The ‘Land of Fire’ has been burning for 4,000 years


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“This fire has been burning for 4,000 years and has never stopped,” says Aliyeva Rahila. “Coming in here rain, snow, wind – it never stops burning.”

Ahead, towering flames dance leisurely across a 10-meter area of ​​the hill, making a hot day even hotter.

It is Yanar Daag – which means “burning mountain” – on AzerbaijanThe Absheron Peninsula, where Rahila works as a tour guide.

A side effect of the country’s many natural gas reserves, which sometimes leak to the surface, Yanar Dagh is one of several spontaneous fires that have fascinated and terrified travelers to Azerbaijan for thousands of years.

Venetian explorer Marco Polo wrote about the mysterious phenomenon when he passed through the country in the 13th century. Other Silk Road merchants brought news of the fire as they would travel to other countries.

This is the reason why the country was named “Land of Fire”.

Such fires were once common in Azerbaijan, but because they reduced underground gas pressure, interfering with commercial gas extraction, most of the fires were extinguished.

Yanar Dagh is one of the few remaining examples, and perhaps the most impressive.

They once played a key role in the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which was founded in Iran and flourished in Azerbaijan in the first millennium BCE.

For Zoroastrians, fire is a link between humans and the supernatural world, and a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom can be attained. It is pure, life-sustaining and an important part of worship.

Today, most visitors who arrive at the Yanar Dag Visitor Center without a trace come for spectacle rather than religious fulfillment.

The experience is most effective at night, or in winter. Rahila says that when snow falls, the flakes dissolve into the air without ever touching the ground.

Despite the claimed antiquity of the Yanar Dagh fires – some argue that this particular fire was only lit in the 1950s – it’s a long 30-minute drive north from the center of Baku to see it. The center only offers a small cafe and not much else in the area.

For a deeper understanding of Azerbaijan’s history of fire worship, visitors should head east of Baku to the Ayashgah Fire Temple.

“From time immemorial, they think that [their] God is here,” says our guide, as we enter the pentagonal complex that was built in the 17th and 18th centuries by Indian settlers in Baku.

Fire rituals at this site date back to the 10th century or earlier. Ashgah’s name comes from the Persian for “house of fire” and the centerpiece of the complex is a cupola-topped altar sanctuary, built over a natural gas vent.

A natural, eternal flame burned here on the central altar until 1969, but nowadays the fire is fed from Baku’s main gas supply and is lit only for visitors.

The temple is associated with Zoroastrianism but it is as a Hindu place of worship that its history is better documented.

Built like a caravanserai-style traveler’s inn, the complex has 24 cells and rooms surrounded by a walled courtyard.

They were used by pilgrims, passing merchants (whose donations were an important source of income) and resident ascetics, some of whom submitted themselves to ordeals such as lying on caustic forums, wearing heavy chains, Or keeping one arm in one position for years. At the end.

The temple fell out of use as a place of worship in the late 19th century, at a time when the development of the surrounding oil fields meant that the worship of Mammon was gaining a stronger hold.

The complex became a museum in 1975, was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, and today welcomes around 15,000 visitors a year.

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