Azerbaijan is the largest country in Transcaucasia in terms of territory, washed by the Caspian Sea in the east. The birthplace and decline of ancient empires, part of the Great Silk Road and the main “wine cellar” of the Soviet Union – this is how the Republic appeared in outdated guidebooks. Today’s Azerbaijan is not only the remains of caravanserais and generous vineyards (although they are also there), but also excellent resorts, ski resorts and nice beaches, where so great to soak after round the national restaurants.
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To say that Azerbaijan lives solely off tourism would be to conceal half of the truth. The main source of income for the state budget is oil, which is exported to other countries and used therapeutically. It was the oil fields that helped transform Baku into a modern megalopolis, which dazzles residents and visitors with pompous skyscraper illumination every night. The country also protects its historical heritage: the ancient mosques and mausoleums, nestled under the side of the futuristic creations of modern architects, for Azerbaijan – a norm of life and respect for the culture of ancestors.
In terms of tourism, the Republic of Azerbaijan is a place where secular Europe flows seamlessly into tradition-loyal Asia. Moreover, in none of the countries of the Caucasus multiculturalism is felt as keenly as here. Perhaps, this is why first-time Russians associate local life and habits with neighboring Turkey and Iran more than with the Caucasus. Another attractive feature of the country is the pronounced pastoralism of provincial life, organically woven into the tranquil mountain scenery. Original villages with stone houses, herds walking along the roads, and hospitality, striking for the XXI century, turn the Azerbaijani periphery into a cozy Middle Eastern fairy tale, which is so desirable to stay.
Contrasts Baku City Sheki Fortress Alindja Sacred Mountain Beshbarmag Mountain Ilandag
In the cities of the country “Europeanization” is clearly pronounced, although the national colors and did not think to disappear from here. Have a walk on the noisy markets and flea markets, where they sell shabby “copies” of magic carpets. Maybe you will not fully comprehend the generosity of the Azerbaijani nature, but you will certainly make a step towards local realities. And most importantly, you will learn to understand and accept the local etiquette and everything associated with it. And then the colorful, talkative Azerbaijan, soaked in aromas of black tea and spices will turn to you with the most beautiful of its many faces.
Cities of Azerbaijan
History of Azerbaijan
Life on the territory of Azerbaijan has been boiling since the II century BC. And we are not talking about a bunch of disparate tribes, but about quite independent states like Caucasian Albania. In the VIII century, the Arabs came here and began to impose their own culture and religion on the population.
Petroglyphs in Gobustan National Park, dated 10th millennium BC Siege of Ganja fortress in 1804 during Russian-Persian war
Since the 11th century Azerbaijani lands were conquered and reconquered by stronger powers – the Seljuk Empire, the State of Ildegezids, and the descendants of Tatar-Mongol ruling dynasties. Subsequently, Turkic nomads, who played a significant role in the formation of the Azerbaijani nation, also made their mark here.
In the 16th century, the territories of Transcaucasia became part of the Safavid state, ruled by the Shah of Iran. The Empire did not exist long and in 1722 it fell apart and then Azerbaijan split into small khanates, which in the XIX century gradually joined Russia: partly voluntarily, partly during military operations.
After the October Revolution, Azerbaijan tried to secede from the Soviet Union, declaring itself a democratic republic. However, the attempts to gain independence were suppressed, and in 1920 the state became a part of the USSR, which it managed to leave only in 1991, after the collapse of the Union. Another important historical milestone was in the late 80s. In Azerbaijan, a military conflict broke out between Armenians and natives, which resulted in the appearance of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on the political map of the world.
Climate. The best time to travel.
Azerbaijan has nine natural zones and the gradual transition from subtropical to mountainous tundra climate. So, planning a tour around the country, discard your hopes for weather stability – surprises in the form of temperature swings and precipitation are inevitable. Optimal time for excursions to Azerbaijan – from mid-May to mid-October. And if the purpose of the trip is to get acquainted with the architectural heritage, and only, it is advisable to exclude the summer months from this period. Ideally, the tour of historical monuments is better in general postponed until September-October, when the scorching heat dies down and walking in the open air ceases to be a test of endurance.
Those who came to Azerbaijan to relax on the Caspian Sea, it is recommended to book a hotel in July and August. These are the hottest months of the year (the thermometer column holds at +32. +38 ° C), when you can safely splash in the water and improve your diving skills. June in the Republic is also warm, attracting sunbathers and adepts of balneotherapy to the coast. In general, the climatic conditions in Azerbaijan are the coziest in the Caspian coastal zone. The weather in the mountainous areas is not so resort-like, and winters are much colder, with strong winds and snowstorms.
Beaches of the Caspian Sea Snowy Azerbaijan
Population and language barrier
Most of the indigenous population is Muslim, although other religions are not oppressed either. Moreover, Azerbaijan gives the impression of being the most loyal and tolerant of all Muslim states. As for the interaction with the locals, it is not difficult, if the traveler does not go to the provocation. So you should feel free to ask for help from passers-by and get the names of the streets from the schoolchildren you meet on the way – in 9 out of 10 cases you will be politely answered, and even offer to accompany you to the needed object.
Well, a very insistent hospitality, as well as the desire to show off a little – mandatory components of the Azerbaijani mentality, which at first lead to a slight bewilderment. Expensive gadgets in their hands, jewelry with precious stones the size of a small boulder for the locals are not a luxury, but a vital necessity, which helps to prove your own worth to those around you.
The state language in the country is Azerbaijani, but in Baku and other major cities the understanding of the population is ensured. Representatives of the older generation are still nostalgic for the Soviet times and willingly chat in Russian (yes, Azerbaijanis are terribly verbose people). The advanced youth in the study of the great mighty has not succeeded, but almost always speaks in English.
Attractions and Entertainment
The first rule of tourism in Azerbaijan: do not identify the whole country with Baku. The administrative center of the Republic is a cheerful, contrasting city, and certainly worthy of a separate tour. However, the real Azerbaijan is still outside the capital – in small villages and mountain villages.
Be sure to visit Ganja, an ancient city on the route of the Silk Road, which has preserved a decent portion of the historic buildings, including the ensemble of Sheikh Bahauddin. Lankaran, on the very border with Iran, offers no less antiquities. The fortress of the 18th century, the temple complex Hanega, a stone’s throw from the Caspian Sea with its colorful black beaches – this is not all, but certainly the brightest tourist “magnets” of the city.
Fans of religious legends should stop in Nakhchivan. It is believed that it was here that the biblical Noah landed, who later founded the city. Unfortunately, one cannot see the ark today; however, there are many other interesting exhibits in Nakhchivan, which are under the open sky. There is the Momine-Khatun mausoleum with a herd of stone lambs, the Khan Palace, the tomb of Yusif ibn Kuseir and some less pompous mausoleums, in one of which, according to legend, the Old Testament Noah was buried.
Noah’s Mausoleum Momine-Khatun Mausoleum Khan Palace
Impressive excursions are obtained by visiting the Jebrail region, where the legendary Khudaferin bridges, which connected the banks of the Araks River, are located. The only difficulty – after the military conflicts of the 80s the landmark has moved to the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, to get to which is realistic only from the Armenian side. But since a visit to both republics is considered in Azerbaijan as an offence entailing a ban on entry into the country, it is better to temporarily refuse to see the bridges or try to visit them after a trip to Azerbaijan.
The small but incredibly cozy town of Shemakha is famous for its astrophysical observatory and Juma mosque. Besides, it is one of the oldest centers of carpet weaving – the carpet factory is still operating in Shemakha. Another “staging post” of the Great Silk Road is Sheki. It is worth a look at the Palace of Sheki khans and the caravanserai (analog of the Russian inn), on the stone slabs of which more than one generation of Asian merchants and slave traders walked.
View of Shemakhi from the Gulistan Fortress Yeddi Gumbez Mausoleum Palace of Sheki Khans Caravanserai in Sheki Street in Sheki
Architectural buildings in Ordubad can boast of amazing preservation. Anyone not indifferent to the modest charm of ancient mosques and madrassahs will find here something to look at and where to click vacation selfies. About 60 kilometers from Baku is a unique place in every way – Gobustan Reserve. In addition to bubbling mud volcanoes, for the sake of which the tourist audience goes here, you can find prehistoric drawings on the rocks in Gobustan – the creations of primitive artists look no worse than popularized paintings of modern primitives.
Gobustan reserve Ateshgah Temple
A whole lot of historical discoveries can be made on the territory of Absheron peninsula, where no matter how you turn in any direction, you will certainly bump into the walls of ancient fortresses and forts. By the way, it is here that settlement of urban type Surakhani is situated, within its bounds Ateshgah – a temple of fire and a place of worship of Sikhs, who were brought to Azerbaijan by some unknown wind in XVIII century.
Among the non-handmade sights of the Absheron Peninsula is Yanardag, a flaming mountain slope. Despite the fact that there is a scientific explanation for this fascinating phenomenon (burning oil that has come to the surface), the mystical legends associated with the place would be enough for a whole fantasy book.
The capital of Azerbaijan is suitable not only for a separate tour, but also for an independent travel. To combine sightseeing in Baku with traveling around the country, while not depriving yourself of simple pleasures, such as sitting in taverns and walks through the bazaars, is an attempt from the category of “mission impossible”. So take a few days, or even a week, to explore the city.
Do not skimp on tickets to Baku museums, otherwise you will miss a lot of interesting things. Wander around the halls of the Museum of Azerbaijani Carpet, memorable for its fairy-tale exterior and exhibits soaked in millennia of dust. Visit Literature and Art Museums, where you’ll find rare manuscripts and paintings by Asian and European artists, including Flemish-Dutch artists.
Museum of Azerbaijani Carpet
Tourists “turned” on the history and ancient architecture, it is better to choose an excursion to the Old City of Baku or, as it is often called, the Baku Acropolis. You can get to this part of the capital through the Shemakha Gate. And then the main thing is not to get confused, because the objects of antiquity here at every step. Maiden Tower, Palace of Shirvanshahs, famous bath complexes, mosques and caravanserais – the age of individual buildings of the Old Baku long ago exceeded 700 years.
Old City of Baku
The modern architecture of the capital also can be included in the top local must-see. Skyscrapers and towers, generously lit up at night, evoke associations with cities in the UAE or at least with American Chicago.