track, wherever you turn there is something to make memories.
Explore the capital of Azerbaijan, and enjoy the incredible combination of stunning skyscrapers lined with LCD screens and old buildings in the walled city of Icheri Seher. Soak up the atmosphere of peace as you look out over the Caspian Sea, or head to the bustling Teze Bazaar to browse the wares and sample the kebabs. This is the authentic Azerbaijan experience.
See firsthand the flames that Marco Polo wrote about in the 13th century. Yanar Dag, or the Fire Mountain, is one of many sites in Azerbaijan where you can find mysterious flames that come from underground natural gas reserves. Even knowing the science behind the source of the flames, they are an impressive sight that brings the imagination forward. It's easy to understand why ancient religions worshipped them.
Explore the mud volcanoes that are scattered on the Azerbaijan landscape, and watch as they bubble and pop. There are 400 of these sedimentary volcanoes in Azerbaijan. While they're smaller than regular volcanoes they still reach around 2,297 feet in height and 6 miles in diameter. Some spurt flames as natural gas escape from pockets underground. They're an intimidating, messy, and fascinating sight to behold.
Fire has had a huge influence on the culture and history of Azerbaijan. The never-ending flames found in so many parts of the country were the inspiration for the Zoroastrian religion. The Fire Temple of Baku is thought to have been built by Zoroastrians, and to have become a place of Hindu worship later on. The temple complex is now a museum. The eternal flame still burns, although it's now being fed by the city's main gas supply. Take a look around at the stunning complex, and admire the neverending fire.
If you're a book lover, or just interested in curiosities, then the museum of miniature books will sweep you off your feet. Baku claims that theirs is the only museum in the world devoted to tiny books. The museum is based on the private collection of Zarifa Salahova, augmented by a donation from a Ukranian collector. There are thousands of tiny books, including one Russian title "The Most Miraculous Thing," which is just 6mm x 9mm in size and requires a magnifying glass to read.
There are 400 mud volcanoes and some incredible ancient petroglyph carvings at Gobustan National Park. Perhaps the most overlooked attraction, however, is the Gaval Dash. This large stone resonates with musical sounds, like a tambourine, when it's hit with smaller stones. In ancient times it was used to play melodies for rituals, and nowadays it's used for music production.
Head off the beaten track to find Agdam, a ghost town that was abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union led to conflict and chaos in Azerbaijan. The town once had 40,000 residents, but shell bombardment and fighting forced them all to flee. The Armenian military destroyed much of the town, and today the town is decaying. Walk the outskirts to see the eerie stillness and wonder at what stories the ruins would tell about life during the war.
Lahic is an ancient village with cobblestone streets, shops selling masterfully crafted wares, and smiths hard at work producing beautiful goods. The residents are friendly and happy to try to communicate, although some knowledge of Azeri or Turkish can help with conversation. Lahic is a destination that is popular with tourists during the summer, but if you visit during the winter months you'll enjoy a much more intimate, quieter experience.
Giz Galasi, or the Maiden Tower, is the oldest surviving building in the old walled city of Baku. Nobody is sure when it was built, or for what purpose. Even the reasoning behind the name is a mystery. Some say its construction predates the arrival of Islam to Azerbaijan, so it may have been a Zoroastrian temple, but nobody knows for sure. Local legends, fairytales, and folklore surround the tower. See it for yourself, explore the museum inside, and decide which stories you believe.
The Palace of the Shaki Khans is a tiny, but ornate, wooden chalet. It was built as a summer palace, with the hope that the revolutions of the era would simply pass it by. For the most part, it was indeed overlooked, until 1819 when Russians invaded the area. The palace is decorated with Ottoman ceramics, Iranian mirrorwork, and French stained glass. Enjoy the peace and tranquility, pour over the fine details of this exquisite palace.