Balakhani – renewed historic oil settlement of Azerbaijan

Baku, April 5, AZERTAC

Azerbaijan’s historical oil settlement - Balakhani village, which is known as the first oil center on Absheron peninsula, has today turned into unique open-air art gallery, where houses are painted with colorful images.

Surrounded by rich oil fields, the suburban village of Balakhani on the Absheron Peninsula of Azerbaijan has famously played a crucial role in shaping the modern capital of Baku.

In recent decades, the settlement has been better known for its poor environmental situation following decades of neglect during the Soviet period. Thanks to a revolutionary landscaping work carried out here, it is in the midst of eradicating that image and breathing new life back into one of the Absheron Peninsula’s oldest settlements.

During the so-called Oil Boom of the late 19th, early 20th centuries, Balakhani was at the forefront of Baku’s incredible growing into one of the richest cities. It was here that much of the city’s “black gold” was extracted.

Editor of “Experience Azerbaijan” magazine Tom Marsden mentions that Balakhani also represents many historic firsts for the country such as follows:

- The first oil fountain that was struck here in 1873.

- In 1878 the pioneering Nobel brothers laid the first oil pipeline;

- In 1898, a 30-second silent film (by Alexander Michon) entitled “The Oil Gush in Balakhani” captured a blowout from a Balakhani oil well by becoming the first film shot in Azerbaijan.

- By the early 2000s, the centuries of unlimited oil extraction had caused great damage to the environment, made worse by the presence of a large rubbish dump by the village.

Despite its history, Balakhani had become a place to avoid rather than to visit. Now, though, we are seeing entirely the opposite. Since restoration and reconstruction works began throughout the village in September 2019, homes have been repaired and facades repainted in soothing pastel tones.

Some of them are historic, since when the number of oil wells drilled here in the late 1800s a number of local landowners made small fortunes and the village acquired some elegant architecture. A few homes still remain with interiors adorned with lavish frescoes reminiscent of the new wealth enjoyed by their original owners.

With its old cobler streets and historical sites, the central streets of Balakhani have special charm.

Throughout the village you’ll notice little artistic touches, whether it be a row of colourful birdhouses, a sculpture depicting a scene from the famous film If Not That One, Then This One (“O olmasin, bu olsun”), or uplifting wall paintings, all of which are the handiwork of local artists.

Historic monuments have been restored too: visitors can admire a 17th-century caravanserai frequented by traders and travellers in the days of camels and caravans who used Balakhani as a stopover en route to Baku.

You can also investigate the unearthed remains of the 15th-century Gum Hamam (Sand Bath), a mausoleum erected in 1428 and a rejuvenated ovdan – a historic means of underground water storage unique to the Absheron Peninsula.

For the villagers themselves, however, it’s the efforts made to restore the environment that are most important.

Balakhani is set to become a favorite tourist spot for anyone visiting Baku.



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