Welcome to Azerbaijan

As I leave the familiar landscape of my hometown for the Republic of Azerbaijan, I realize for the first time I have no real expectations about my destination.

Normally, a nighttime arrival means that you have to wait until morning to see a place – but not with Baku! The lights of Azerbaijan’s capital city are incredible! From the neon-lit clock tower shaped like an oil derrick to the buildings lit with hundreds of tiny orbs, Baku glistens in the dark.

The city sits on a peninsula on the Caspian Sea, which makes up the eastern border of Azerbaijan. Russia sits to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south.

While the country does not have an official religion, the majority of its citizens are Muslim. The country’s most popular pastimes include wrestling and chess! Yet, while I poured through guidebooks and scoured the internet in an attempt to properly research the country, my destination still feels like a mystery. I can pinpoint the facts, but feel there is so much more to discover.

Some of this mystery might come from its reputation as the “Land of Fire.” The region’s abundance of oil and natural gas (both highly flammable) has defined Azerbaijan’s history, culture, and even the religious practices of its earliest civilizations. There are ancient fire temples where natural gas seeps through cracks in the surface of the Earth. Fire is celebrated everywhere, from the architecture to the patterns found on traditional handwoven textiles.

These same resources also made Azerbaijan desirable land, and throughout history, the country has passed through the hands of many conquering peoples. It was sought after for its oil, natural gas, and strategic position on the Caspian Sea. The result, I am told, is a unique blend of Asian, Persian, Arabic, European, and Turkic influences.

I’m already so intrigued to investigate the rich landscape that is Azerbaijan. Let the detective work begin!

Zoe