Azerbaijan – Culture, Facts & Travel

21/11/2023

Situated at the boundary of Eastern Europe and West Asia, Azerbaijan is a cultural melting pot with magnificent landscapes all around. With Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Turkey and Armenia to the west and Iran to the South, Azerbaijan has many influences. Let’s explore a little more about this beautiful country that combines rich grasslands, mountainous peaks and many diverse ways of life.

The historic village of Lahidj
The historic village of Lahidj

Azerbaijan history

Azerbaijan’s history dates back to the Stone Age, and historical artefacts have been discovered as far back as the Paleolithic era. In ancient and medieval times, Azerbaijan and the surrounding areas (known as Transcaucasia), were populated by Turkic nomads, Kurds and Caucasian Albanians.

At various times, the area known as modern-day Azerbaijan has been under Islamic, Mongol, Iranian and Russian rule. In 1918, the nation became somewhat independent, but only until 1920, when it was again proclaimed a Soviet state.

Finally, Azerbaijan declared independence in 1991. The political landscape has experienced many periods of turmoil, with several secular religious groups going in and out of favour throughout history. The result today is a diverse nation full of many religious and cultural influences.

Azerbaijan culture

Due to the long and varied history of the entire Caucasus region, Azerbaijan has been treated to a diverse spread of cultural influences. As with most nations, religious beliefs have much to do with Azerbaijan’s cultural development, meaning the country has a strong Islamic influence.

Decorative arts are a big part of the Azerbaijan culture and can include anything from wood-carving to jewellery-making. Carpet-making is also a popular activity.

There is a rich history of music in the country too, with traditional folk music and instruments still being popular. However, since the fall of the Soviet Union and an increased Western influence, Azerbaijan has also embraced contemporary mainstream music.

Azerbaijan people

The population of Azerbaijan has grown to over 10 million as of 2022 and includes various ethnic groups. People identifying as Azerbaijanis make up the majority of the population, but other ethnic groups such as Lezgins, Russians, Talysh, Avars and Turks have strong representation.

Religious affiliations are also diverse, but the majority of the population identifies as Islamic, be it Shia or Sunni. Christianity now only makes up 3% of the population.

The landscape is just as diverse as the population, meaning people in Azerbaijan may lead very different lifestyles depending on where they reside. Modern city life can be found throughout the nation, however, many people still live in mountain towns and historical locations, preferring a more traditional way of life.

Various herbs for sale at a street market
Various herbs for sale at a street market

Azerbaijan food

Like most parts of the world, Azerbaijan has a unique landscape that drives its traditional cuisine. Agriculture has always been a big part of Azerbaijan culture, owing to the plentiful grasslands in the region. However, its proximity to the Caspian Sea also brings fishing into the equation. Therefore, Azerbaijan food is typically a mixture of fresh produce, dairy and meat, particularly beef, mutton, fish and game.

Different cultures have inhabited the land over the years, which also means there are plenty of cultural influences on the local cuisine. While a huge array of foods is available, a traditional Azerbaijani meal usually includes three courses. The first is plov, a rice dish followed by the second course of meat. Meat is prepared in many styles, using a variety of spices, sauces and nuts. The third course would usually be a soup, and there are more than 30 different common types.

In many ways, Azerbaijan food is reminiscent of Middle Eastern cooking, and some communities still use traditional copper bowls and plates for meals.

Highlights of visiting Azerbaijan

If you’ve decided to visit Azerbaijan, you’ll be pleased to know there are so many amazing experiences to uncover. Here are just a few of the things you must see when visiting this unique country.

Ancient rock paintings of Gobustan

History buffs will love some of the ancient artefacts that can be found in Azerbaijan. One of these sites is Gobustan, a UNESCO heritage Site featuring one of the most ancient museums of rock engravings in the world. You can explore the area’s 6,000 rock engravings that date back as far as 40,000 years.

Gobustan Rock Art dates back some 40,000 years
Gobustan Rock Art dates back some 40,000 years

Baku’s Old City

Surrounded by an ancient fortress wall, the Old City of Baku is a sight to behold. Baku is the country’s capital, and the Old City reflects how it was before modern expansion. The impressive architecture has been preserved, with towers, mosques and palaces dating back centuries.

A land of fire

Azerbaijan is known for its natural gas reserves, and one of the most famous examples of this is the Fire Temple. Once used as a place of sacrifice, this temple was built on a natural gas vent, allowing for what became known as an ‘eternal flame’. Nearby, Yanar Dagh, or ‘The Burning Mountain’ is another example of natural gas seepage causing continuous fire.

Beautiful historic towns

If you enjoy feeling like you’ve stepped into the past, Azerbaijan has many quaint towns and villages that have maintained many of their ancient and medieval features. The stone-cobbled streets of Lahidj, and mountain villages like Kish are perfect examples of the historical places you can visit.

If you’d like to know more about visiting Azerbaijan, contact Crooked Compass today. We offer life-changing and perspective-shifting travel experiences that you’ll never forget, and Azerbaijan has plenty to offer the curious traveller.