Absheron peninsula


Map of Absheron peninsulaIf Azerbaijan is an eagle flying towards the Caspian sea, the Absheron (Apsheron) is its eczema-plagued beak. The landscape is faintly disturbing - an eerily fascinating wasteland of parched hillocks and plains which sprout pylons, nodding-donkey oil derricks and pools of oily effluent amongst ragged scrub. It is not the most immediately appealing area for tourism.

But with your expectations suitably lowered, there are a fair number of curiosities. Absheron Peninsula is home to much more than just the country's capital (Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, sits on a jetty of land thrust out into the Caspian Sea). It's the country's most religious area with dozens of older mosques and several fast-growing shrines being built (eg Shuvelan) and rebuilt (Nardaran) while in Buzovna, Mardakan and Mashtaga you can witness curious, superstitious folk-rituals.

There's the Suraxani Fire Temple, the Yanar Dag burning hillside, some almost passable beaches and several castle towers and ovdans hidden away in modestly interesting ancient villages. Not bad if you can cope with the often drearily disappointing settings.

Archaeologists will find the area offers uniquely well-preserved stone-age 'cart tracks' (near Turkan), standing stones and unexplained stone cup-holes, plus century-old remnants of the early oil industry including old wooden lined pit-wells and archaic drilling rigs. Sites are hard to find/discern without a competent guide.

The word Absheron consists of a few parts. Ab means water, shour means salty and an is the suffix that makes nouns plural in Persian. So, the combination of these words comes out to mean "place of salty water".

Agricultural land is blanched by salt lakes, sodden with oil-runoff and poisoned by pesticide abuse. Platoons of rusty oil derricks fill horizons with intriguing, abstract sculptures. Yet despite mesmerising ugliness and a traditionally conservative population, the Absheron still manages to be the seaside playground of Baku's playboy elite. Meanwhile several historic castle towers peep between the dachas, fires that inspired Zoroastrian and Hindu pilgrims still burn, and beneath the cultural surface lie some of Azerbaijan's oddest folk beliefs. It's a perversely fascinating place.

Map of Absheron peninsula

If you're planning a trip to Azerbaijan you may be interested ▶ Azerbaijan highlights - For those who prefer to go unbeaten path, to explore less visited places and check national charisma of this small country in Southern Caucasus on the edge of Europe.