Stephen M. Bland
Freelance Journalist, Award-Winning Author, Travel Writer, Researcher and Editor specialising in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
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The Maiden's Tower, likely built in the 12th Century, legend tells how said maiden jumped to her death from the structure to escape the sexual advances of her father
Palace of the Shirvanshahs in the Old Quarter, dating from the 15th Century
View from Martyr's Lane - final resting place of those who lost their lives in the ongoing conflict with Armenia
Flame Towers, symbol of President Ilham Aliyev's nouveau riche Baku
Ubiquitous poster of former dictator Heydar Aliyev, ordered by his successor, less popular son, Ilham.
Built at a cost of U$38 million on land expropriated from dozens of forcibly evicted families, the square containing Crystal Hall - a structure resembling a pop-up book of pyramids - staged the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012. At the time of my visit in July 2019, it had stood unused for over a year.
City centre illuminated at night
Outside of Baku, people swim in the shadows of rigs in the oily waters of the Caspian
Suburban sprawl town on the Caspian Seafront
Adrift on a lonely hilltop in the desert, the flatulent mud volcanoes of Qobustan see cold mud forced up by gas.
Although usually harmless the mud volcanoes can occasionally erupt and spew flames when underground gas vents ignite, as was the case with the largest of the Qobustan volcanoes, Toraghay in 2018.
The most historic energy capital in the world, the sight of oil bubbling through the surface has long been reported on the dystopian Absheron Peninsula, north of Baku.
Bridges jutting from the eastern tip of the Absheron Peninsula reach out to oil rigs on man-made islands, many now derelict and crumbling into the Caspian Sea.
A place shrouded in mystery, the original Ateshgah Fire Temple was most likely constructed as a Zoroastrian place of worship circa the 6th Century BC. In 1879, its last priest sold the gas rights to the Baku Oil Company.
Fed by subterranean gases, Yanar Dağ (Burning Mountain) has been alight since 1958. The site of no more than a decrepit teahouse where men cooked shashlyk on the flames until recently, today it boasts an impressive tourism complex.
View over Lahic
Cobbled main road of Lahic, where horses remain a more popular form of transport than cars
A historic artisan village, traditional weapons are still forged in Lahic
Caravanserai dating from the 18th Century, now used as a hotel
Xan Sarayi, the Khan's administrative building, completed in 1762
Main entrance hall, interior Xan Sarayi
Caucasian Albanian church in the mountainous hamlet of Kis. The Albanian Caucasians are a disappeared people.Last used by Armenians before their effective expulsion, beneath the site relics belonging to cults dating back to 4,000BC have been found.
In 1918, it was this building that briefly housed the world’s first truly democratic Islamic parliament. Under the stewardship of Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh, suffrage was extended to women, making Azerbaijan one of the first nations in the world to do so. A constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all and universal education were among the priorities of the ruling Musavat Party. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic fell to the Red Army in April 1920.
A labour of love or an absurd distraction, the Bottle House utilises 48,000 decorative bottles. The pictures on its gables commemorate its’ architect’s brother, who never returned from the Great Patriotic War, who was presumed dead until he sent a letter to his family in 1957. Fearing reprisals for their temerity in being captured, many former prisoners-of-war never returned home.
Old hammam at the Abbas Mosque in Azerbaijan's second city of Ganja.
The nineteenth-century Juma Mosque in the mountainous northern town on Quba.
The Quba 1918 Genocide Memorial Complex was constructed in 2009 following the discovery of a mass grave. A moving epitaph and a striking piece of revisionist history rolled into one, Azerbaijani historians claim that 4,000 Azerbaijanis, Lezghis, Jews and Griz were slaughtered in Quba alone upon the orders of Armenian Baku Commissar, Stepan Shahumyan.
Gaudy mansions line the streets of affluent Krasnaya Sloboda - ‘Red Village’ – in Northern Azerbaijan. With a population of 3,600, it is said to be the only all-Jewish town outside of Israel. Considered by some to be a ‘lost tribe,’ others theorise that the population are descendants of Khazars who fled from Iran in the seventeenth-century and converted to Judaism to safeguard their neutrality in conflicts between Muslim and Christian communities.
At an elevation of 2,350 metres, Xinaliq sits in the middle of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The highest village in Azerbaijan, it was also the most remote until a new road was recently completed.
Swathed in clouds most of the time, Xinaliq has the air of a land that time forgot.
All images copyright Stephen M. Bland