BY N. LOTHUNGBENI HUMTSOE
New Delhi, March 18 (IANS) Azerbaijan, possessing a rich history of statehood which extends over a period of approximately 5,000 years. A home to nine of the worlds eleven climate zones is situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
From Baku’s modern flame towers to the depths of its UNESCO-listed old city, there is something for everyone in Azerbaijan.
Whether travelling as a group or solo, the country is full of life and energy which is infectious:
Sheki, once the international centre for silk production is known as Azerbaijan’s Silk Road town, recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The historic city is located a short 5-hour drive from the capital of Azerbaijan’s Baku. Being one of the most picturesque towns, the city promises to be the sight to the eyes. Today its cobblestone streets, unique and historic architecture offers visitors an exceptional window into the ancient trading route.
Gobustan National Park
It is a UNESCO cultural landscape of more than 6,000 rock engravings. Tourists can see the natural wonder of mud volcanoes rising out of the semi-desert in the petroglyphs of Gobustan National Park. The petroglyphs are artistic chronicles of the past and bear great importance for studying both the pre-history of humanity and several spheres of primitive art. Gobustan’s monuments cover a period of approximately 20,000 years beginning from the end of the Upper Palaeolithic age till the beginning of this era.
Sheki Khans’ Palace
A unique architectural monument of the khanate, the Sheki Khans’ Palace was built in 1762 by Huseyn khan and sits shaded by huge chinar trees within the khan’s fortress at the top of this charming Silk Road city. The palace windows are stunning examples of the ancient art of ‘shebeke’ – wooden lattices filled with stained glass and put together without glue or nails!
The country has been known for its rich oil and gas resources, and the natural fires that blazed for millenia on the Absheron Peninsula greatly influenced the beliefs and traditions of the local people. The natural phenomenon can be witnessed 25 kilometres from Baku, at a place known as Yanardag (which translates as ‘Burning Mountain’). The natural subterranean gas that seeps up to the surface is constantly ablaze, giving this mountain its famous burning look.
The Ateshgah temple
It is known as the fire-worshipping temple, located on the outskirts of Surakhani village, 30 km from the centre of Baku, was a shrine at different times for Zoroastrians, Hindus and Sikhs. The current buildings at the temple complex date back to the 17th century and consist of a pentagonal complex with an open courtyard in the middle of which is a temple altar that served as a place of pilgrimage for Indian fire-worshippers. Currently the complex functions as a well-designed museum and is often combined with a trip to nearby Yanardag, the Burning Mountain, to discover more of Azerbaijan’s fire legacy.
The walls of Icherisheher whispers the ancient mysteries of the city. Known as an old town or inner city, it is located in the heart of Baku and is a maze of narrow roads spotted with limestone buildings. A sight that’s difficult to miss is the Shirvanshahs’ Palace and Maiden Tower, both listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites List.
The Palace itself is known as the pearl of Azerbaijani architecture as it is made up of several different structures built throughout the ages with each adding a beautiful amalgamation of medieval, Asian and Islamic influences.
Another mystery is the Maiden Tower. This cylindrical stark tower has baffled historians and to date has theories aplenty about its origins and the exact date of construction. Despite that, it is one of the most iconic structures in the city housing a museum covering the history of Baku and marked around it are beautiful scriptures that hint at the possible roots of this historical feat. It is also home to the International Festival of Arts and regularly showcases work from innovative artists against its mystic backdrop.