Even though Baku alone can fill at least a three-day program, there are also many sights around Baku. Besides the Qobustan sights, the Absheron Peninsula also offers many places to visit that are worth at least a day trip from Baku. Therefore, here we present you the most beautiful and interesting destinations of Baku on the Absheron Peninsula.
Ateshgah of Suraxanı – Temple for the worshippers of fire
The Baku Ateshgah in Suraxanı is one of the most interesting cultural monuments in the Baku region. Once it served as a fire temple probably either Hindus or Zoroastrians. These came here from the Indian subcontinent via the Grand Trunk Road trade route. The fire was sustained by natural gas that naturally leaked here. Today, gas is pumped over from Baku. Fire is considered sacred in Hinduism as well as by Zoroastrians. Exactly when the temple was built is also disputed. However, scholars suggest that the Ateshgah was built in the period between 1720 and 1750. Today it is one of Baku’s main tourist destinations on the Abşeron Peninsula.
Absheron National Park – Small National Park for Gazelles and Seals
The Absheron National Park is a rather small but for its area very species-rich nature reserve. In the area of the park there are more than 50 species besides gazelles, Caspian seals, which are only found on the Caspian Sea, and many birds. There are also many protected plant species in the semi-deserted steppe. The government of Azerbaijan is trying to turn the national park, which was already established under the Soviets, into a destination for ecotourism.
Yanardağ – The Fire Mountain
One of the most impressive natural phenomena in Azerbaijan can also be found on the Absheron Peninsula. Yanar Dağ translates as “burning mountain” and that’s more or less how you can imagine this sight. The natural gas springs spew flames up to three meters high from a ten-meter fissure in the earth. The smell of natural gas is everywhere. Marco Polo already described the burning mountain. And the burning mountain keeps on burning. The place is said to have been sacred for the Zoroastrians, as a connection between the people and the gods. It is most beautiful to visit the area during the darkness and enjoy the mystical atmosphere of the fire.
Mərdəkan – Castles and towers on the peninsula
Mərdəkan castle from the 14th century used to secure the peninsula from the conquering raids of enemy armies. The almost square castle with its thick walls housed many lords of the castle, most of whom lived in the tower. Next to the castle there is also the round tower of Mardakan, which also served to protect the city and from which you have a beautiful view of the area. In the Mardakan Arboretum you can relax with a walk.
Mud Volcanoes – Healing Mud Spitters
There are more mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan than in any other country on earth. There are more than 300 of them here. Some of them are also spread over the Absheron Peninsula. Normally, the mud volcanoes just bubble away, and all you see are bubbles and streams of mud coming from inside the earth. However, during eruptions, spurting flames up to a kilometer high can occur. This is mainly because the escaping gas consists mostly of methane, which is highly flammable. The mud from the volcanoes, on the other hand, is used for healing cures, which you can take advantage of in some places.
Gala – Museum village of the traditional way of life
In the museum village Gala you will be shown the culture and life on the Absheron Peninsula from the 16th to the 19th century. Once the village was located within the walls of a fortress, which is where the name comes from. There are faithfully recreated houses, tents and mosques from that time to see. In workshops you will be shown the crafts of the region. The exhibits also include everyday objects of the inhabitants of the region at that time and also handicrafts. If that’s too much old stuff for you, there is also an exhibition of modern art made from recycled materials.
Shikhov beach – Beach to relax from the hustle and bustle of the big city
Although the beach of Shikhov is not very clean and the view is blocked by offshore drilling platforms, in good weather many visitors from Baku go here to relax and swim. Besides the beach there are also some restaurants where you can eat right by the sea. Besides the public and free beach, there are several private stands where you can rent sunbeds and beach umbrellas and sip cocktails. Alternatively, the beach of Mardakan is also very nice and you can combine it with a day trip through the area.
Boyuk Zira – The island with the lighthouse in the archipelago
Located in front of the city of Baku, there are several islands, which are also called the Baku Archipelago. Boyuk Zira is the largest island of the archipelago. It separates the sea off the Absheron Peninsula from the Caspian Sea. The island is a little more than three kilometers long and a little less than one kilometer wide. The island is mainly inhabited by seals and many sea birds. It is also the site of the Boyuk Zira lighthouse, which has guided sailors on the Caspian Sea to Baku since the beginning of the 20th century. So far, there are no regular tours to the island. But this could change.
Ramana oil fields – Oil history in one place
When the oil boom started in Azerbaijan at the end of the 19th century, Ramana was a center of the oil industry. Even though oil is no longer produced here today, there are still hundreds of oil pumps to see here, which will show you the scale of oil production back then. There is also a settlement for workers who worked for the Nobel brothers.
Masazir Salt Lake – The pink salt lake on the peninsula
Already since 1813, the curative salt is extracted from the lake Masazirgol. The lake is ten square kilometers in size and and contains large amounts of chlorides and sulfates. Two companies mine the salt, refine it, and then sell it. Due to the high salt content, there is practically no life in and around the lake.
Baku and Azerbaijan book tips
Azerbaijan is a country that is not well covered yet. But luckily there is at least a Lonely Planet which includes Armenia and Georgia as well. There are some good recommendations for the whole country and not just Baku.
Understanding the culture of a country you are travelling in is essential in making quality contacts there. So the Culture Smart Azerbaijan will be a great help to understanding Azeri culture and meeting people with a good start.
If you are not ready to travel yet or simply prefer to cook through the cuisines of other countries, then this compendium of Azeri kitchen is gonna be your new best friend. Get to know all the great dishes and try them yourself.
Understanding the events of the late Soviet Union in Azerbaijan will make you better understand the thoughts of today’s Azerbaijanis. Therefore this book will be a thought-provoking help for you.
The classic of Azerbaijani literature, telling a love story on the eve of the Russian Revolution, with an impressive afterword by Nino Haratischwili.
All images: Azerbaijan Tourism Board