Azerbaijan things to see and do
Admire the wares at Lahic
Shop for exquisite copper products in the Persian mountain town of Lahic, where great hiking, charming architecture and natural beauty combine for the ultimate mountain escape. Workshops, smithies and craft shops line the cobbled streets and the tourist office can help arrange homestays with local families.
Climb Beshbarmaq Dag
Join mystic-minded Azeris on a climb up Beshbarmaq Dag (Five Finger Mountain), which rises dramatically 520m (1,706ft) above the coast just north of Baku and is one of Azerbaijan’s most holy animist sites. Rock has been worn smooth by devout kisses and Tibetan-style prayer flags festoon the bushes. Prayers are led by mullahs but the mountain was considered sacred long before the advent of Islam.
Don your hiking boots in Xinaliq
Discover the remote mountain village of Xinaliq, where you can find a unique ethnic group of proto-Caucasians who have inhabited this part of the mountains since the Bronze Age and have preserved their original language, customs and traditions. The drive from Guba is spectacular and there are great hiking opportunities. Look out for Imperial eagles. Near Guba, northeast Azerbaijan
Get close, but not too close to the Mud Volcanoes
Bubbling out from bleak desert hillsides, these enchantingly weird mud volcanoes located an hour’s drive from Baku, just south of Gobustan, are geology in action. Gurgling pools and mud cones dot the lonely landscape. The mud is reputed to have therapeutic properties but don’t get too close. The mud is boiling and from time to time spontaneously ignited flames shoot out.
Get your binoculars out at Sirvan National Park
A few miles south of Gobustan, this little-visited slice of coastal wilderness is well worth exploring. The birdlife is outstanding, particularly during the spring and autumn migrations, and is easily viewed from lakeside platforms. Also on display are Azerbaijan’s last goitered gazelles, graceful animals that keep a look out for the park’s resident wolves. Wild boars and jungle cats are also common. The lush reed beds provide a glimpse of the habitat that sheltered the last Caspian tigers until, incredibly, the 1920s. www.eco.gov.az/en/shirvan
Imbibe Azerbaijani heritage at National History Museum
Housed in an oil baron’s sumptuous Belle Époque mansion in central Baku, this informative museum provides a detailed overview of Azerbaijan’s history with plenty of striking exhibits from Bronze Age jewelry to Ruritanian military costumes, all with English-language explanations. The no-expense-spared interior design and plush furnishings of the old house are also of interest.
Marvel at Shirvanshah Palace
This is the largest monument in Baku’s Old City and dates from the 15th century. Painstaking restoration and imaginative new displays give a flavour of the rich and cultured lifestyle of the Persian Sufi ruling dynasty – the music, the paradise gardens, the lovely art and sumptuous costumes. The upper stories were blown away by an early Russian naval bombardment in the 18th century.
Pilgrimage to Zoroastrianism
Uncover glimpses of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism at the Ateshgah Fire Temple in Surakhany. The temple features jets of ignited gas (formerly from the four corners of the roof, now piped in from the ground). It was established by Indian Parsee fire-worshippers living in Baku in the 18th century (perhaps on the site of an ancient fire temple) and Zoroastrians still occasionally stage ritual dances here.
Stroll along Park Bulvar
Baku’s boulevard provides a charming 3km (1.8mile) long pedestrian area for residents and visitors to enjoy sea breezes, landscaped gardens and fountains. Trees provide much-needed shade in summer and a windbreak in winter. The southern end is at Flag Square with a 40m (131ft) flagstaff; nearby is a newly-built ferris wheel. Inviting garden cafés can be found along the length of the boulevard; in the evening locals stroll up and down in the Azeri version of the passegiatta.
Take a hike up to Kis
High on a hillside above Sheki, this tiny village has a church that some historians claim was founded by St Elishe in the first century AD. The present structure has been dated to the 12th century and probably occupies a pre-Christian sacred site. It now contains a fascinating small museum which showcases the rich history of this slice of the Caucasus. Don’t miss the bust of the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who believed that the original Norse gods were Azerbaijanis who migrated upriver to Scandinavia during the Roman period.
Take in the views from Maiden’s Tower
Climb the spiral staircases inside Maiden’s Tower, which overlooks the Caspian in the Içeri Seher, and marvel at the stunning 360-degree view of the city from 30m up. Informative multi-lingual touch-screen installations provide a fascinating overview of the building’s history, from 500BC onwards. It was rebuilt as a fortress in the 12th century.
Travel back to the Stone Age at Gobustan Petroglyphs
The area has been inhabited continuously for at least 20,000 years and early inhabitants have left striking petroglyphs of giraffes, elephants, aurochs, lions, shamans and tattooed dancers. Archeologists believe that the first humans to migrate out of Africa also stopped here. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains the earliest known representation of a boat. The fascinating new museum received a special commendation in the 2013 European Museum of the Year awards and brings the Stone Age to life. www.gobustan.si.edu
Walk around Baku’s UNESCO old town
Explore the fabulous Içeri Seher, the walled old city of Baku and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The narrow streets, honey-coloured city walls, caravanserais, quaint houses and mosques provide a nostalgic glimpse of old Baku before the oil boom of the 20th century created the modern city. Stop for tea in one of many atmospheric cafes and drink in the views. www.icherisheher.gov.az
Wander around the enchanting streets of Sheki
Discover Sheki, one of Azerbaijan’s most beautiful towns, which nestles at the foot of the imposing Caucasus Mountains. The lushly forested hillsides are particularly striking in autumn. The Khan’s Palace, set in an ornamental Persian garden, contains stunning murals and stained glass. Don’t miss the craft museum in the church nearby. Step back in time at the Caravanserai hotel where your camel would lodge beneath your room so you could keep an eye on it from a handy window.
Watch the spectacle at Fire Mountain
Watch the flames dance at Yanar Dag (fire mountain), a short distance from Baku, where a 10m (33ft) wall of fire blazes day and night thanks to underground natural gas. Pull up a chair at the nearby chaikhana (teahouse) at sunset for the best effect. The spectacle is even more impressive after dark.
Azerbaijan Republic Ministry of Youth, Sport & Tourism
1072, Baku City, Olimpiya str. 4, Baku City, Azerbaijan
Tel: (12) 465 6442.
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