Welcome to Azerbaijan
Old meets new in Baku
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is a mishmash of old and new. The modern Flame Towers stand in contrast to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old City (Icherisheher) – a site that’s been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. Among the highlights of the Walled City of Baku is Shirvanshah’s Palace, a sandstone complex that served as the dynastic seat of power during the Middle Ages.
Azerbaijan’s oldest mosque
Azerbaijan is predominantly Muslim, though a small part of the population are members of the Russian Orthodox or Armenian Orthodox churches. Originally built in 743 (and rebuilt in 2013), Juma ranks as the nation’s first and one of its largest mosques.
The mystery of the Maiden Tower
The Maiden Tower, a stone tower rising 95 feet above the streets of the Old City, has somewhat mysterious origins. Experts debate its age, though it could be millennia old, and it may have been used as a fire temple, lighthouse or defensive tower.
Hiking in Guba
The Guba region in northeast Azerbaijan serves as a gateway to the magnificent Caucasus Mountains. This area attracts hikers who come to explore the landscape and tiny mountain villages on foot.
Azerbaijan’s Machu Picchu
Alinja Castle, sometimes called the Machu Picchu of Azerbaijan, is a recent reconstruction of a ruined citadel dating back to the Middle Ages. The fortress was famous for being nearly impenetrable. It was only sacked once, and only after a 14-year struggle.
For the best views of the site (and the surrounding Nakhchivan landscape), climb the 1,500 steps up the nearby mountain crag.
The mountainous region of İsmayilli is known for, among other things, its picturesque lakes. Garanohur Lake, surrounded by forest, sits in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains and is a popular hiking destination.
Taste of Azerbaijan
The culinary landscape of Azerbaijan has been influenced by its location on the Silk Road trading route between Europe and Asia. The villages in the northwest part of the country are known for serving some of the nation’s best cuisine, including surhullu.
This hearty dish consists of pieces of handmade pasta topped with strips of meat that have been dried over the winter months.
Top of the world
Bazarduzu, the highest mountain in Azerbaijan, peaks at 14,652 feet. Mountaineers need special permission to climb to the summit, located near the border with Russia.
Ganja, a city of architecture
One of the best destinations to experience the grand architecture of Azerbaijan is in the city of Ganja. The city center features examples of Soviet classicist buildings, like the City Hall (pictured), alongside ancient mosques and hammams, as well as 19th century red-brick structures.
A masterpiece of Islamic architecture
Among the most impressive works of Islamic architecture in the country is the Imamzadeh Mausoleum in Ganja (sometimes called the Goy Mosque). The site was first built around the grave of one of Muhammad al-Baqir’s sons. Today, the complex features a tomb, mosque and religious school. It’s best known for its magnificent Majorca tile work.
Land of Fire
Azerbaijan bills itself as the Land of Fire. This is in part due to the curiosity known as Yanar Dag, or Fire Mountain. At the base of this rather modest hill, natural gas flames burn continuously. The word ‘Azerbaijan’ means ‘protector of fire,’ and the nation has long been a center of fire-worshipping Zoroastrians and Hindus.
Chovgan, the national sport
The Karabakh horse, native to the country, has long been bred for its stamina and speed. In 1956, one of these horses was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II. Horses are such an important cultural symbol in Azerbaijan that they even play a role in the national Sport.
Chovgan, a popular pastime on the plains of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran, originated more than two millennia ago. The game is played to a type of folk music known as janghi.
The German history of Gadabay
A pocket of land in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains has interesting historical ties to Germany. In the late 19th century, the Siemens brothers brought their copper mining operation to the town of Gadabay.
When the brothers left the country after World War I, they left behind several German-style brick houses, as well as an impressive narrow-gauge railway with a stone arched bridge connecting the mines to a smelting plant 17 miles away.
The art of the kelaghayi
The village of Basgal along the Silk Road is famous for its kelaghayi making. This silk headscarf, listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, is made by stamping hot wax onto the silk before dipping it in dye. Many village households once practiced the art of weaving and dying these garments, but the practice began to disappear during the Soviet period.
Luckily, it’s enjoyed a revival in recent decades, with a new factory established in the town in the early 2000s.
The king of fruits
Azerbaijan is the only country in the world where all varieties of pomegranates grow. The town of Goychay celebrates this iconic fruit each year during the Goychay Pomegranate Festival. During this November event, festival goers can sample juices, jams, wines and baked goods made from pomegranate, or visit a fortune teller who predicts the future using pomegranate seeds.
Hit the slopes in Shahdag
Shahdag, a region in the northeastern part of the country, serves as Azerbaijan’s winter capital. Two majestic mountain resorts offer 14 ski slopes accessed by cable cars and lifts, as well as ample backcountry adventure.
On safari in Azerbaijan
Shirvan National Park ranks among the best places in Azerbaijan for wildlife viewing. It’s home to the largest population of goitered gazelle in the region, as well as numerous bird species who nest in the park’s marshlands.
The windows of Sheki
The town of Sheki, another stop on the legendary Silk Road, is well known for its craft shops. Shebeke, the art of filling wooden lattices with colored glass (without the use of glue or nails) has become a signature of the town. See some of the best examples within Sheki Khan’s palace, built as a summer residence during the 18th century.
Heydar Aliyev Centre
At the Heydar Aliyev Centre, the building is just as impressive as the collections inside. The wave-like landmark in Baku was designed by esteemed British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. The gallery spaces inside host permanent and temporary collections of art and cultural artifacts from around the globe.
Village of Masters
At one point, more than 40 different crafts were practiced in the town of Lahij. These days, the town is known for its cobbled streets, stone houses, distinct language and some of the nation’s best coppersmiths.
Hiking in Sim village
The village of Sim and its surroundings attract outdoors enthusiasts to its forests and waterfalls in the heart of the Talysh Mountains.
Candy Cane Mountains
These pink- and white-striped hills, known as the Candy Cane Mountains, rank among the most scenic sites along the Guba-Baku highway. The color patterns may be due to oxidized iron compounds in the rock. Hike through the area, and you might notice tiny fossils littering the ground.
Mud volcano capital of the world
Azerbaijan is also known for its mud volcanoes – nearly 400 of them concentrated in a relatively small region outside the capital and near the Caspian Sea. These natural wonders are caused by tectonic movement that allows subterranean gases to leak to the surface.
Azerbaijan’s largest national park
Many of Azerbaijan’s most spectacular mountain scenery lies within the vast expanse of Shahdag National Park. The country’s largest national park covers an area of more than 130,000 hectares and is home to the rare Eastern Caucasian tur, a mountain-dwelling goat-like animal endemic to the region.