Ateshgah of Baku
Whilst staying in Azerbaijan we visited the Ateshgah of Baku, more commonly known as the Fire Temple. Located on the Absheron Peninsular it was only a short drive from the capital, Baku.
Built in the 17th and 18th centuries, Persian and Indian inscriptions indicated that the temple was used as a Hindu, Sikh, and Zoroastrian place of worship although this ceased after 1883 because of the dwindling Indian population.
We entered the complex through battlement type walls, and found a domed structure covering the eternal flame: unfortunately due to exploitation of petroleum and gas in the area, the natural eternal flame went out in 1969, and it’s now lit by gas piped from the city.
Around the outside, cells built for the pilgrims now contain various displays which included life size models of Indian pilgrims, information about Zoroastrianism and a book with pages made from calf skin. Other models depicted self-flagellation using chains around the neck and laying on burning coals. However, it was a hot day, and we found all the details difficult to take in.
After our visit to the Fire Temple of Baku a 25 minute drive took us to Yanar Dağ, which means Fire Mountain.
We walked down the steps of a semi-circular auditorium to get close up to the 10m of constantly burning natural flames which are never extinguished even through rain or snow. Some say the flames have gone unquenched for millennia, others that the naturally escaping gas was accidently ignited by a shepherd’s discarded cigarette in the 1950s, although I’m sure someone would have remembered that!
A long set of steps, without handrail, took us up the side of the hill to large white letters saying Yanardag. One side overlooked the flames and the other had views of the surrounding agricultural area which looked very uninteresting, and lakes which were said to be so salty you could float.
There was also a café where we cooled down with an ice cream, quad bikes for hire, a display of petroglyphs, children’s play area and small shop.
As we returned back from our fiery excursion, it was easy to see why Azerbaijan is known as the Land of Fire.