Travel with me around Azerbaijan: Ateshgah

Hope you’re having a great day, my lovely readers!

I decided to start a new series of posts, called Travel with me. I love exploring new places, learning about different cultures and ancient buildings, tasting new food and having a little adventure and I want to share this magic with you.

I decided to start with my beloved home country, Azerbaijan and today I’m taking you on a trip to Ateshgah, the Fire Temple.

Ateshgah is a castle-like religious structure located 30 km away from Baku in Surakhani. Our adventure started right after departure as neither I nor my friend been there before and we had to lay down a route through Google Maps. Except for few wrong turns (sometimes what looks right turn on Google Maps may actually turn out to be left and few roads that we came across that weren’t on the map) we made it safe and sound. Here is Ateshgah on Google Maps.

Ateshgah was built in 17th – 18th centuries, but the history of this place dates even further back when local people worshiped at this site because of the “seven holes with burning flames” and thus the name of Surakhani – “holes with burning fountains”.

Ateshgah consists of the temple and tetra-pillar altar in the middle and pentagonal monastery complex with the courtyard around the temple. Ateshgah means “home of fire”. The name refers to the fact that the complex was built atop of natural gas field that produced spontaneous flame from gas seepage (gas coming out of the ground comes in contact with oxygen and creates a flame).

At different times the temple welcomed Zoroastrian and Indian worshipers.

After 1883 the flow of natural gas to this area stopped due to heavy exploitation of the field by petroleum plants nearby and the temple was abandoned. In 1975 the complex was turned into museum. Today, the fire in Ateshgah is fed by the mains gas piped from Baku.

Interesting facts:

  • Avraham Firkowicz, a Karaite collector, wrote about his meeting in Darband in 1840 with fireworshiper from Baku. Firkowicz asked the worshipper “Why do you worship fire?” Fireworshiper replied that they do not worship fire at all, but the Creator, which is not a person, but rather a “matter” (abstraction) called Q’rţ’, and symbolized by fire. Term Q’rţ’ (“kirdar”) means in Pahlavi and Avestan as “one who does”, “creator”.
  • There is an exact replica of this eternal natural gas flame temple on a smaller scale in India at Kangra valley Himachal Pradesh. This Indian temple is called Jwalamukhi, Jwala meaning a natural fire and Mukhi meaning mouth in Sanskrit. There the fire is considered an incarnation of the goddess Durga.
  • In 1858, the great French novelist Alexander Dumas (“the father”) (1802-1870), who is remembered for writing “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Mousketeers,” visited the Caucasus. On his nine-month journey throughout the region, one of the places that captured his imagination was Atashgah. Here is how he described the place:

 

“Great tongues of flame soared in the air from the hundreds of tiny round fissures in the ground. The wind would scatter the flames, curve them and then straighten them, spreading them along the ground and then lifting them up to heavens again. But it was impossible for the wind to extinguish them.

There was a big quadrangular building which also was lit by a fire. Reflections of the flames danced on the walls of the building, making it seem like the building itself was moving.

There was a white washed temple, surrounded by little ovens again filled with tongues of flame. The gas burned with such loud noise that each of these little ovens sounded like a big furnace. On the roof, great tongues of flame were emitted from each of the four corners of the big cupola.”

Information in this post is based on Ateshgah on Wikipedia and Ateshgah in Azerbaijan International by Farid Alakbarov.

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