• Michael Knock

Azerbaijan & Georgia - 20 Day Explorer (Virtual Tour) - Day 5

We were due to be heading to Aerbaijan & Georgia @ this time of year, however, COVID-19 restrictions have required us to suspend all tours for the rest of 2020.

On this virtual Tour, you can travel with us as we explore two emerging countries - Azerbaijan & Georgia. On this Tour, we fly into Baku, Azerbaijan and out of Tbilisi, Georgia and bus, hike & funicular our way around these amazing cultures.

Baku - Qobustan

After breakfast (can't get enough of the freshness and flavours of Azeri breakfasts!) we headed south (about 60kms) of Baku to Qobustan or Gobustan (as it is sometimes written).

Qobustan is famous for it's UNESCO-listed Qobustan Petroglyph Reserve and nearby mud volcanoes. Before you ask, "Petroglyphs are powerful cultural symbols that reflect the complex societies and religions of the surrounding tribes. Petroglyphs are central to the monument's sacred landscape where traditional ceremonies still take place. The context of each image is extremely important and integral to its meaning."

The Petroglyph Reserve protects many thousand stone engravings that date back to between 12,000 and 15,000 years.

According to Wikipedia, Azerbaijan has the most mud volcanoes of any country, spread broadly across the country. 350 of the 800 volcanoes of the world are in the Azerbaijani Republic. Local people call them “yanardagh” (burning mountain), “pilpila” (terrace), “gaynacha” (boiling water) and “bozdag” (grey mountain) alongside its geographical name – mud volcanoes.

As you can see from this map, Azerbaijan had a large number of both terrestrial and aquatic mud volcanoes.

It's a bit hard to go past Lonely Planet's description of these mud volcanoes....

"geologically flatulent little conical mounds that gurgle, ooze, spit and sometimes erupt with thick, cold, grey mud. It's more entertaining than it sounds - even when activity is at a low ebb, you get the eerie feeling that the volcanoes are alive."

The main reason visitors come to Qobustan is the petroglyphs and the mud volcanoes as there is not much else to experience. In many respects, this area is the one that Azerbaijan forgot. There are relics of the Soviet era including rusting Ladas and questionable architecture but there is also a sense that the communities here have not been part of the oil boom Azerbaijan (and Baku in particular) has benefited from. The area has a very gritty and neglected feel about it and you can't help but wonder if the locals wouldn't prefer a return of the Soviet system with its full employment and a degree of certainty.

Given the dining options in Qobustan, we had lunch en route back to Baku to check out the very interesting architecture of the Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum. We had walked pass this amazing building yesterday but we had the afternoon today to explore. This building has the rather dubious honour of being the last of the spectacular pieces of Baku architecture that ceased @ 2014 when the oil industry took a bit of a hit.

Whilst the building is certainly eye-catching from the exterior and leaves you in no doubt about what it is, it does present some challenges for internal displays...

According to UNESCO Azerbaijani applied arts, especially carpet weaving, occupy a special place in the history of its national culture. The most widespread folk art is carpet weaving. It made its way into the everyday life of the people of Azerbaijan and turned into a symbol for the nation. Because of their high aesthetic value, fleecy and pileless carpets, decorated with various patterns and signs, are used to decorate the walls and floors of marquees, huts, homes, nomads' tents, and other buildings.

The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum is the treasury of Azerbaijan national culture. Established for researching, keeping and displaying carpets and carpet items, as well as applied art works, the Museum has the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world, of different weaving techniques and materials.

Its collection numbers more than 10, 000 objects, including ceramics, jewelry from the Bronze Age, and metal works, including some from the 14th century. Additionally, there are carpets and carpet items of the 17th-20th cc., gold and silver adornments, national garments and embroidery, and applied art works of the modern period.

You can take yourself on a virtual tour here.

The Museum is located at the foot of the hill on which the Flame Tours are situated and not far from Baku Bay. After the Carpet Museum, we had the opportunity to make our way along the waterfront, past the Yacht Club and back to the Hotel. Last night in Baku and this was a great way to explore a little bit more. This way also avoids some of the carpet shops in the Inner City just in case any of the group got inspired at the Museum.

A couple of things to note about Baku:

1. It is the world's largest city below sea level - Baku is officially 28 metres below sea level.

2. Baku is windy. The name is thought to be derived from Persian - “Bād-kube” “bād”means “wind” and“kube”comes from“kubidan”, which means “to pound”. At any time of the year, be prepared for a bit more than a zephyr-like breeze.

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