|About a fifth of Azerbaijan's
population lives in the capital, the biggest metropolis in Transcaucasia.
This handsome city is built around a perfect harbour, Baku Bay, a
notch in the underside of the Apsheron Peninsula. The heart of the
historic city is Ichari Shahar (the Inner City, or Old Town).
The Inner City is one of the oldest
continuously inhabited spots in the country - and in the Middle
East. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers.
This is the most popular area of the city, a maze of alleys, dead
ends and caravanserais sometimes called the 'Acropolis of Baku.'
|You are unlikely to see
anything else like this majestic temple outside of India. The temple
is built on the site of a natural gas vent believed to have been sacred
to the Zoroastrians since the 6th century AD. To get a sense of how
the worshippers lived you can visit the inside museum and discover
the ritual required to have your wishes granted.
The Atashgah Temple, also known as
the Temple of the Fireworshippers, has been a centre of worship
for thousands of years. The area is so saturated with natural gas
and oil that flames spontaneously erupt from the ground - hence
the country's other name, Odlar Yourdu, or 'Land of Fires', and
the name of the temple, which means 'home of fire'. Much of the
existing structure has been built since the 17th century, when pilgrims
began paying local officials for permission to construct places
to pray and sleep.
Among the most interesting things
to see at the temple are the ancient Sanskrit and Hindi inscriptions
and the onion dome - signs that Atashgah and its fire worship were
heavily influenced by India. Flames burn at each corner of the roof,
fed by natural gas deposits under the ground. The temple is part
of a larger complex of religious buildings.
|Gobustan is an open-air museum littered
with neolithic rock drawings. It has some 4000 inscriptions that go
back 12,000 years (along with some 2000-year-old Latin graffiti to
boot). Tours are guided by helpful staff and are worth paying for,
as the details of the petroglyphs and what they portray are largely
incomprehensible to the casual visitor.
Stone Age folks sporting loin cloths
pose, hunt and boogie down in the petroglyphs. Their dances are
thought to have been accompanied by the melodious strains of the
Gaval-Dashy (Tambourine Stone) - a rock that has a deep, resonating
tone when struck.