Pearl of the Caucasus
Regarded as the land of fire and oil, Azerbaijan hosts a dynamic ecosystem – from the glitz of its capital city, serenity of its isolated villages to delectable mouth-watering delights
Azerbaijan is a country of unmatched culture and exotic history. It hosts an array of customs, traditions and fine cuisines – a place which will satisfy expectations of the most sophisticated gastronomists – and finally, it is the country of Caucasian hospitality and amiability.
Situated at the eastern side of Transcaucasia (or South Caucasus) on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is the largest country of the South Caucasus. Baku is its capital and largest city.
Azerbaijan is often referred to as the 'Land of Fire'. It is known that a majority of those residing in this territory before the Common Era were fire worshippers. Since then, the country has preserved the ancient evidence of that era: cave paintings, statues of gods and ancient temples. Two of the most vivid examples of this heritage are the temple of fire-worshippers (Ateshgah) at Surakhani near Baku and Yanardag, translated as the "burning mountain". These lands were considered sacred for centuries and throughout history, they were worshipped by the followers of Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Sikhism.
Historically a part of the Great Silk Road and situated at the crossroads of the geopolitical, economic and cultural interests of many nations and civilisations, Azerbaijan has, since ancient times, aroused the interests of great minds, scientists, travellers and historians. References to this amazing land, located on the western coast of the Caspian Sea and in the eastern part of the South Caucasus, can be found in the ancient writings of Herodotus, Strabo and Claudius Ptolemy. Azerbaijan has an amazing historical and cultural heritage with more than 7,500 natural, archeological, architectural and historical monuments. Cave drawings at Gobustan, Momine-Khatun and Garabaghlar mausoleums, the Palace of Sheki Khans, the Maiden Tower, the castles of Absheron, medieval manuscripts decorated with magnificent miniature paintings, antique rugs and works of literature, arts and sculpture – all of this is just a small part of the country's rich and priceless heritage.
Holidays are on the rise in Azerbaijan owing to its cosmopolitan culture and ease of connectivity. More importantly, Azerbaijani people are known for their warmth and hospitality; from hotel staff going above and beyond to help you locate excursions to sharing a hot meal and swapping stories. If you are looking to be pampered alongside exploring hidden gems in a secure and safe destination – Azerbaijan is the place.
As Azerbaijan sits on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, this diamond in the rough appears rugged on the edges with miles of untouched natural beauty. Gabala is a perfect getaway retreat, far from the hustle and bustle of congested cities, where you can rejuvenate yourself. Waterfalls, large forests and the magnificent Caucasian mountains make Gabala an ideal place for the brave heart. You can also take part in various outdoor activities – quad biking, hiking, skating, horse rides etc.
The buildings of Azerbaijan are a glorious mixture of styles, reflecting the cultural shifts and changing trends of hundreds of years. From minarets to mosaics, medieval to modern, every corner reveals something different and distinct.
Momine Khatun Mausoleum
The dramatic, semi-desert mountain landscapes of the Nahkchivan Autonomous Republic stretch from brooding Mt Aghri to the historic town of Ordubad. This stunning 25-meter high decagon of red brick and turquoise enameled tiles is the finest example of the Nakhchivan architectural tradition.
Palace of the Shirvanshahs
Located in Baku, The Palace of the Shirvanshahs is a 15th century palace built by the Shirvanshahs and described by UNESCO as "one of the pearls of Azerbaijan's architecture".The complex was built gradually, over the course of centuries.
Haydar Aliyev Centre
World-famous architect Zaha Hadid designed the crown jewel of Azerbaijan's architecture in central Baku. It flows seamlessly from the plaza around it, joining the exterior and the interior to represent the inclusion of everyone in a place of shared ideas. A museum, exhibition halls and an auditorium are housed together in this single eternally flowing shape.
Ganja Bottle House
This astonishing two-storey house in Azerbaijan's second city was completed in 1967 by Ibrahim Jafarov, and is made of 48,000 glass bottles of different colours and sizes – making it one of the greatest architectural marvels.
Sheki Khan Palace
The country's craftsmen are famed for their shebeke – a mosaic of coloured glass set in a wooden latticework and assembled without nails or glue. The round-form shebeke of Sheki Khan Palace is unique, making it a real visual feast!
Heydar Aliyev Centre
This astonishing structure was also designed by Zaha Hadid, the first woman to ever receive the Pritzker award, architecture's highest honor. It's unique wave-like design earns the title as Central Baku's crown jewel of architecture. The centre boasts of the incredible diversity and energy visible in Azerbaijani art.
FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Azerbaijan's unique geography and location have resulted in a cuisine influenced not just by its own varied ingredients, but by the tastes of many people travelling along the Silk Road – making it full of surprising flavours and combinations!
A local favourite, plov is rice served with meat, fish or fruit. The saffron-flavoured rice is cooked with lots of fresh herbs, vegetables, dried fruits and more. Some cooking books offer over 40 different versions of plov. The dish is so highly regarded that there is even an International Plov Festival to celebrate this hearty meal. In every Azerbaijani holiday, whether it is the celebration of springtime (Novruz Bayram), or a special occasion such as a birthday or any other important family event, plov remains an integral part.
Pakhlava is a festive dish made for Novruz – the traditional celebration of the coming of spring. The classic pakhlava is cut into diamonds and is sure to be relished by gourmands.
Caviar and Fish
Caspian fish has its own special taste and is best served with narsherab (pomegranate sauce). The most famous fish in Azerbaijan is the Beluga sturgeon. Known as one of the world's most expensive delicacies, the Beluga sturgeon doesn't reach its reproductive age till it is about 20 years old.
There is extensive archeological information suggesting that the people inhabiting the territory of present-day Azerbaijan had developed viticulture. Some relevant artefacts related to the ancient wine production in modern Azerbaijan (as bowls, recipients etc.) have been excavated from the ruins of medieval towns and cities.
Azerbaijan's viticulturists developed many valuable varieties each of which were adapted to the soil and climate conditions in different parts of the country. The varied terrain of its fast-improving wineries across the country results in myriad of flavours and bouquets.
The most famous is the Caspian Coast, Fireland Vineyards, Yarimada, Hacihetemli, Savalan, Hillside, and Agsu pomegranate wine.