LANDSCAPE PAINTINGS

Azerbaijan 2015 | SPORTS & TOURISM | PHOTO ESSAY: GOBUSTAN

While Azerbaijan continues to strengthen its tourist infrastructure through hotels, resorts, and five-star facilities, Gobustan is a cultural gem that significantly differentiates itself.

Less than an hour's drive from Baku, Gobustan provides a range of tourist attractions, the most famous of which are its petroglyphs—pictogram images—or “rock art," which are created through the scraping of rocks to leave representative or symbolic depictions. Often referred to as engravings, petroglyphs are usually associated with prehistoric people, although the dates of petroglyphs can vastly differ. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, and awareness of this tourist location is still limited. As Azerbaijan continues to strengthen its tourist facilities and further enable the entrance of more visitors, Gobustan should be at the top of the to-do list for visitors and residents alike.The only petroglyphs to have been found so far in Azerbaijan are at Gobustan, and they are impressive in quantity, quality, and age range. Over 6,000 rock engravings, some of which are surprisingly clear, dating back 5,000 to 40,000 years are spread out across the mountains and are accessible due to the helpful sign-postings. Ancient Azerbaijani dancing and representations of a community life are depicted in these petroglyphs, suggesting the existence of a somewhat advanced prehistoric society. Inquisitive tourists will appreciate exploring the caves in greater depths, adventurous visitors will enjoy traversing the overhanging rocks, and children will love playing with the gavel dash, a naturally musical rock that sounds different notes when struck with a stone.


The museum itself was only recently established in 2011 and named the Gobustan National Historical Artistic Reserve Museum. Although modest, it is well thought-out, cheap, and accessible to all ages. Children can easily enjoy the model animals, customary museum feral noises, and video-based education tools. The unusual history of Gobustan's terrain, at times a luscious green steppe, an arid plane, or completely covered in water, is well documented by detailed display and artifact descriptions.


For those who don't mind getting muddy, possibly the most exhilarating part of a trip to Gobustan is the Mud Volcanoes. Not as well signposted as the museum or the petroglyphs, the likelihood of having to ask for directions on the way is high. In non-summer months, it is recommended to travel to Gobustan in a 4x4 car as the slippery roads can be hard to negotiate even for the most expert off-road drivers. However, once the roads have been negotiated, visitors will reach the mud volcanoes. Formed by geo exuded slurries and, usually, methane gas escaping from beneath the surface of the mud, the small craters produce frequent bubbles of different strengths. Although they are not as awe-inspiring as magmatic volcanoes, very occasionally mud and flames can shoot high into the sky. The last time this took place in Gobustan was in 2001 when flames are reported to have reached 300m into the air. With over half the world's mud volcanoes located either in Azerbaijan or the Caspian Sea, an excursion to Gobustan provides an original experience.