Where should I visit in Azerbaijan

Travel report: Round trip Azerbaijan

From the capital Baku with the UNESCO-listed old town to the Apsheron peninsula with the burning mountain Yanardagh and Ateshgah fire temple. From the rock carvings and mud volcanoes in Gobustan to Lahij and Sheki in the Caucasus to Kish and Ganja - it is certainly not on every tourist wish list: Azerbaijan, the country on the Caspian Sea and in the breathtaking Caucasus mountains. But this is mainly due to the fact that it has not yet been overwhelmed by mass tourism - but by no means lack of scenic beauty or cultural-historical background or sights.
The largest part of this beautiful piece of earth lies in the Transcaucasian Depression between the Little and the Greater Caucasus and has been a settlement but also a transit area for various peoples since ancient times.
It is to this fact that it owes its importance in history and ethnography and its rich heritage of culture, religion and tradition.
Our trip to this worthwhile travel destination combines landscape and sensational natural phenomena such as burning mountains with UNESCO world heritage such as the rock carvings of Gobustan or the old town of the capital Baku, which was once an important destination on the historic Silk Road!
Follow us in the footsteps of the famous Silk Road, the oil region of the Apsheron peninsula in the Caspian Sea to the mountains of the Caucasus and convince yourself of the sights of a fascinating country and the hospitality of its inhabitants ...

Arrival in Baku - 1st day, September 18th, 2018:


After a morning meeting at the airport, trouble-free check-in and punctual Lufthansa flights, we reached Frankfurt Airport, from where our plane to Baku started in the early afternoon. She was also very punctual so that - after we had set the clocks two hours ahead due to the time difference - we reached the Azerbaijani capital Baku after a five-hour flight, but already after dark. The immigration formalities were done very quickly, we were able to receive our luggage and were greeted by our local tour guide after passing the last barriers. During the drive to the hotel we got some initial information before we went to dinner straight away, during which my local colleague Gurban and I checked in the group.
A little later, after a delicious dinner, we were able to say "good night!" And the first night on Azerbaijani soil.

Baku - old town Itscheri Schecher - 2nd day, 19.09.18:


Immediately after breakfast, our tour started with a drive through the Azerbaijani capital, which is also the largest metropolitan area in the Caucasus. Right at the beginning you realize that Baku, the metropolis on the Caspian Sea, is a place of contrasts. In addition to the UNESCO-listed old town, which was once a trading center on the Silk Road, there are districts with buildings from the Wilhelminian era, when the oil boom hit the area, buildings from the Soviet era, but also bold new buildings from the modern era, in which Azerbaijan is not is a poor oil-producing country.
We got an overview-like impression during our tour through the newer Baku to the "Martyrs' Square" and a few photo stops before we first saw some palaces of the oil barons from around 1900. As one of the most remarkable buildings we passed the most important concert hall in Azerbaijan and home of the State Philharmonic. The building, known as one of the most important concert halls in Europe because of its excellent acoustics, looks quite old, but was actually used as a clubhouse in the style of the Italian Renaissance during the oil boom after 1910. It was converted into a concert hall in the 1940s Today there are several orchestras and choirs as well as the Azerbaijani State Symphony Orchestra.

UNESCO World Heritage old town


Later we reached the fortress walls that surround the old town and can only continue on foot, followed by a city tour. This city wall, which we then had to cross at the gate, dates back to Persian times and was made between the 12th and 12th rebuilt and expanded several times in the 19th century. At the time of their formation, the Muslim Shirvanshahs from a Persian dynasty ruled. Their capital, today's Baku, was magnificently expanded as one of the gates to the Silk Road. In addition to the city's defensive wall and the Maiden's Tower, which is part of the defensive systems of the mighty city palace, numerous buildings such as caravanserais - the well-known caravan hostels - mosques and madrasas - Koran schools - and the palace of the Shirvanshahs, which is considered one of the most important examples of medieval Persian architecture. All of this brought Baku's old town, which is still known as Içeri Sheher, to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.
After staying near the Maiden Tower and the shops in its area, we went to a traditional restaurant in the old town for lunch.
After the lunch break, we were fascinated by the ultra-modern construction of the newly built Hejdar Aliyev cultural center, completed in 2014 according to plans by the well-known architect Zaha Hadid. The huge and incredibly spacious multi-purpose building fascinates with its walkways, curved stairs and includes the culture hall, offices and the museum for Azerbaijani history as well as for the well-known and now very revered Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliev, whose life and career is described here and highlighted with personal exhibits.
From here we drove back to the hotel and then had the evening free for a stroll or a visit to a restaurant.

Baku - Burning Mountain - Absheron Peninsula - Caspian Sea Beach - Day 3, 09/20/18:


We had promised "an excursion that will surely amaze you" in our invitation to tender. This tour, which all guests were excited about, began on the morning of the third day of the trip. The Apscheron peninsula rises about 60 km into the Caspian Sea The peninsula has been legendary and special from ancient times and can hardly be compared with anything known. The reason for this is its strange soil, under which one of the most famous oil deposits is located. Industrial oil production began here as early as 1870 In addition to the oil drilling rigs, built over oil wells that used to bubble openly, the area offers mud volcanoes, mineral springs and salt lakes. The remains of old fortifications show to this day that long before oil production, this area was something special and regarded as in need of protection.
So we drove through the outskirts of modern Baku to a semi-desert and barren landscape, densely populated with oil rigs, some of which were over a hundred years old - a strange still life of decommissioned tripod-like towers, drill pipes and slowly working nodding feed pumps.
An indication of the occurrence of natural gas and crude oil of a completely different kind can be found on the nearby "holy mountain" Yanar Dagh: "Burning mountain" is the name of the limestone hill in German, because since a spontaneous ignition in ancient times, flames up to several meters high have been burning in the crevices here a slope fed by underground natural gas deposits. This exotic phenomenon is extremely rare, most of these "burning mountains" are located in this country and are therefore one of the phenomena for which Azerbaijan is world-famous. For centuries, places like the Yanar Dagh have also been places of cult worship, alongside Hindus and Buddhists are especially the followers of the religion of fire worshipers, the Zoroastrians, who have been worshipers of the eternal fires of natural gas springs for over 2000 years.

Qala open air museum


From the "burning mountain" we went to the open-air museum in Qala. This historical-ethnographic museum awaits with excavations, living courtyards (including live animals such as camels and goats) and one of the castles built to protect the riches of the Shirvanshahs Much restored and newly added, but the defensive character is still clearly recognizable. In addition, a modern exhibition shows examples of how one can create art from disposable waste.
The restaurant for lunch was very close to here.
In the afternoon, as planned, there was the opportunity to swim in the Caspian Sea. One of the most beautiful beaches on the Absheron Peninsula - a pleasant, flat sandy beach with initially slow access to the clean, about 23 degrees warm and slightly salty water - was waiting for us. There was also enough time, pleasant sunny weather invited us and so many of our tour group actually took a bath - so often you don't have the opportunity to swim in the largest lake in the world - because despite the nickname "Sea", the Caspisee has no connection to the oceans!
In the early evening we returned to Baku and stayed in the hotel from the day before.

Baku - Gobustan - mud volcanoes and rock art - 4th day, 21.09.18:


This morning the amazement at the sights in the Abseron area should continue. The mud volcanoes and later the rock carvings of Gobustan were our destination. First, however, we made a stop just before the gates of Baku at the well-known Bibi Heybat "mosque on the edge of one of the large oil fields. Named after the sister of the seventh Shiite Imam Ali, who is worshiped as a relative of one of the" rightly guided imams "by the Shiites the house of prayer was built in the 13th century by the pious Shirvanshahs. Destroyed during an atheist campaign in Soviet times, it was rebuilt in the 1990s and handed over in 1997 by then President Heydar Aliev as one of the "reborn mosques in modern times". Inside, it is very artistically designed.
Then it was really time to be amazed. We went to the Gobustan National Park, which is on the UNESCO list of world cultural and natural heritage in 2007.
First, after a stop from the bus, we had to change to a few specially ordered cars in order to get closer to the world of the fantastic and strange-looking mud volcanoes that simmered here, reminiscent of a lunar landscape. A little over 1000 mud volcanoes are known in the world, of which about a third is in Azerbaijan. The phenomenon consists in the fact that deeper layers of the earth's crust are pressed to the surface through crevices and cracks with the help of water and overpressure - be it through magma, methane or water pressure - and emerge cold or volcanically heated. Of course, it is Azerbaijan's oil and gas reserves that push the mud from sediments mixed with water to the surface of the earth, often with flashes or in huge quantities - all of this has shaped the landscape here. We looked at some of the cone-shaped clusters, some more than a dozen meters high, and watched the mud bubbles rise and burst.

Rock carvings by Gobustan


Then we went back to the bus, which took us to the parking lot of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, also located in a kind of "lunar landscape".
The rock wilderness of Gobustan is home to an unusual variety of rock paintings from different eras. The area, which was declared a national park in 1966, now covers 44 km² and contains hundreds of, in some cases unusually well-preserved, rock carvings that were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007.
From the Stone Age and the first wave of colonization, several successive cultures up to antiquity ensured the unusual combination of rock art works in the middle of the semi-desert: From the hunters and collectors to the Macedonian and Greek soldiers of the army of Alexander the Great and later the legionnaires of Rome Many different people have left their mark on their marches here.
Thor Heyerdahl, Norway's great archaeologist, was fascinated by Gobustan and referred in the professional world to the similarities of Stone Age depictions of boats and people with those in his homeland, e.g. in Alta in northern Norway.
We had time for an interesting stroll between the rocks and many opportunities for photos of the sometimes artistic and sometimes mysterious petroglyphs and graffiti.

Carpet Museum


For lunch we ate again in a typical restaurant on the way before we returned to Baku and paid a visit to the carpet museum. On the way you had a clear view of numerous old and newer production systems, even of oil drilling platforms installed near the coast.
In the modern and well-known Carpet Museum, everything worth knowing about carpets from Azerbaijan, which has been famous for ages, is presented on around 27,000 m², including the large part of the country that is now part of Iran. Allegedly, the types and patterns of carpets can be divided into a total of 144 types. Our local tour guide Gurban accompanied us and told us a lot of interesting things, especially about patterns and production. In some showcases, traditional Aizerbaijani costumes with patterns that varied from one area to another were on display.
After visiting the museum, we drove back to the hotel and had the evening at leisure.

Baku - Nobel Villa - Fire Temple - Wine tasting, 5th day, 22.09.18:


After breakfast you will visit one of the most famous oil baron mansions from the early days of Baku. The Swedish-born brothers Ludvig and Robert Nobel - brothers of the chemist Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite and later donated the Nobel Prize - were part of a respected entrepreneurial dynasty in Tsarist Russia. In 1876 they founded the Branobel company based in Baku, the aim of which was to exploit the local oil deposits. We strolled through this head office, the "Villa Petrolea", this morning and saw the interesting museum, which with many memorabilia brings back the time of the oil boom and the economic prosperity of Baku. After some time in the villa and the adjoining park, we drove on and off an important sight: the fire temple of Ateshgah. The name literally means "hoard of fire" and the complex was of great historical importance - not only for the Zoroastrians, but also for Hindus. Much - e.g. ancient inscriptions in Sanskrit - indicate that it was used as a Hindu temple and sometimes Hindu rituals are still held there today. However, the spacious complex, which was expanded into a monastery in the 17th century, was built in the late 19th abandoned as a temple when oil production began all around. Nevertheless, Ateshgah is still a place of fire worship to this day. As on the "Burning Mountain", burning natural gas flames beat out of the earth, here channeled through walls and chimney-like systems to "holy fires": in the middle the main fire with the central temple and all around in four circular stone altars flames in honor of the four main natural elements: earth , Fire, water, air.
From the place of worship we went to lunch in the restaurant. Before we sat down to eat, two cooks from the local cooking school showed us how to prepare dumplings filled with minced lamb and spices. Then there was again a delicious traditional lunch, where, in addition to several starters, dumplings cooked in broth and "dolma" - grape leaves stuffed with lamb, spices and yoghurt - were served.
After lunch we paid a visit to Baku's large market hall and were able to convince ourselves of the overabundance, but also of the freshness of the country's products.
Well-known fruits and vegetables could be discovered, but also an overabundance of spices and local products such as cheese that had matured in goat skin.
As the last sightseeing point for today we reached "Fireland", one of the largest wineries in the country. Although Azerbaijan has a long tradition in viticulture, the actually excellent wine is little known in this country. During a tour of the winery and the production facilities, we got to know the production of the excellent Azerbaijani wine. We learned that the wine production of the country suffered great losses due to the destruction of the vineyards in the Stalin era, but is now on the way to becoming a "wine nation" again. We were able to convince ourselves of this with a detailed tasting of several red and white wines and a dessert wine, supported by a small snack.
From the winery we drove back to the hotel and had the evening off!

Baku - Shamakhi - Lahij - Sheki, 6th day, 23.09.18:


The path steeped in history that we would take today ran partly along the historic Silk Road. After breakfast in the hotel, we said goodbye to Baku, the metropolis on the Caspian Sea. Through the Transcaucasian Depression we went west towards the Caucasus.
Our first sightseeing point was famous far and wide: near the main road, just before the town of Maraza, there is a two-storey Muslim mausoleum with a white dome.An Islamic mystic of Sufism, an ascetic movement in Islam, is buried in the "Diri-Baba". He died here in 1402 and is referred to as "Diri-Baba" (eternal grandfather) because his body supposedly would not rot.
The next destination of our Azerbaijan tour was the historic city of Shamakhi. As an important trading base, it used to be located directly on the Silk Road and is still home to many historical buildings to this day. Once more important than Baku, it had been the capital of the Shirvanshah kings since the eighth century - it was only moved to the old town of Baku after a devastating earthquake. It later became the capital again, this time of an independent Persian-led khanate.
Several tremendous earthquakes razed Shamakhi city in different centuries and not all buildings were rebuilt. One thing, however, is still there today - the Friday Mosque, which is more than 1000 years old. It is one of the most important cultural objects in the Caucasus and is also one of the oldest prayer houses in the country. Time and again, the most talented artists in the country have worked on its interior, creating magnificently painted and decorated ceilings and a wonderful prayer niche framed by verses from the Koran in the finest handwriting.

Mountain village of Lahij


Another cultural and historical highlight are the old mausoleums of Yeddi Gumbaz, just outside Shamakhi. Here, too, much has been destroyed by earthquakes, but three mausoleum domes, including the Fruft of the last Khan of Shamakhi, have been preserved
After lunch we switched to two minibuses that took our tour group to the historic village of Lahij. To do this, we had to go into the middle of the mountains and valleys of the Caucasus, where Lahij is said to have been as early as the 5th century BC. Was founded. The village was the most unspoilt that we saw during our trip and it is said that the strange dialect of its older inhabitants still has hints of Old Persian - although Azerbaijani is actually a Turkic language, i.e. it belongs to a completely different language family ... The village is built in the traditional Caucasus style with narrow streets and houses made of field stones, with wooden balconies hanging from them like nests. There were souvenirs and some handicrafts to buy, although the village is said to be famous for its copper work.
On the way back to our coach and the further tour to Sheki we got some impressions of the mountains of the Caucasus.
In the evening we reached Sheki and stayed in a nice hotel in the center of the provincial capital.

Sheki - Kish - Sheki, 7th day, 24.09.18:


This morning was dedicated to the city of Sheki. In the 1st century AD Sheki was named as one of the largest cities in the then state of Albania. At that time this name stood for the north of the Azerbaijani settlement area and includes almost all of today's Azerbaijan, because the majority of the people still live in the northern part of Iran. In Sheki, perhaps the most important city of the country at that time, which has nothing to do with the coincidentally named state in southeastern Europe, stood numerous temples of Hindus and fire worshipers and probably also the first Christian churches in the Caucasus. After the conquest by the Muslim Persians, Sheki belonged to various caliphates and finally to the area of ​​the Shirvan Shahs. A devastating flood of mud wiped out the city and ensured that it was rebuilt at its current location. With the exception of a few remains, all of the buildings date from the time when an independent khanate emerged here.
As its capital, it became the seat of the Khan's palace, many trading houses and many hostels, the so-called caravanserais.
We started our tour today with an interesting visit to the Sheki weekly market and had some time here for a stroll and to take photos. A visit to a Kelagayi production facility was then announced. We visited it, but it was closed and we only saw the old machines and the remains of the dye works and a few tools. We only learned from our local tour guide that the Kelagayi, a traditional stole-like headscarf, is part of the national costume and is worn by women in summer and winter. You can cover your head and shoulders with it - it protects from the blissful sun in summer and from the cold in winter and always from the sometimes sharp Caucasus winds. Luminous colors are preferred, it can be monochrome or provided with a very specific typical pattern.

Mountain village of Kish


Later we drove to the village of the same name on the Kish River, which also flows through Sheki. It is considered to be very old and its main attraction is the allegedly oldest Christian church in the Caucasus. The sacred building standing today - which looks typical for Caucasus churches - comes from the former country of Albania. According to legend, its predecessor was built in the 1st century AD. erected by one of the apostles. The current church building probably dates from the 10th - 12th centuries, but it still bears the nickname "mother of all Caucasus churches".
After lunch in a pretty restaurant on the way, we returned to Sheki and visited the buildings from the heyday of the khanate in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are known, among other things, for their jewelry with stained glass windows. Their production has a long tradition here and we briefly visited the workshop of one of the glass artists. One could only be amazed at how skillfully he used tiny, cut, colorful pieces of glass in specially made frames, which ultimately turned into pictures. The Khan Palace, once the Summer Ace of the Khans of Sheki and located in the fortress, is adorned with it everywhere. In addition to the Khan Palace, we were also interested in the caravanserais, which are currently used elsewhere - e.g. as a hotel - but the largest of which can be entered.
This time we had dinner - as a travel extra in the sense of the Eberhardt motto "travel properly" - ordered in a traditional restaurant that offered the most popular of all dishes: Königspilaw. This rice dish with meat, vegetables, spices, nuts and raisins, which together Braised and then baked went down well with everyone.

Sheki - Göygol - Ganja (Gança), day 8, 25.09.18:


After breakfast in the hotel, we had to say goodbye to Sheki, who was on the first slopes of the Kauasus and looked more rural. At the "exit" to the Transcaucasian Depression is the "Sheki Gate" that welcomes and says goodbye to travelers in Sheki Province, flanked by a pretty clock tower that can be seen from afar. Through the dune to semi-desert landscape of the Pre-Caucasus, we first went south down into the depression, which is largely formed by the alluvial land of the largest Azerbaijani river, the Kura.
We reached the river itself, which is the largest in the Caucasus with a length of 1364 km, not too far from today's city of Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan and our main destination today. At the gates of Ganja, on the site where the city was once founded, there is an opulent monument to the most famous Azerbaijani poet, who was born in Ganja and whose works still represent a cultural treasure of which the whole nation is rightly proud. Nizami Ganjavi lived at the time of Persian rule in the 12th century - his main work, the "Five Poems", is considered the high point of medieval Persian literature.
For centuries his grave at the gates of the city of Ganja was something of a pilgrimage site - then Shah Abbas the Great, who is considered the most important Iranian ruler from the Safavid dynasty, built a mausoleum for him in the 17th century. Destroyed and rebuilt several times, it received its current form in 1947, the current building - about 20 m high and covered with marble - comes from the reconstruction in 1991. Since then, there has also been a large terrace, on the sides of which is surrounded by woods, with sculptures with themes from the "Five Poems".

Ganja and Göygol


After lunch in a typical restaurant, we turned to the center of Ganja town. Our visit began with perhaps the most original sight in town, the "Bottle House". In the 1950s a man named Jafarov built his house from pebbles and a total of 50,000 bottles and dedicated it to the memory of his brother who died in the war. We paid a brief visit to the brick Orthodox church and then turned to the center, where the largest and most monumental building, the huge Soviet-era town hall with its temple-like facade, dominates the most important square in Ganja. The pedestrian zone continues wide and invitingly, enclosing it a small city park with the oldest building, the Friday Mosque, which today bears the name of the Persian king Shah Abbas.The high minarets of the prayer house from the 17th century are richly decorated with blue tiles.
We would be able to experience this place tonight, because our hotel was only a few meters away in the middle of the pedestrian zone.
As a last excursion, we took the bus for a few minutes until we reached the town of Göygol, which until 1938 had the German name Helenendorf. The town was founded in 1819 as the first and largest of several settlements by German emigrants from Baden-Württemberg and was one of the most important colonies of the Caucasian Germans until the Stalin era. The architecture, perceived as typically German, is still a specialty today, as it differs significantly in the middle of the Azerbaijani semi-desert of the more Muslim tradition of construction. We took a stroll through the place where many display boards, signposts and signs remind of the German past and then returned to Ganja.
We checked into the good hotel "Vego" in the middle of the pedestrian zone and had time to stroll and have dinner.

Ganja - Baku, 9th day, 26.09.18:


Today's journey would take a few hours, if we were to drive almost completely through Azerbaijan "in one piece", always in the Transcaucasian Depression and mostly following the alluvial plain of the Kura. We started after breakfast in Ganja from the forerunners of the small Caucasus towards the Caspian Sea. The highway to Baku is excellently developed and so we made good progress. After three hours there was a longer break at a particularly original rest area where, whoever wanted, could have lunch .
Later we went to Baku, where our hotel was again in the middle of the pedestrian zone for the last night. The luggage transport was organized and after checking into the hotel we still had some free time.
Then we met for a farewell dinner, which was in a very nice restaurant on the edge of the old town with a view of the beach of the Caspian Sea. Once again there were local specialties as starters and king pilaf as the main course.

Return to Germany, day 10, 09/27/2018:


We had an appointment at the reception very early, where some coffee and tea and a small snack bag was prepared for everyone. After transporting luggage and a short walk to the bus, our bus brought us to Baku airport, where we moved to say goodbye to our supervisors and went to check-in. With punctual flights we got back to our starting point.

epilogue


As we were able to convince ourselves personally, Azerbaijan is definitely worth a trip - many impressions will only really come into their own when looking at the photos and "evaluating" the trip in the circle of friends. I wish you all the best - maybe we'll see you soon another interesting trip again - because I think you will stay fond of traveling!
Your study tour guide
Dr Michael Krause

I would particularly like to thank our guest Ms. Claudia Steyer, who gave me many of her great pictures for the photo gallery for this trip!

Picture gallery for the trip