Azerbaijan – Between East and West
|BETWEEN||Baku and Baku|
|COUNTRIES VISITED – 1||Azerbaijan|
|MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE||12|
|WHATS NOT INCLUDED||
Perched on the very edge of Europe, Azerbaijan occupies an unusual position both geographically and culturally, intertwining elements of Russia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Central Asia. This short trip takes you on a journey through a land that has remained shrouded in mystery for centuries. We start in Baku, the oil rich capital which blends the ultra-modern with the staunchly traditional, visiting its historic quarter and marvelling at the unique architecture here. Outside of the city are strange geological phenomena – flaming mountains and bubbling mud volcanoes – which has given Azerbaijan the name ‘land of fire’. In the mountains we visit unique communities and historic towns packed full of ancient mosques and mausoleums where the past never seems too far away and villagers welcome us into their homes with traditional Azeri hospitality. Azerbaijan deserves more recognition than it currently receives and once you’ve travelled here, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Azerbaijan – Between East and West
Native Eye specializes in small group tours to unusual destinations with a focus on traditional, often tribal, cultures. Azerbaijan deserves more recognition than it currently receives and once you’ve travelled here, we’re sure you’ll agree.
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Day 1 – Baku
Arrive in Baku and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar.
Baku is a city with a split personality. Sitting on the edge of the Caspian Sea its fortunes have long been tied with the discovery of oil, and in the early 19th century the city provided half of the world’s petroleum. This boom led to a massive programme of construction, and in the streets of Baku today the visitor can find grand mansions and elaborate religious buildings harking back to the days of the ‘oil barons’. Today this continues, with Baku in the midst of transforming itself into a city of the future – glittering glass faced buildings sprout up in the centre, their designs modern and brash, and some call Baku the ‘Dubai of the Caucasus’. Look beyond this though and you will find a much older city in the Icheri Sheher, the traditional quarter characterised by winding alleys and hidden mosques, bounded by robust city walls. It is here that you will find some of Baku’s most interesting monuments including the enigmatic Maiden’s Tower, which features on just about every piece of tourist literature about Baku – stretching almost 30 metres into the sky its origins are unclear but have given rise to many theories. The Shirvanshahs’ Palace dates back to the 15th century, a large walled complex of domed roofs and quiet mausoleums that was the seat of rule in centuries past, while outside old caravanserais attest to the importance of Baku on the old Silk Road. One of the few cities in the region to have escaped the predations of the Mongols, Baku is a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and ultra-modern, reinventing itself but not forgetting its heritage.
Day 2 – Baku
Spend today exploring Baku. We visit the National Museum and the historic quarter with buildings dating back to the 14th century including ancient caravanserais, mosques, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and the enigmatic and mysterious Maiden’s Tower, among other sights. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 3: Absheron Peninsula - Gobustan
Head out of Baku to the fascinating Absheron Peninsula with its ‘flaming mountain’, Yanardag, and the Temple of the Fire Worshippers at Ateshgah. From here we head to Gobustan, known for its prehistoric rock art and unique mud volcanoes. Return to Baku for the evening. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)
Jutting out into the Caspian Sea, the Absheron Peninsula is home to some of the country’s finest sights, all within a day trip from Baku. One of the most unusual is the ‘flaming mountain’ of Yanardag, another of Azerbaijan’s bizarre geological features where natural gas seeps from the rock, accidentally ignited in the 1950s and burning to this day. At Ateshgah, the ‘temple of the fire-worshippers’ surrounds an eternal flame, another reminder of why this country is often called the Land of Fire. In Mardakan a fine medieval fortress stands, dating back to the 12th century and part of the defensive system of the peninsula, while all around the area smaller shrines, caravanserais and palaces attest to a rich history.
Gobustan is known for two very different things. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the rocky landscape holds a number of rather impressive petroglyphs depicting warriors, boats, camel caravans and battles dating back between several thousand years, as well as the remains of settlements and ancient burial sites. Equally impressive though are the mud volcanoes – there are almost four hundred here which represent about half of the world’s total. Gases bubble up through the mud and belch their way to the surface, and every few years flames erupt from the earth. This is a rather otherworldly place and a real pleasure to explore.
Day 4: Guba – Krasnaya Sloboda
Head north to the town of Guba. On the way we stop at the mountain of Beshbarmag, a natural fortress that is a local site for pilgrimage. From here we continue to the town of Guba and spend some time exploring its sights including the Sakina Khanum Mosque and the medieval baths. We then head to Krasnaya Sloboda, a unique town populated almost entirely by Azerbaijan’s small Jewish population. Return to Guba in the evening, stopping at the traditional village of Xinaliq on the way. Overnight Terrace Hotel or similar. (B)
The village of Krasnaya Sloboda is unique for Azerbaijan and perhaps one of the few places outside of Israel to have an almost entirely Jewish population. Once home to eleven synagogues, after the repression of the Stalinist era it now sports just two, one of which holds a two hundred year old copy of the Torah encased in silver. The origins of the village are uncertain with some believing that the original inhabitants emigrated from Iran to escape persecution in the 17th century, while others hold that they were Khazars who chose Judaism in order to remain neutral during feuds between Islamic and Christian communities.
Day 5: Shamakha – Lahic - Qabala
Continue to Shamakha, visiting the 13th century mausoleum of Diri Baba in the village of Maraza en route. At Shamakha we visit the historic mosque, the seven tombed mausoleum of Yeddi Gumbaz, and the graveyard of the Shirvanshahs. From here we drive to the traditional village of Lahic with its old mosques, cobbled streets and craftsmen, and then continue to Qabala for the evening. Overnight Qabala Karavansarai or similar. (B)
One of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, Shamakha was once the regional capital and a major centre for trade and commerce. It was the base and key city of the Shirvanshahs – the rulers of the area – from the 7th to 16th centuries with a mixed ethnic population of Persians, Azeris, Armenians and Georgians, but was finally annexed by Russia in the early 19th century. During its existence it has suffered numerous earthquakes with many buildings having been destroyed, and in previous times was famous for its traditional dancers.
Day 6: Lahic – Shekhi
Drive to Shekhi. Shekhi is one of the most interesting towns in Azerbaijan and this afternoon we visit the medieval fortress and the Khan’s Palace with its elaborate decorations, among other sights. Overnight Issam Hotel or similar. (B)
One of the most historic towns in Azerbaijan, Shekhi lies on the forested slopes of the Caucasus Mountains amongst spectacular scenery. A centre of resistance against the Persians in the 18th century, it broke free to become its own khanate, and today its most impressive attraction if the Khan’s Palace with its attractive garden and colourfully decorated exterior. The building was constructed without the use of a single nail and is one of the most attractive monuments dating back to this era. Not to be missed are the caravanserais – only three remain out of an original five but their state of preservation means that it is not difficult to envisage life here hundreds of years ago. Sheki also holds a number of museums and old mosques within its historic centre, and not far from the town lies the Albanian church at Kish, reputed to be 1500 years old.
Day 7: Kish – Baku
We stop at the village of Kish, site of the oldest church in the Caucasus, then return to Baku where the rest of the day is free to explore. Overnight Central Park Hotel or similar. (B)
Day 8: Baku
Transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)
Tour Dossier Notes
Airport transfers – Native Eye Travel includes arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip– in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then can request for this to be arranged for you. If you need any advice with visas just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as CIBT can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.