Last updated: 02:33 PM ET, Tue March 31 2020
Flame Towers in Baku (photo via saiko3p / iStock / Getty Images Plus)


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"Azerbaijan" may not roll off the tongue, in fact, you may not even know where it is, but this former Russian territory in the Caucasus Mountains of southeastern Europe and Asia is a hidden gem of a country. Once an important stop on the Silk Route, Azerbaijan has potential to develop as a tourism destination as if offers one of a kind opportunities.

Azerbaijan is rich in ores, minerals and fuels. The most unforgettable site is the eternal burning fires in the hills of Ramana, Surakhani, Yanardag and Absheron. This phenomenon is caused by gas seeping through natural vents in the oil saturated ground. Zoroastrian fire worshippers occasionally perform ritual flame leaping dances at Ramana. Local petroleum and mineral spas have cropped up around the country to take advantage of the therapeutic naphthalene hydrocarbon (a grade of oil used for medicinal purposes). Patrons sit in a bath and are coated in oil up to their necks.

Within the coastal capital Baku is the medieval walled city of Icheri Sheher, with a Middle Eastern atmosphere where locals sip sweet black tea out of small glasses and play backgammon at teahouses along the narrow streets. Baku’s oldest building is Synyk Kalah Minaret, dating from 1093 AD. There are two caravanserais (inns), from the 14th and 16th centuries, originally built to house traveling merchants from northern India and central Asia. They have been turned into restaurants.

Baku overlooks the Caspian Sea, the largest lake in the world rich in biodiversity. Other important sites are the 10,000 year old rock paintings at Gobustan and 2,500 year old settlement of Sheiki. Travelers should avoid the dangerous Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and border with Armenia due to continual land ownership conflicts.