Yonhap Imazine: Azerbaijan, Land of Abundance Chosen by Prometheus

Baku, November 29, AZERTAC 

Korean Yonhap Imazine magazine has published an article headlined “Azerbaijan, Land of Abundance Chosen by Prometheus” in its December edition.

The article was written by reporter of Yonhap News Agency Lim Dong Kun, who visited Azerbaijan late October. Organized by AZERTAC, the visit was part of cooperation between the two countries` news agencies.

The article says: Azerbaijan is the "land of fire," where Prometheus was chained for the crime of giving fire to humans and a land where many believed in Zoroastrianism, characterized by the worship of fire. The "Land of Fire" is now burning 365 days a year and transforming quickly. Ancient history and brilliant modernity are being combined to offer interesting attractions to travelers.

There are great views of Baku City and the Caspian Sea at Martyr's Alley, south of the city. Buried here are those killed by the Soviet forces sent to quell the independence movement of 1990 and those killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh war between 1988 and 1994.

Baku, the City of Wind, where the Past and Present Coexist

There is a medieval look to the old city of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Just outside, though, travelers will be dizzied by a modern city lined with skyscrapers.

I was shocked to see that my expectations were completely wrong when I set foot in the capital of Baku. It looked like a modern European city, complete with beautiful medieval castles and districts, and many tall buildings. The people were also free, cheerful and kind. As soon as my expectations were overturned, I became excited about my journey here.

A Walk in the Old City to Medieval Times

Baku originated from the Persian word "Bad-kube" (city of wind), and it means "where mountain winds blow severely." When walking in the center of Baku, you will feel strong winds pushing you back.

The main attractions of Baku are centered in the old city of Icheri Sheher, so it is best to visit by foot. The first place to visit is the old city, located in the western part of the city. The old city is 220,000 square meters, and there are palaces; medieval buildings, such as the Caravanserai; mosques; towers; bath houses; and maze-like alleyways. You should start your on-foot travels at the Maiden's Tower on the southeastern entrance of the old city and go clockwise.

The Maiden's Tower, which was built in the 12th century on top of a structure from the 6th-7th century B.C. era, stands at a height of 29.5 m and a diameter of 16.5 m. The thickness of the wall is 5 m, giving it a strong and elegant look. It is presumed to have been used as a temple for the Zoroaster or perhaps for defense, but its exact use is unknown. Yet there is an interesting legend about the tower. When the ruler of Baku asked a man for his daughter to marry, the daughter, not knowing what to do, asked the ruler to make her a high tower where she could see all of his territory. Once the tower was completed, the girl threw herself off the top of the tower to her death. This tower is now a sacred symbol that cannot be trespassed upon.

You should make sure you go inside the tower. You can take the stairs up to the top and view the history, architectural technologies and relics of the Maiden's Tower on display on each story. From the top, you will enjoy great views of the medieval structures, web-like alleyways, refined urban streets and refreshing views of the Caspian Sea.

Shirvanshah's Palace with Elegant Beauty

After checking out the 17th century market square with its exquisite archway next to the Maiden's Tower, go past the narrow alleyways to find the Karavanseray (lodging for caravans of merchants and their camels in the past), which is now used as a restaurant. Pass the street merchants who sell carpets with brilliant patterns, ornaments and souvenirs, and when you arrive at the north gate, you will arrive at a strong castle wall. This wall is like a time warp that goes from medieval to modern times.

At the western end of the old city is Shirvanshah's Palace, which is called the "Pearl of Azerbaijan Architecture." This building was built by Ibrahim I in the 15th century on the highest hill of the old city when the capital was moved from Samaxi to Baku because of a great earthquake. Though it was made simply by being carved into a great stone, the refined columns and exterior and the splendid geometrical patterns look very elegant. Inside the castle are the royal chambers, the court, a conference room, a mosque and a bathhouse. The castle now explains the history of Azerbaijan and is used as a place for displaying relics such as carpets, weapons, ceramics and jewels. Though it may not appear so anymore, the bathhouse, with 26 bathrooms, will blow any visitors' mind away.

The roads of the old city are paved with smooth square stones. When walking along enjoying the unique stone buildings, you might find yourself thinking that you are taking a walk in medieval times.

The Busy Fountain Square and Brilliant Streets

After taking a stroll in the old city, it is time to come back and take a look at the modernity to which Azerbaijan aspires. Outside the old city is an elegant and busy urban view, much like Paris or Frankfurt, Germany.

Once you go out the north gate of the old city, the Fountain Square will appear. The floor is covered with smooth marbles and fountains of various shapes that shoot water all around. On one side is a green park and on the other are boutique stores and restaurants.

Across Fountain Square is Nizami Street, the busiest area in Baku, similar to the Myeongdong area of Seoul. The street is lined with beautiful European buildings filled with stores selling fashion items, sports and electronic products, as well as restaurants, bars and tea houses, while the center is lined straight with street lights. There are also benches under the streetlights for pedestrians to stop and relax. This street, packed with young people who have a taste for fashion and trends, heads toward the former Soviet Union government office.

Romantic Park of the Caspian Sea Coastline

The last place to visit is Bulvar (Boulevard), a seaside park most loved by the people of Baku. Bulvar spans 4 km along the coastline from across the former Soviet Union office on the east of the city to Flag Square, where a huge flag of Azerbaijan, 70 m horizontally and 35 m vertically, stands on a 162 m pole.

There is a walking trail on the seaside area and toward land there is a refreshing green forest. When forming this seaside park about five years ago, rare trees from abroad and beautiful pine trees were densely placed to look like a forest. It is also the location of Park Bulvar, Baku's first modern department store, complete with boutique shops, restaurants and galleries.

From the trail, you can see the fresh and calm sea and the downtown area that is a hodgepodge of both medieval and modernity. This is a peaceful site of families, couples and tourists taking leisurely walks along the paths and people resting on the stands and benches.

If you have the time, you may rest for a while at one of the many cafes you see along the way. You can experience a day as a person from Baku while tasting sweet cookies and aromatic teas.

At night, Baku is reborn. The urban buildings demonstrate their brilliance with splendid lights. On top of the Bulvar Wharf that protrudes out into the Caspian Sea, you will see priceless views filled with extravagant lights.

Qobustan, Human Traces Engraved in Massive Stone

Humanity from time immemorial speaks to us. They tell us that they hunted, fished and collected, and worshipped the heavens. The massive stones of Qobustan contain the lives of prehistoric people.

Outside of downtown Baku and traveling south, you will be able to see the Bibi Heybet Oil Field, which produces crude oil along the left side of the coastline. This is where the opening scene of the 007 movie "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) was filmed and is now nicknamed the "James Bond Oil Field." You will see numerous oil pumps bringing up oil that look like donkeys nodding their heads. This is the place that has been the driving force for the recent rapid growth of Azerbaijan.

After passing the attractive Bibi Heybet Oil Field on top of the sea field, a treeless landscape will appear. There are shacks on the bald mountains that surround the road. After about an hour drive in this desert-like place, you will finally arrive at the Qobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape.

This place is located 64 km south of Baku along the Caspian Sea. The area looks like a common hill with large rocks all around. But on the stones there are over 6,000 engravings made by the ancestors of humanity who lived in the caves along the sea. Though it is now about 5 km from the coastline, it is said that at one point this area was filled with seawater and the mountains were covered with forests. Nomads in the past lived in these caves formed from volcanic eruptions and oil gas emissions. In 2007, UNESCO said that the quality and concentration of the stone carvings here had "excellent common value" and registered it on the world cultural heritage list.

Stone Carvings that Vividly Show the Life of Prehistoric People

It takes another hour by car to get from the entrance where the museum is located to the stone carvings. At the entrance of the trail is a text saying, "The stones of Qobustan are Specimens of Azerbaijan Culture." Azerbaijan says that this is one of the places where global civilization began.

On the trail, you will see sites in this order: Mother Cave, Bull Cave, Hunter's Cave and the Pregnant Female Cave. The caves refer to spaces between large stones or where there are holes in the stones.

Prehistoric people drew pictures on the soft limestone using obsidian. The carvings depict various scenes, such as men hunting with long spears, rituals of praying with arms widespread to the heavens, many people gathered together to dance and pregnant women. There are also paintings of bulls, deer, boars, horses, mules and even paintings of bulls fighting each other, locking horns. There are also paintings showing boats, fish and nets, providing evidence that prehistoric people also used the seas. There are stones that produce clear sounds resonating when hit with a rock, and there is also a cone-shaped stone that is presumed to have been used for lighting fires or to carry out rituals.

On the floor of this area are many flat stones with round holes of diameters of 20-30 cm and a depth of about 50 cm. It is presumed that these holes were used to store the blood of animals used for sacrifices or to hold rainwater, and also to prepare food. These remains are the furthest east among those of the Roman Empire era and there are writings inscribed in the larger stones. It is presumed that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (51-96), Centurion Julius Maximum engraved these writings while patrolling the area.

The Qobustan Museum is located at the entrance of the Rock Art Cultural Landscape. Though it is not very big -- only one story with a basement level --- there are various visual materials that show the process of forming the Qobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, models of the stone petroglyphs, the stone tools and ornaments made and used by the prehistoric people, earthenware and models of life in that age to help visitors gain a better understanding of this place.

Lahic, a Friendly Remote Village in the Kavkaz Mountains

In the remote mountain areas under the Kavkaz Mountains in northern Azerbaijan lays the rocky town of Lahic. In this town, homes, roads and wells are all made of stones. The 2,000 or so residents make copper craftwork and carpets.

A wide array of scenery captures the eyes while traveling northwest from Baku on the "Baku-Samaxi-Yevlakh Expressway." After traveling on a flat road, you will begin climbing a bending hill and end up in a highland area. Here, the reddish-brown mountains dot the horizon, offering breathtaking views. You can also see pastoral scenes with flocks of sheep eating grass. After passing the highlands and entering the Samaxi area, you will no longer see a desert-like landscape, but be welcomed by green mountains and dark fields. Visitors will finally be able to see with their own eyes the different climatic zones of Azerbaijan, which is known as an "exhibition center of climates."

After passing Samaxi and exiting the highway at Ismailly and entering a road to the right, the landscape changes once again. A narrow dirt road that an automobile can barely fit on appears, causing white dust and a rough ride that may cause carsickness, as it takes visitors into a massive valley.

This road goes along the valley of the Girdiman River, passes a hill, then becomes a frightening cliff-side road that crosses a bridge. After about 30 minutes on the road, you will find Lahic, a remote village located 1,629 m above sea level.

Rock Village that Starts Again from Nothing

It was said that Lahic was called "La" in time immemorial, and not even the people of Lahic can remember it being called that. At one point, Lahic was quite a large village, with a population of about 36,000. However, a great earthquake shook up the mountains and lands, leaving only destruction in its path. The natural disaster destroyed houses and warehouses and stole the people's livelihoods in an instant. They said that there was absolutely nothing left. Since then, this place has been called "Lahec." In Azerbaijani, "hec" means "there is nothing."

And after a long time, people began to move back to this area several hundred years ago. They brought stones from the nearby river and erected strong houses that could withstand most earthquakes. Now, there are about 2,000 residents living in this remote mountain area, like in a fairy tale.

Lahic is located on top of a steep cliff over a river that has run dry. Across the river also lie huge barren mountains that seem to go on for an eternity. At the entrance of the village are homes built with stones with old red and blue roofing. It looks like a small, yet strong, village that might appear in a movie set in medieval Europe.

The village is filled with rocks everywhere. There are flat stones of various shapes and sizes on the ground, and the walls and fences of homes are also built with piled up rocks. The only places that do not use stones are the roofing, gates, terraces, windows and utility poles on the streets. When looking carefully, there is a long, thick, rectangular piece of wood that runs horizontally at about 1 m intervals from the ground up, preventing homes and fences from collapsing due to earthquakes. There were many earthquakes in this area, but while other villages were damaged, Lahic was able to withstand them.

Interesting Alleyways with Masters

Lahic was at one time a mining village that produced copper. There is a large copper sign containing scenery from the villages on a small wall in the town square. Everywhere else are stone roads and stone houses.

When traveling along the alleys to the east from the square, the true journey in Lahic begins. On both sides of the alley, that just one car might be able to pass through, there are lines of one- to two-story houses. Then smaller stone-fenced alleyways appear every now and again, leading to other alleyways. It gives a warm and pleasant feeling, like the stone-fenced streets of traditional Korean villages. Under the stone paths are waterways. Water that flows from the mountains pass through the waterways installed under the alleys and spring up in the wells that were built around the village.

Along the way, you will see blacksmith shops. The blacksmith melts copper in a red furnace and beats down on it with a heavy hammer to even it out to make a wide array of craftwork using traditional methods. You can also see workers precisely engraving patterns on the surface of the copper craftwork. The blacksmith shop always opens its doors so that tourists can see the production process. Sparkling copper kettles, dishes, vases and ornaments are produced here and put on display at the store next door for sale. There is a total of seven blacksmith shops in Lahic, where visitors can see the production process of copper.

The reason why there are many blacksmith shops here is because of the rough environment. The land is filled with stone, making it impossible to harvest grains or vegetables. Thus, residents in the area use copper, which is in abundance, to make a living. This is how copper craftwork began here. The highest quality copper craftworks in Azerbaijan are produced here.

Carpets with beautiful patterns are also produced in this village. At the souvenir stores that can be found in the village, visitors can purchase extravagant carpets with a range of patterns, gloves and hats made of thread, and dolls that depict the life of the people here. The most popular item for visitors is copper craftwork.

In an alleyway, there is a place where visitors can try on traditional garments. Men can wear coats embroidered with gold or silver threads and women can try on brilliant outfits of red and blue with hijabs. There are also hunter and medieval knight outfits, such as thick sheepskin coats, helmets, swords and shields, and rifles.

The Best Summer Destination of Azerbaijan

Outside of the central alley and over the quiet stairs to the right, there is a small museum located next to a mosque. There are old earthenware, steel dishes, kettles, instruments and carpets on display inside. On a wall are black and white photos of the village long ago, but there is not much difference in the appearance of the village from then to now.

In the summer, Lahic is a great natural destination. There is no place better than this for those people of Baku who want to get away from the scorching heat that can reach 40 degrees Celsius. Recently, rich outsiders even began building modern homes to use as summer homes. Others who want to maintain the peaceful look from the past simply rent a traditional home during the vacation season.

It snows a lot in Lahic during the winter. Even on a clear day it is tough getting here. So when the snow piles up and freezes, people here become completely disconnected from the outside world for weeks at a time. If you are planning to visit Lahec, you should avoid it during winter.

Shaki, an Ancient City with a Lovely Atmosphere

Shaki was the capital city when ruled by the khan in the 18th century, and it was a place where merchants who traveled the Silk Road rested. The beautiful Summer Palace, inns for merchants, open areas and old streets provide refuge for outsiders.

Shaki is located 325 km northwest of Baku and rests at a pleasant environment 675 m above sea level in the southern ridges of the Kavkaz Mountains. This is a city with 90,000 people and low mountains and thick greens surround the city giving it a peaceful and refreshing ambiance as if being inside of a huge forest. Coming here, you will realize why it is called the most loved town in Azerbaijan.

Traveling to Shaki starts at the Summer Palace (Xan Sarayi) of the Khan at the highest part of the eastern part of the city. The palace was built for the Khan in 1762 and in the past, there were also the Winter Palace, family rooms, homes for servants, etc. for a total of over 40 buildings. But today, only the Summer Palace remains.

Summer Palace, the Epitome of Extravagance

After passing the 2 m thick castle wall gate and going up the hill, the palace surrounded by a high fence to the left appears. There is a rectangular two-story building past the castle gate, and below the terrace in front of the building, there is a stone path that leads to the fountain in the center. Right in front of the building are two platanus trees that are said to be 200 years older than the castle. You might be disappointed if you expected the palace to be beautiful and grandiose. But just give it some time.

You will be able to experience extreme extravagance in this small palace. The front part of the central area on the first and second floor with seven windows each are covered with green, brown and blue-colored geometric patterns and flower painting tiles, and the entrance on each side of the windows and terrace were designed as sparkling silver arches.

When passing through the door on the right, another scene unfolds. What you should pay most attention to inside is the stained glass windows called "shabaka." Extravagant and beautiful patterns are placed in the windows that cannot even be compared to those of the old cathedrals in Europe. The brilliance of the windows seen from the dark interior will be jaw-dropping. Its production method is quite interesting as well. Wood from walnut trees are cut into 4-5 cm pieces to make the frame and colored glass are fitted inside. The size and color of the glass are all different depending on the pattern, so it requires great precision to make. They say that over 1,000 pieces of glass are needed to make them. This palace is currently a candidate for the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.

Right outside of the palace, you can watch shabaka masters making different works. Inside the palace is an Albanian church from the 6th century that is now being used as a museum.

Inn for camel merchants now transformed into a hotel

When looking at a map, Shaki is located right in the middle of Baku and Tbilisi, Georgia. In the past, Shaki connected Baku, Tbilisi, and today's Derben, Russia, and acted as a hub city for the Silk Road. Because of this, at one point in the past, silk weaving was developed here.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, merchants passing through stayed at an inn called Karavanseray. There were five inns back then, but now only two remain. Karavanseray has two stories. The upper floor was used for merchants to rest, while the lower level was used to keep the camels, horses and items they carried. In the past, Shaki was the trade hub that connected the east, west, north and south, so many merchants would stop and rest here.

After following the snaking stone path from the Khan's Summer Palace for about 10 minutes, there is the Upper Karavanseray and then the Lower Karavanseray is located about five minutes further. When entering through the large wooden gate of Upper Karavanseray, there is a dark, round space with a fountain in the center. When passing this place, there is an inner courtyard of the inn that contains its appearance from the past. It is a two-story building surrounded by a square garden. There are about 300 guest rooms here and the front door of the guest rooms and the hallways are arch-shaped. The Lower Karavanseray is used as a hotel for tourists now and it has 242 guest rooms. In the street between the two Karavanserays, there are stores that sell souvenirs and cookies called Shaki Halva, as well as cafes and restaurants.

Albanian Temple with a Long History

Meanwhile, when traveling about 5 km on a quiet rural road north from Shaki, you will find the oldest town in Azerbaijan -- Ki. The history of this village goes back all the way to the first century when the region of Azerbaijan was part of the Christian country, Kavkaz Albania. Kavkaz Albania has no relation to the Republic of Albania.

The history of Kavkaz Albania can be checked at the Albanian Temple located on the highest hill of Ki. The temple is located on top of the hill that takes about 30 minutes on the bumpy and bending alleyway covered with gravel.

This temple is presumed to have been constructed by the disciple Elisei, who spread Christianity in Kavkaz Albania. It is said that he was the first person to build a church and spread the gospel here. However, its use was changed during the 10th century as an Orthodox Church of Georgia, Islamic temple in the 18th century and a Christian church in the 19th century. Today, this is used as a museum where one can learn about the history of Kavkaz Albania. They say that the exterior appearance changed with the passage of time.

Currently, the temple has an orange roof on a round tower and there is a tower built with large stones and a long window going upward on the wall. The outer walls marked with scratches, the round tower and the bright colored roof look antique and profound. When passing through a small arched door in the center, the sunlight that comes through a small window gently brightens the area. There is an altar under the round ceiling and tower. There are signs that explain the history of Kavkaz Albania, and there are also many different earthenware in this area.

Meanwhile, there are several long glass tubes on the floor outside of the temple. If you look downwards, you can see human remains from the Bronze Age.

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