An Introduction to Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan, known as the “land of fire” if you’ve been paying attention to what’s written on Atlético de Madrid 2013-2014 jersey, is a country few people know about and even less can find on a map. In fact, the Azerbaijan with its modern borders didn’t even exist until 1918. Much of the land of Azerbaijan is also located within the borders of modern Iran. A predominantly Muslim country in a relatively rough neighborhood, the country geographically is considered European, though in many ways is more typically Asian (I’m classifying is as part of “Western Asia” on this site). The land contains a blend of cultures and influences, being at various times in history part of the Persian, Mongol, Turkish and Russian empires. Most recently, Azerbaijan has been emerging from the ashes of the former Soviet Union. Though it has faced many of same problems of other former Soviet states, Azerbaijan has been blessed with a large amount of natural resources that can help it to become an economically important country. The most important of these resources is oil from the Caspian Sea and large quantities of natural gas, both of which have helped to turn the once sleepy capital of Baku into a modern boomtown.
Despite the country’s rapid transformation from Soviet state to a Caucasus oil baron, Azerbaijan still maintains its provincial charm and hospitality, especially when it comes to travelers. Outside of Baku are quaint little villages surrounded by green rolling hills and fruit orchards, all under the gaze of the towering Caucasus mountains seemingly far off in the distance. Be warned though, Azerbaijan is not the easiest place to navigate for the novice tourist. The people are among the most hospitable in the world, but few speak English, especially in the countryside and other parts outside of Baku. This though is perhaps why you should travel to Azerbaijan, as the tourism industry is still in its nascent stages. This gives the adventurous traveler the excitement of exploring a land few in the west have dared to enter. Now would the time to visit this “land of fire” unlike any other.
History of Azerbaijan
A Quick Tour of Places and Things to See and Do
The Old City of Baku
Known locally as İçəri Şəhər, the old city of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku dates back at least to the 12th century. This includes the remnants of the old fort, the famous Giz Galasi, or “Maiden Tower.” and the Palace of the Shirvanshah, a local dynasty that ruled from Baku. If you’re up for something a bit more modern, you can tour the old mansions of Baku’s oil barons to see the wealth and extravagance that Azerbaijan’s early petroleum boom brought during the first half of the 20th century. The old city is definitely a place where one can spend countless hours walking around.
ShekiSheki is one of the most beautifully picturesque small cities in all of Azerbaijan. Located in the lush green hills in the northern part of the country just south of the Caucasus Mountains, Sheki is filled with traditional tiled-roofed houses, bazaars and small shops, cafes, craft workshops, small museums and some of the best halva (a type of sweet) vendors in the world. It’s a place that will take you back to 19th-century Azerbaijan. Just outside Sheki is the 12th century Church of Kish.
The area in and around the city of Quba in northern Azerbaijan is both extremely beautiful and historic. Being a relatively remote part of the country, the people who live in the small villages that make up this region have more or less lived life in the same way for hundreds of years. Unlike the increasingly industrialized and polluted capital of Baku, in Quba the air is clean, the mountain views spectacular and the pace of life slower than in other parts of the world. It is a linguistically unique place with several rare and endangered dialects being spoken in the region. The area is also home to the largest community of “mountain Jews,” descendants of those who came originally from Iran.
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