On Thursday, May 21, we learned the reasoning behind Azerbaijan’s pseudonym: the Land of Fire. Within a forty-minute drive outside Baku we saw a mountain spewing fire called Yanar Dag, one of several mountains in Azerbaijan that erupt in flames when heat and gas combine. The natural gasses from within the Earth ignite when they meet the hot air in the atmosphere, creating the perfect sauna for a photo-op! Everything made sense after we saw the natural fire; with inexplicable flames shooting from the side of a mountain it was no wonder the Azeri people used to worship fire. People tend to explain the inexplicable with either magic or deities, and in this case it was believed that fire was a divine spirit since there was no reason behind it and it provided heat, a way to cook food, and light. This practice of worshipping fire became known as Zoroastrianism.
We also visited the Ateshkah fire temple just outside of Baku City. The fire was in a circular pit in the temple in the center of the complex, which originally contained rooms for traveling merchants and their horses as a Karvan Sarayi. When Islam became the religion of Azerbaijan around the ninth century, the temple was destroyed. Later, Indian monks and merchants, who still practiced Zoroastrian religion, sponsored the restoration of the temple. Enjoy some pictures of Ateshkah, as it was restored and presented to us.