Sightseeing in Azerbaijan Equals Exploring the Unacquainted

The Virgo Zodiac Sign

I love sightseeing in Azerbaijan. Interestingly enough, Azerbaijan and I celebrate our birthdays one day apart. Both under the zodiac sign Virgo.

Virgo is an earth sign, historically represented by the goddess of wheat and agriculture, an association that speaks to Virgo’s deep-rooted presence in the material world. Virgos are logical, practical, and systematic in their approach to life.

Israel-Azerbaijan

I was introduced to Azerbaijan in May 2017. I stayed at the Fairmont Hotel, one of the three towers that make up the famous Baku, Azerbaijan skyline – the Flame Towers. During that one-week stay and visiting Azerbaijan, Israel celebrated its Independence Day, hosted at the very hotel where I stayed.

That celebration was the first eye-opener for me, as a Jewess, to begin learning how a majority Muslim country honors the Jewish state with the utmost respect. It was an eye-opener for me. It took place years before the Abraham Accords were signed, in September 15, 2020, which started to formalize relations between Israel and Muslim countries. The first one was the United Arab Emirates.

Sightseeing in Azerbaijan Equals Exploring the Unacquainted 1
May 2017, Yom Ha’atzmaut-Israel’s Independence Day Celebration in Baku,-then Israel Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mr. Dan Stav delivers his speech – Photo Nurit Greenger

Azerbaijan and Israel have had bilateral relations since Azerbaijan broke off from the Soviet Union’s yoke and declared its independence in August 30, 1991.

On December 25, 1991, Israel formally recognized the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan, becoming one of the first states to do so. The Jewish state established diplomatic relations with the majority Muslim country Azerbaijan on April 7, 1992.

For decades the diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Israel were one-sided. Israel had an established embassy in Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan did not reciprocate with an embassy in Israel; the South Caucasus state was lacking its diplomatic representation, an embassy, in Israel.

On November 26, 2022, all changed. The Republic of Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev signed a law on the establishment of the Embassy of his county in Tel Aviv, Israel. On the same day Mr. Aliyev also approved the law on the establishment of the Representative Office of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority (PA).

On December 30, 2022, a month after saying it plans to open an embassy in Tel Aviv and after 30 years of bilateral relations, Baku’s government taps Deputy Education Minister Mukhtar Mammadov to be Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Israel. Mr. Mammadov will be the first-ever ambassador to Israel.

Sightseeing in Azerbaijan Equals Exploring the Unacquainted 2
The writer at Israel Embassy, Baku, Azerbaijan, December 2022, with Israel Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mr/ George Deek – Photo Nurit Greenger

Participating in Israel’s independence celebration in Baku that night in May 2017 at the Fairmont Hotel, had tapped into my curiosity to know what Azerbaijan is all about.

Sightseeing in Azerbaijan

Since that first visit, I traveled to Azerbaijan several times and have done extensive sightseeing. Here I would like to share some sightseeing points of interest in order to satisfy travel curiosity.

When I mention to friends and strangers the name Azerbaijan, a question mark appears on their forehead. “What is it?”; “where is it?”; “what is it like?” are the questions thrown at me. Since Azerbaijan is a majority Muslim country, and I am a Jew, Jews ask me if it is safe to visit the country.

To all I always reply, “Each time I visited Azerbaijan I returned overwhelmed with great memories and of course I felt safe there. Why don’t you take a trip and experience the same for yourself?

 The writer in Baku, Azerbaijan, background the Flame Towers - Photo credit Nurit Greenger
The writer in Baku, Azerbaijan, background the Flame Towers – Photo credit Nurit Greenger

Azerbaijan Can Certainly Satisfy Traveler Curiosity

Here are some points of interest I would like to recommend:

Nine Out of Eleven Climate Zones

Azerbaijan’s climate is very diverse. Nine out of eleven existing climate zones are present in the country which can accommodate diverse visitor climate partiality.

Among the major influences on Azerbaijan’s climate are temperature, precipitation, humidity, rate of evaporation, and cloud cover. All influence the existence of nine out of the 11 climate patterns in the Köppen climate classification one can enjoy in Azerbaijan.

From semi-desert and dry steppe climate with cold winter and dry hot climate to moderate climate with mild, dry winter covers the south hills of the Greater Caucasus and the north and east hills of the Lesser Caucasus. Moderately warm climate with hot and dry summer, cool winter and rainy autumn; cold, dry winter in the southeast hills of the Greater Caucasus; cold climate with cool, dry summer covers the middle and high mountains of Nakhchivan, summer is cool and winter is cold enough for snow fall; moderate climate with equal distribution of rainfall covers the mountainous forests in the country’s south and the northeast hills of the Greater Caucasus with cool winter and warm summer; cold climate with heavy precipitation year-round in the south hills of the Greater Caucasus which include forest, subalpine, and alpine zones with cold winter and cool summer; alpine tundra covers the areas of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus and Nakhchivan with cold winter and summer and in some places, the snow doesn’t melt until the following winter.

Snow in 1st week January 2023 - Heydar Aliyev Convention Center - photo Nurit Greenger
Snow in 1st week January 2023 – Heydar Aliyev Convention Center – photo Nurit Greenger

Unparalleled Hospitality

Each nation had its own unique hospitality traditions, the rules of having guests and visiting friends. Since ancient times, Azerbaijanis have had very interesting and instructive customs of hospitality which also fit contemporary life.

Azerbaijanis consider it a duty to show infinite respect for a guest. The guest is sacred in Azerbaijan and the tradition of respect is taken very seriously.

Azerbaijanis were and are very considerate, careful and polite in relation to a guest and hospitality traditions in Azerbaijan were and are very well known.

Azerbaijan traditional tea time - Photo Nurit Greenger
Azerbaijan traditional tea time – Photo Nurit Greenger

When visiting Azerbaijan, a visitor experiences some of the world’s best hospitality etiquette. Giving good hospitality is deeply ingrained in Azerbaijani culture. Guests are a valued commodity and the locals go to great lengths to be of help. An Azerbaijani host will treat a guest with endless cups of tea, snacks and anything else traditional.

Azerbaijani Culture

Azerbaijan’s culture combines history, religion and tradition that has evolved and molded over centuries. That has created modern-day Azerbaijan culture. Some traits may be familiar to the visitor, others foreign and different, and that is what makes the country so special.

Azerbaijan culture seems to have a tantalizing blend of the best of everything.

Tolerance: Azerbaijan follows Shia Islam, the same as neighboring Iran, while Azerbaijanis consider Sunni Muslim Turkey to be their brothers. The country also has very good relationships with the Jewish state Israel, rather unusual in the Islamic world. After centuries of influence from Russia, many Azerbaijanis tend to be pro-Russian while they are also pro-Western. A broadminded tolerance culture.

The writer at the entrance to Caucasian Taza Pir Mosque - May 2017 - Photo Nurit Greenger
The writer at the entrance to Caucasian Taza Pir Mosque – May 2017 – Photo Nurit Greenger

The Language: The official language is Azerbaijani, which belongs to the Turkic family of languages. The vast majority of residents speak Russian as a second language, some view it as the language of culture. At school, younger Azerbaijanis are beginning to learn English.

Traditional Tea Culture: Tea drinking, almost a sacred ritual, is one of the striking parts of Azerbaijan’s culture. The brightly colored drink is served on every occasion with a cube of sugar, homemade fruit jams and marmalades and assorted sweets.

Respect for women: In 1918, Azerbaijan became one the first countries to give women the right to vote – the first in the Islamic world. Azerbaijani women are treated with the utmost gentlemanly politeness, hold high positions in government and do women’s jobs only to preserve their femininity.

Traditional Society: The communities in the Caucasus have rich traditions dating back thousands of years. Despite the secular appearance of the post-Soviet nation in the Caucasus, tradition remains vibrant in Azerbaijani culture. Outside modern capital Baku, the locals still live a rural lifestyle, typical to the region’s tradition.

Azerbaijan’s ‘black gold – oil: In the late 19th century, Baku’s economy was mostly stimulated by the discovery of oil. The petro-money funded most of the elegant architecture, mansions and palaces one sees in modern Baku and the black gold boom created much wealth. In Naftalan, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the city of Ganja, in Central Azerbaijan, spas offer a strange type of therapy of bathing in crude oil.

Oil field in Azerbaijan - Photo (2108) Nurit Greenger
Oil field in Azerbaijan – Photo (2108) Nurit Greenger

The word naftalan also means a petroleum product that can be obtained in Azerbaijan. Around 15,000 people a year travel to the Azerbaijani town of Naftalan to bathe in the local oil, reputed to have unique medicinal properties.

Azerbaijan’s Relationship with Fire: Fire symbolizes Azerbaijan. Scientifically, the vast quantities of subterranean gas are responsible. Culturally, fire gave light and was mystical to the early inhabitants. The emphasis on fire is in Baku’s Flame Towers, the Zoroastrian fire temples, and even the burning hillside, all have deep ties to Azerbaijan and the fire culture.

The writer at Yanardag where fire comes out of the mountain to never be extinguished-December 13, 2022 - photo Nurit Greenger
The writer at Yanardag where fire comes out of the mountain to never be extinguished-December 13, 2022 – photo Nurit Greenger

Cultural Diversity: Not only does the ‘Land of Fire‘ Azerbaijan vary in landscapes that feature 75% of the world’s climatic zones, Azerbaijan’s culture is just as diverse. It is a mélange of religions, from early Zoroastrians to Islam influence, some Orthodox Christians and ancient communities of Caucasus Jews. Combine the religious part with each region having its own traditions, food and style of carpet weaving and the eclectic culture takes on more colors, factoring in influences from Iran, Turkey, Russia and more recently, the West, all puts on an intriguing appeal.

Atashgah Zoroastrianism Fire Temple - Photo Nurit Greenger
Atashgah Zoroastrianism Fire Temple – Photo Nurit Greenger

The City of Baku

Baku, the capital and commercial hub of Azerbaijan, is a low-lying city with coastline along the Caspian Sea, its current metro area population is 2,432,000. The city is famed for its medieval walled old city, which contains the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a vast royal complex, and the iconic stone Maiden Tower. Contemporary landmarks include the Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Center, and the Flame Towers, 3 pointed skyscrapers covered with LED screens.

Baku, with its stunning European architecture style offers much to feed one’s curiosity. In the Old City, there are souvenir shops, quaint restaurants and cafés offering a lovely atmosphere.

Nurit Greenger in 2018, after attending the Holocaust Memorial, at Baku Fountain Square, near the National Museum of Art and near the National Philharmonic Hall - Photo Nurit Greenger
The writer in 2018, after attending the Holocaust Memorial, at Baku Fountain Square, near the National Museum of Art and near the National Philharmonic Hall – Photo Nurit Greenger

In the city there is much to see among which is Highland Park, Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum, Miniature Books Museum, Juma Mosque, Muhammad Mosque, Ismailiyya Palace, Fountain Square and Philharmonic Fountain Park, National Carpet Museum, Baku Boulevard, Nizami str. /Tarqovi and Martyrs’ Lane or Alley of Martyrs, formerly known as the Kirov Park, a cemetery and memorial in Baku, Azerbaijan, dedicated to those killed by the Soviet Army during Black January 1990 and in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988-1994.

Of course, a guided tour is recommended to get the most out of it.

Sightseeing in Azerbaijan, having fun in Baku old city - Photo Nurit Greenger
The writer having fun in Baku old city – Photo Nurit Greenger

Then there are out-of-Baku excursions to the Mud Volcanoes, Gobustan Rock Art, Ateshgah – Fire Temple, Yanardag State Historical, Cultural and Natural Reserve.

A Visit to Quba

Quba is attractive with its green nature, forests and mountain areas which is a part of a range of Caucasus Mountains. On the way the visitor will see Five Finger “Beshbarmag Dag,” visit the unique settlement of Mountain Jews, “Caucasian Jerusalem” – the Red Town and Qechresh, which is one of the largest villages in the Guba region where the area is covered with forest on all sides.

Also Europe’s highest Khinalig village, among the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, with a history spanning over 5,000 years where the visitor can taste traditional foods at a local’s house. Traveling there you will discover an intriguing local culture while experiencing the full majesty of the Caucasus Mountains.

The writer at the Gilaki Synagogue in Red Village - Photo Nurit Greenger
The writer at the Gilaki Synagogue in Red Village – Photo Nurit Greenger

Liberated Karabakh

For years Azerbaijan has been at odds and war with Armenia. The 44-day Second Karabakh Patriotic War – 27 September 2020 – 10 November 2020 – ended with Azerbaijan liberating most of the territory that Armenia held hostage and illegally occupied for 30 years. The yoke of uncertainty has been lifted from Azerbaijan and hope for a great future page has been opened.

Now with the liberation of most of the Karabakh region, hopefully soon there will be tours available to visit this breathtaking part of Azerbaijan.

US-AZ cultural foundation logo
US-AZ Cultural Foundation logo.

As an American citizen and a great supporter of the State of Israel where I was born, I decided to establish the US-AZ Cultural Foundation for the purpose of serving as a contributor to increasing relations between Azerbaijan and the United States, in particular, as well as Israel and the West, in general, via culture, dialogue, media, entertainment, film & documentary content.

Sightseeing in Azerbaijan is enlightening and exciting. I love it. I sincerely hope that this short travel log will bring your curiosity to the point of taking a trip and visiting Azerbaijan.

Nurit Greenger

During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the “Accidental Reporter” felt compelled to become an activist. Being an ‘out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a “one-woman Hasbarah army” for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

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