Delve into Azerbaijan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

02/04/2024

Azerbaijan is one of the hidden gems of the Caucasus region, incorporating cultural influences from both Eastern Europe and West Asia. This diverse country offers spectacular mountain ranges, rivers and lakes, highland plains and a climate that provides the beauty of both sun and snow, depending on the season. But amongst all of the fascinating wilderness, Azerbaijan is also the home to 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Being on the border of West Asia and Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan dates back to the Stone Age. This is common for many countries in the Caucasus, and the result is a rich and diverse cultural history with influences from many surrounding countries and empires. Today, reminders of Azerbaijan’s past are scattered throughout the countryside. Here are the five Azerbaijan sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The Walled City of Baku, Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower

Baku is Azerbaijan’s capital, and the Old City (also known as the Walled City of Baku) still stands today. Modern-day Baku is much larger and has a population of over 5 million people. Yet, nestled in the Old City are monuments dating back to mediaeval times.

The Walled City of Baku dates back to the 12th Century, with many believing it may have existed even earlier. More than just a relic of the past, though, the Old City is still home to around 3,000 people today.

Baku - Crooked Compass
Baku city, the capital of Azerbaijan

Inside the Walled City of Baku are several important ruins or monuments, with two of them singled out for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list. First, is the iconic Maiden Tower. The exact history of this structure is unknown, but many believe it is an example of Zoroastrian or pre-Islamic architecture. Today, it is an active museum where you can learn more about the region’s history.

Secondly is the 15th-Century Palace of the Shirvanshahs. Inside is a mausoleum, a mosque, remnants of a bathhouse and various other historical elements to explore. The entire site suffered earthquake damage in 2003, but Baku’s Old City stands strong following considerable restoration and preservation.

Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape

To the west of Baku in Gobustan is the Gobustan State Historical and Cultural Reserve. The reserve is packed with prehistoric rock carvings, musical stones and many other archaeological monuments. One section, in particular, is the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape, which is now listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Many of the rock carvings date back between 5,000 and 40,000 years, giving a glimpse into Azerbaijan’s ancient history. Some petroglyphs featuring ships reflect a connection with the Mediterranean, while others feature images of humans and animals, particularly in hunting scenes.

The Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape was only discovered in 1939-40, but since then, petroglyphs have now been located from the Neolithic period onwards. It was first awarded UNESCO World Heritage List status in 2007.

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

Historic Centre of Sheki with the Khan’s Palace

Sheki is a city in north-western Azerbaijan that has roots in the Bronze Age. Its historical importance is such that the city centre has now been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sheki was also a major trading centre along the infamous Silk Road, giving it even more historical clout. But it’s not just the fact that Sheki dates back to the 7th Century BC. The architecture, and in particular, the Khan’s Palace, also forms part of the UNESCO listing.

The ancient city’s design and architecture paints the picture of a diverse cultural heritage. The Khan’s Palace is known for its intricate stained-glass windows and has had significant restoration over the years. Dating back to 1797, the Palace served as a summer house for Shaki khans, who controlled the region during this period.

The Sheki Khans' Palace was the summer residence of the Sheki Khanate
The Sheki Khans’ Palace was the summer residence of the Sheki Khanate

Hyrcanian Forests

The forests along the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2019. However, in 2023, the adjoining forest areas of Azerbaijan were added to the listing. The forests themselves are broadleaf deciduous and home to the endangered Persian Leopard. Due to the unique location and geography of the area, the forests kept growing through certain glacial periods. The result is a biodiverse habitat that’s home to several unique species of flora.

Cultural Landscape of Khinalig People and “Köç Yolu” Transhumance Route

Situated about 2,300 metres above sea level in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, Khinalig is a small village dating back to the Bronze Age. The people living in this isolated region speak their language and have unique customs. UNESCO has recognised the region’s culture and specifically the landscape of the 200-kilometre Köç Yolu Transhumance Route. Along this route, nomadic inhabitants of the area migrate between seasons, adapting to the agricultural conditions. The entire migration route and the cultural landscape of the Khinalig people were recognised by UNESCO in 2023.

Ready to explore some Azerbaijan World Heritage sites?

Crooked Compass takes you to some of the world’s less-walked paths in search of transformative, meaningful travel experiences. The memories and friendships made on a Crooked Compass tour can last a lifetime, and we’ve got plenty of highlights throughout the Caucasus Mountains. If you’re ready to explore some of the most beautiful Azerbaijan sites to make the UNESCO World Heritage list, we’re here to help. Contact our friendly team or explore our travel packages today.