Mountainous Azerbaijan © Matthew Hadley
Azerbaijan, 'Land of Fires', is famed for its atashgehs (eternal fires), healing mineral springs and oil spas and carpets.
Situated in the South Caucasus region between Europe and Asia and bordering the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is important in the area because of its involvement in energy projects; in fact Azerbaijan was the first country to explore the region's enormous energy potential. Besides crude oil, which is its number one export, the country is famed for a unique type of oil that is used for medicinal purposes. Naftalan is believed to be an effective treatment for rheumatism, arthritis and psoriasis, and Naftalan town has special treatment centres and spas where patients sit up to their necks in baths of the rare oil. There are also more than 1,000 mineral springs throughout the country.
The capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Caucasus region, and is the country's political, scientific, cultural and economic centre, situated on the Caspian Sea. Baku is about 5,500 years old and visitors can see some wonderfully preserved relics from its past, as well as visit the fire-worshippers temple complex, Atashgah, and the natural gas-fuelled Yanardag (Fire Mountain), one of many impressive eternal fires on the Absheron Peninsula.
Throughout the country there are thousands of historical monuments, ancient cities, fortresses, palaces, mosques and ancient oases. Most of its territory is mountainous and dotted with beautiful lakes. There are numerous resorts situated along the sandy beaches of the Caspian Sea.
The Republic of Azerbaijan gained its independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, at the same time as Armenia, and there is ongoing conflict between the two countries over the small Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which is officially part of Azerbaijan, but largely populated by Armenians.