And so we were faced with a perfect architectural blend. The medieval city wall encloses the stone buildings of the old town. Huge skyscrapers parade along the hillside to protect the nineteenth-century buildings and neoclassical places just down. The golden brown facades were sumptuous and elegant. The Flame Towers, with the three futuristic skyscrapers, remind everyone that Azerbaijan is the ancient land of fire.
The appeal of Baku is everything in this mix of old and new, tradition and innovation. The eternal flames still burn in the Yanar Dag National Park and the Temple of Zoroastrian Atashgakh. We saw flames burn spontaneously from the mountain during our day trip to Yanar Dag. It was reminiscent of the times when the fire was worshiped as a symbol of purification and rebirth.
Today descendants of the ancient men loyal to the flames come here in search of their roots. It is on the Abseron Peninsula, not far from Baku, on the Caspian Sea. Here one blowhole of natural gas produces a flame that burns continuously from the bowels of the mountain. It is an interesting feature that Marco Polo described in his travel chronicles.
Ancient archaeological finds, stone circles, and votive tanks testify that distant past. The Caspian Sea coast finally gave us another emotion in the rock carvings of Qobustan. They date back 12,000 years past and are perfectly preserved in an environment of rare beauty. Petroglyphs carved into the rock of ancient caves then collapsed and remained intact. There were thousands of ancient petroglyphs in the Gobustan region.
Around the urban suburbs branch out cobwebs of gas and oil pipelines, which have taken the place of the ancient caravans of the Silk Road. The National Carpet Museum, built on the great boulevard full of shops, in fact, has a huge pile of rolled up carpets.
Palace of the Shirvanshahs is situated on a rocky hill in the western part of the Inner City of Baku. It is the biggest monument of the Shirvan-Absheron of Azerbaijan architecture. The Palace is complex which contains the main building of the palace, the shah’s mosque with a minaret, Seyid Yahya Bakuvi’s mausoleum, Divanhane, the burial-vaults, a portal in the east – Murad’s gate, a reservoir and the remnants of the bath-house. It is not strange at all why the complex is protected by UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs was built by Shirvan Shah Dynasty in the 12th century. Although it was founded than, the most of the structures of the Palace were built in the 15th century. The complex is divided into five courtyards at three different levels.
The main building is a two stories building. Both floors contain 25 rooms of various size and shape. The big portal leads directly from the courtyard to the second floor, into a high octahedral lodging covered with a cupola. Divankhana is a small stone pavilion. It was built in 15th century. It is consisted out of an octahedral hall covered with a stone cupola. The portal of the main entrance is decorated with Arabic inscription.
The Mausoleum is attached to the wall of the oldest structure of the complex, the Old Mosque. It has rectangular shape and on the top with a hexahedral cupola. There is an inscription on the entrance that indicates the purpose of the building: Khalilullah I, the greatest Soltan, Great Shirvanshah, the namesake of the divine prophet, the defender of the religion ordered to construct this light burial-vault for his mother and son in 839.
The Palace Mosque is situated in the lower part of the complex. There are two chapels for prayers in the mosque: a hall of a large size for men and a hall of a small size for women and minaret are at the northeastern corner. The royal tomb of the Shirvan Shahs resembles the Palace Mosque in size and form but it is oriented east-west, facing the portal connecting it to the upper level.
The Royal Bathhouse (hammam) is situated on the lowest terrace. The archaeological excavations exposed a big bath-house consisting of 26 rooms. The hammam consists two sections (for men and for women), with small square rooms organized around octagonal halls. The Royal Bathhouse was burrowed into the ground to preserve the heat.
The Shirvanshahs’ Palace complex was declared a museum-reserve in 1964. It is under the state protection and restoration works are going on the present moment.
Despite efforts to make itself known, few think of Azerbaijan as a tourist destination. This relatively small country in the Caucasus overlooking the Caspian Sea reserves countless surprises. A trip to Azerbaijan surely will leave unforgettable memories to the visitor.
Azerbaijan Travel Tips
Baku is a lively capital. With a nineteenth-century historic center, the city is surprisingly rich in Art Nouveau buildings. The city has now expanded with ultramodern neighborhoods and has an artistic life worthy of the greatest cities in the world. From here begins our trip to Azerbaijan.
The area of petroglyphs is filled with more than 6,000 stone carvings, some dating back almost 40,000 years. It is also home to the remains of inhabited caves and burial sites, bearing the testimony from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages. The engravings represent men, animals, battle scenes, ritual dances, camel caravans, boats and even the sun and the stars.
The mud volcanoes, a particularly strong eruption phenomenon in Azerbaijan is home to nearly half of the known eruptive vents on the entire earth's surface. The natural phenomenon is considered the origin of sun worship (Zoroastrianism). Approximately every twenty years spectacular eruptions with flames rise from the ground. The sludge also possesses therapeutic properties that also attract visitors to benefit from their medicinal virtues.
The curious and almost unbelievable story is of the Mountain Jews in the village of Krasnaya Sloboda (Red Village). This Jewish Diaspora dates back to the Dark Ages when Jewish communities dispersed to Central Eastern Europe and partly to Anatolia. They found shelter in those mountains and rebuilt the Shtetl, or traditional villages, where until now it has retained the use of Yiddish.
You can integrate the trip to Azerbaijan with the enclave of Nakhichevan, the land that preserves the supposed tomb of Noah or with Georgia.