• About Azerbaijan

    Capital of Azerbaijan: Baku city
    Official language: Azerbaijani
    Religion: Majority of the population is Muslim.
    Currency: Azerbaijan manat (AZN). 1 manat = 100 qapik. Foreign currency can be exchanged for Azerbaijan manats in all banks and all official exchange points.
    Zone time: GMT + 4 hours
    International dialing code: +994
    Electric current: 220 V
    International airport: Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport. Airport Code: BAK. Location: 25km (16 miles) east of Baku (30 minutes).

  • Visa Support

    Citizens of Turkey and Israel has simplified visa procedure. The visa is granted upon arrival at the Baku International Airport named after H.Aliyev. You need to fill in the Application form (provided at the airport), provide 2 passport photos and pay USD 10$ fee (for Turkish citizens) or USD 40$ (for Israeli citizens).

  • Food and Drinks

    Azerbaijani food combines Turkish and central Asian elements. Baku also has an excellent selection of Western style restaurants. In the chaykhanas (tea houses), men linger for hours drinking sweet black tea out of tiny glasses (armudy) and playing nard (backgammon). A special place in the cuisine belongs to lamb kebabs of which there are many different varieties. Salads are served together with main course.

    Specialities:

    • Lyulya kebab (spiced, minced lamb pressed onto skewers).

    • Piti (a mutton and chickpea soup).

    • Kutab (pancakes stuffed with minced meat or herbs or pumpkin).

    • Badimjan Dolmasi (aubergine, tomatoes and sweet peppers filled with minced mutton served with sour cream).

    Things to know:

    Although the majority of Azeris are nominally Shia Muslims, alcohol is widely available.

    Tipping:

    Expected by waiters in most restaurants. 10% is fine.

    Regional drinks:

    Wines and brandy (cognac) are produced locally.

    Sherbets are popular soft drinks made of sugar, lemon, saffron, seeds of mint and basil.

    Tea is served accompanied by various jams such as quince, fig, apricot, white cherry and plum. Sometimes dried leaves or flowers of savory, clove, cardamom as well as darchin (cinnamon) and ginger are added to tea.

  • Azerbaijan Transportation

    Railways:

    Azerbaijan has 2,125 kilometers of rail lines, excluding several small industrial lines. Most lines are 1.520 metre broad gauge, and the principal routes are electrified (1,278km). In the 1990s, the rail system carried the vast majority of the country's freight.
    As with the highway system, one of the two main lines parallels the Caspian Sea coast from Russia to Iran before heading west to Turkey, and the other closely parallels Route M27 from Baku to the Georgian border. A major spur also parallels the highway to Xankandi. Another smaller rail line begins just west of Baku and hugs the Iranian border to provide the only rail link to Azerbaijan's Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, isolated southwest of Armenia. Passenger service from Baku to Erevan has been suspended. In 1994 passenger service from Baku to Iran also was halted.

    Azerbaijan: railway lines – mapSome improvements to the network have been made in the last few years, with EU funding, but the government estimates that 700 kilometers, or about one-third, of the rail system are in such poor condition that reconstruction is necessary. Much of the system has speed restrictions because of the poor conditions of the rails.

    The network and the trains are operated by Azerbaijan State Railway (ADDY – Azerbaycan Doövlet Demir Yolu). Some investment has been made in trains recently with the consequent reflexes in the quality of services.

    From Baku there are train connections with Tbilisi in Georgia and Derbent in Dagestan (Russian Federation), as well as Moscow, Rostov, Kiev, Kharkiv (Ukraine), Brest (Belarus) and other major cities in the CIS. The train between Baku and Tibilisi, Georgia, is inexpensive, but it takes about 20 hours and the occasional bandit raid and frequent burglaries make it less than completely safe. The train stops twice at the border – long delays are routine on both sides. Expect to pay the price of your ticket again at the border as a bribe. A luxury train also runs to Tblisi: the "Silk Road Express", tickets start at 200 Euros, round-trip. Fares include sleeping compartments, dinner and a full breakfast in the train's restaurant car.

    There is a railway connecting the autonomous republic of Nakhichevan with Tabriz in Iran, but there are not yet any connections to the main part of Azerbaijan.

    Call Baku Railway station on 982039 or e-mail ADDY at info@addy.gov.az.

    Azerbaijan – Baku: train to Tbilisi – Baku train station – photo by N.MahmudovaThe overnight train services come in 3 classes:

    S/V (or 'luxe') – closed compartment for just 2 passengers with small luxuries, like a personal mirror, reading light and even a small desk!
    Kupe – closed compartment with 4 beds
    Platskart – open compartment with 6 beds

    Roads:
    – total: 57,770 km
    – paved: 54,188 km
    – unpaved: 3,582 km (1995 est.)…

    One of the country's two main routes runs parallel the Caspian Sea coast from Russia to Iran, passing through Baku. The other, Route M27, leads west out of the capital to the Georgian border. A major branch from this route heads south through Stepanakert, capital of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Azerbaijan – Lankaran / Lenkoran: bus leaving Lankoran – near the Bazaar (photo by F.MacLachlan / Travel-Images.com)All major towns have a paved road connection with one of the principal routes. An extensive intercity bus service is the primary mode of intercity travel. Maintenance of the system has deteriorated since independence in 1991, however, and one study estimated that 60 percent of the main highways were in bad condition, resulting in excessive wear on vehicles and tires and in poor fuel consumption. Therefore 4-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for journeys into the mountains, e.g. west of Quba. Traffic drives on the right. (See driving).

    You can take buses from Baku to the major cities in Azerbaijan as well as the neghbouring countries (e.g Derbent in Dagestan, Tehran in Iran, Istanbul in Turkey and Tblisi in Georgia). The bus station is on Izmir av., tel. 388581.

    Ports: Baku

    Shipping services operate regularly from Baku across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenbashy (formerly Krasnovodsk) in Turkmenistan and to Bandar Anzali and Bandar Nowshar in Iran. The boats to Turkmenbashy take about 300 passengers on a 12 hour voyage and sail on average three times a week. Winter storms may disrupt these services. Call Baku sea port on 930268.

    Azerbaijan – Baku: harbour – western section, including the military harbour – Azerbaijan's navy – Caspian Flotilla – photo by M.TorresAlthough situated at an excellent natural harbour, Baku has not developed into a major international port because of its location on the landlocked Caspian Sea. The port serves mostly as a transshipment point for goods (primarily petroleum products and lumber) crossing the Caspian Sea and destined for places to the west, or for passenger service to ports on the eastern or southern shores of the Caspian Sea.

    The port has seventeen berths, of which five are dedicated for transport of crude oil and petroleum products, two are used for passengers, and the remaining ten handle timber or other cargo. The port can accommodate ships up to 12,000 tons, and its facilities include portal cranes, tugboats, and equipment for handling petroleum and petroleum products. The port area has 10,000 square meters of covered storage and 28,700 square meters of open storage.

    Azerbaijan – Baku: Azerbaijan State Caspian Shipping Company – anchors – photo by Miguel TorresMerchant marine:
    – total: 54 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 246,051 GRT/306,756 DWT
    – ships by type: cargo 12, petroleum tanker 40, roll on/roll off 2 (2002 est.)

    Pipelines: crude oil 1,130 km; petroleum products 630 km; natural gas 1,240 km
    Pipeline Map
    Pipeline Map

    Baku is the centre of a major oil- and gas-producing region, and major long-distance pipelines radiate from the region's oil fields to all neighboring areas. Pipelines are generally highcapacity lines and have diameters of either 1,020 or 1,220 millimeters. The main petroleum pipeline was completed in 2005 under American pressure to limit Russian and Iranian power in the area. It runs from Baku via Tblissi to Ceyhan in Turkey, therefore the acronym BTC. It made partly obsolete the old Soviet pipeline pumping crude oil from the onshore and offshore Caspian fields near Baku west across Azerbaijan and Georgia to the port of Batumi, where the oil is either exported in its crude form or processed at Batumi's refinery. Two natural gas lines parallel the old petroleum line as far as Tbilisi, where they turn north across the Caucasus Mountains to join the grid of natural gas pipelines that supply cities throughout Russia and Eastern Europe.
    Batumi: Azeri oil arriving by rail (photo by Miguel Torres)
    Batumi: Azeri oil
    arriving by rail

    As seen with the construction of pipeline to Ceyhan in Turkey, the routes for new pipelines are one of the great decisions and debates for the area, with geo-political considerations becoming heavier than either economical or technical criteria. The US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Georgia… all try to influence decisions on the transportation of fossil fuels from Azerbaijan.

    Airports: 52 (2002)

    Airports – with paved runways:
    – total: 9
    – 2,438 to 3,047 m: 5
    – 1,524 to 2,437 m: 4 (2002)

    Airports – with unpaved runways:
    – 1,524 to 2,437 m: 7
    – 914 to 1,523 m: 8
    – under 914 m: 28 (2002)

    TRACECA
    TRACECA programme – Tovuz railway bridge (photo TRACECA)Baku is poised to become a major regional transportation and communications hub for the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asian republics. The TRACECA Programme (Transport System Europe-Caucasus-Asia, informally known as the Great Silk Road) was launched by the European Union (EU) in 1993, and encourages the development of a transport corridor on an East-West axis from Central Asia through the Caucasus, across the Black Sea, to Europe. In 1998 twelve nations signed a multilateral agreement known as the Baku Declaration to develop the transport corridor through closer economic integration, rehabilitation and development of new transportation infrastructure, and by fostering stability and trust in the region. The corridor includes all forms of transport.

  • Baku Public Transportation

    Baku has bus, tram, trolley-bus and underground services. These are inexpensive and the network is very comprehensive, though the confort, quality and reliability of the services varies.

    Baku is the only city in Azerbaijan with a metro service. Baku metro is very practical, stations are generally clean and safe. Trains are also clean and run every two or three minutes. Fares are cheap and independent from the lenght of the journey.

    The metro has had two bomb attacks in 1994 and several serious safety incidents. In 1995 over 300 people died due to carbon monoxide poisoning in one incident, which is still today the world's most serious ever accident in a subway system. Nevertheless the metro is widely used even by foreigners.

    There are two main lines, one going around the city centre and another roughly in a northwest-southeast axis, plus two small appendixes. The two main metro lines meet near Baku's central railway station, at the double station of Jafar Jabbarly/28th May – the entrance is trough Jafar Jabbarly. The old town is served by the Baku Soviet station. The other downtown station is Sahil, near the 26 Comissars square. The only surface station is Bakmil, right before the depot.

    A total of 20 stations are currently operating. The most recent, Azi Aslanov, opened in 2002 representing an extension of the central line, south of Akhmedly station.The platforms are 100 metres long, taking 5-car-trains. The northwest-southeast line is currently being extended in its northern end, with two stations under construction: Nasimi and Azadlyq av., and a third one planned – Ingilab. There is also a plan to extend the line from Azi Aslanov, with four new stations, ending in Guneshi. A third line starting in Nizami station and going south is being studied.

    The stations were built with the grandiosity expected of Soviet designers and are an attraction by their own right, although improved maintenance as well as investment and modernization are urgent. Don't miss the amaising mosaics at Nizami station, the marble and copperwork at Elmlyar Akademiyasy station or the tall marble columns and the mosaic at Ganjlik station. All stations are underground with the exception of Bakmil, right before the depot. Beware if you are using an old map: several stations had their names altered following independence from the USSR (eg. 28 May was 28 April, Gara Garayev was Aurora, Sahil was Baky Komissary…!).

    The trains operate from 6:00 am till 1:00 am the next day. To use the metro you should buy a magnetic card and charge it with as many trips as you wish. This is required even you need to do a single trip. At present the are no single trip tickets, only the above mentions magnetic cards, although the equipment installed in the stations allows such tickets.
    Metro map.

    Mobile phones have network coverage in the metro stations.

    Buses, trams and trolleys fares are paid in cash directly to the driver or controller – often no slip is given in return.

    There's no easy way to obtain a schedule, but the routes are posted inside the shelters at bus and trolley stops. Buses, trolleys and trams run from 5 or 6 am to 11 pm or midnight. Often there are private minibuses shadowing the official bus routes, costing about double and offering a slightly better service (marshruts).

    A funicular railway takes you up to Martyr's alley (former Kirov park). It dates from 1960 and is often out of service. Like the metro, not a good place to photograph due to the paranoid policemen and soldiers.

    Please remember that to take 'trolley 11' is local jargon for walking!

    Baku Taxis

    Most taxis are unmetered. A journey anywhere within the city centre will cost 15,000 manats, though it is possible to negotiate much lower fares if you have the patience. Expect to be asked more if you dont't speak Azeri or Russian. Driving may be a little adventurous and rear seat belts do not abound.

    Taxis do not generally accept foreign currencies. Make sure you have change before travelling as some drivers may not.

    Baku – Azerbaijan: white taxi: Azerq (photo by Miguel Torres)There are only two official taxi companies in Baku, use either the yellow Star cabs, or the white taxis with blue sign from Azerq Taxis. Those with blue license plates are officially licensed and are considered to be safer. You can book taxis by calling 62-15-15 or 62-12-44/7.

    As in Russia it is common practice to flag down private cars and agree on a price for the ride, it may seem strange initially, but you soon get used to this.

    Marshrut – Shared Taxis
    As elsewhere in the Caucasus you'll find shared taxis, usually called marshrut / marsrut / marshrutka, from the French 'marche route', via the Russian 'marshrut'. The vehicles are usually 12-seat Russian vans or second hand vans from western Europe. It is common for 15 people to crowd into a 10 person minibus. Have in mind that Azerbaijan is not a line forming society…

    Marshruts drive along a fixed route and stop at any point along that route when flagged down or told to stop. They run parallel and more often than most buses but some have their own routes. Figuring out how to get from one place to another by marshruts can be a challenge, because a master list of routes is not available.

    Marshruts / marshrutki can be used for local, regional and even international transportation. They have no schedules, they leave when full! On long trips count with stops at road-side restaurants, although many passengers choos to bring their own food.

    For the independent traveller this is the mode of transport with the best combination of convenience and cost. As a bonus you get to know the locals well. Drivers may be a little erratic, though. Border crossings can be slow, due to the quantity of luggage to be checked and the bribes to be negotiated.

  • History & Culture

    History
    Azerbaijan remained a predominantly Zoroastrian state until the Arab invasion in the 7th century AD. The name Azerbaijan means the "Land of The Eternal Fire" in Middle Persian, a name that is said to have a direct link with Zoroastrianism.
    Northern Azerbaijan was known as Caucasian Albania in ancient times. The area was the site of many conflicts involving Arabs, Kazars, and Turks. After the 11th century, the territory became dominated by Turks and eventually was a stronghold of the Shiite Muslim religion and Islamic culture. The territory of Soviet Azerbaijan was acquired by Russia from Persia through the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and the Treaty of Turkamanchai in 1828.
    After the Bolshevik Revolution, Azerbaijan declared its independence from Russia in May 1918. The republic was reconquered by the Red Army in 1920 and was annexed into the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922. It was later reestablished as a separate Soviet Republic on Dec. 5, 1936. Azerbaijan declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union on Aug. 30, 1991.
    Culture
    Over the ancient history of Azerbaijan the Azeris have created a rich and distinctive culture, a major part of which is decorative and applied art. This form of art rooted in hoary antiquity is represented by a wide range of handicrafts, such as chasing, jeweler, engraving in metal, carving in wood, stone and bone, carpet-making, lasing, pattern weaving and printing, knitting and embroidery.
    Azerbaijan has been since the ancient times known as a center of a large variety of crafts. The archeological dig on the territory of Azerbaijan testifies to the well developed agriculture, stock raising, metal working, pottery and ceramics, and last but not least carpet-weaving that date as far back as to the 2nd millennium BC. Carpets, weaved by separate carpet-making schools of Azerbaijan (Guba, Baku, Shirvan, Gandja, Gazakh, Nagorny Karabakh, Tabriz) in different periods, amaze people till nowadays. Most of them kept in well-known museums of the world.
    Music of Azerbaijan includes various styles. Folk songs, dances, ashug creation (folk poet and singer) have specific place in Azerbaijan national music.
    The classical music of Azerbaijan is called mugam (more accurately spelled muğam), and is usually a suite with poetry and instrumental interludes. The sung poetry sometimes includes tahrir segments, which use a form of throat singing similar to yodelling. The poetry is typically about divine love and is most often linked to Sufi Islam. In contrast to the mugam traditions of Central Asian countries, Azeri mugam is more free-form and less rigid.
    Professional theatre became part of institutional culture in Azerbaijan at the end of the 19th century. Mirzah Fatali Akund-Zadeh who was a colonel and a true educator by inclination, was inspired by the example of the French writer Moliere to write six comedy plays between 1850-1855 and thus became the founder of national drama.
    Works of art, created by classics and contemporaries, take honorable place in world cultural treasure. Works by M.F.Akhundov, N.Vazirov, M.S.Ordubadi, G.Zakir, M.A.Sabir, J.Mammadguluzade, M.P.Vagif, M.V.Vidadi and other poets and writers hasn't lost their aesthetic importance.
    Baku Theatre School was opened in 1923 and its students during the following years played an important role in the development of a national theater. Children's Theatre opened in 1929 in Baku.
    Repertoire of Azerbaijan theatre passed difficult way of development. Different theatre pieces are being staged in Academic National Dramatic Theatre, State Russian Dramatic Theatre, Opera and Ballet Theatre, Pantomime Theatre, Theatre of Young Spectators and etc.

  • City of Baku

    Walled City of Baku

    Located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, the ancient Walled City of Baku in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list along with the Shirvan Shah's Palace and Maiden Tower in 2000. The walled fort is built on a site inhabited since the Palaeolithic Period (thought to be between 100,000 BC and 30,000 BC) and archaeologists have found evidence of Zoroastrian, Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman and Russian influences. The Shirvan Shah's Palace was built in the 12th century by the Shirvan Shah Dynasty who moved their capital to Baku from Shamakha after an earthquake. Baku developed as an important trading port and was captured and conquered by many warring empires before finally becoming the capital of Azerbaijan in 1920. The Walled City is the old part of the Baku and its maze of alleyways and ancient buildings still thrive with life today with the modern city fanning out around it.

    Maiden's Tower

    There are a number of competing explanations for the name, According to one of them a Khan of Baku fell in love with his beautiful daughter and wished to marry her. Horrified, the princess tried to delay the nuptials by asking her father to build the biggest tower she had ever seen. When the tower was completed, the princess went up to admire the view and threw herself into the waves of the Caspian, lapping against the tower walls below.
    Another explanation for the name is testament to the fact that the tower has never been taken by force (hence a metaphorical reference to 'virginity').
    Nowadays, Maiden`s Tower houses a museum, which presents the story of historic evolution of the Baku city.
    Climb the multiple spiral staircases inside Maiden's Tower, which overlooks the Caspian in the Icheri Seher, and be privy to a stunning 360-degree view of the city.

    Modern Baku

    Starting from the year 2000 Baku has been experiencing an incredible building boom. New hotels, office buildings and skyscrapers were built during these years. Old Soviet buildings are being reconstructed. To preserve the ancient part of the city new buildings in the centre are being built in the same architectural style.