A Day Out: Gobustan

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Work work work.  Have I mentioned it's getting busier?  Probably.  Nevertheless, I did manage to get out of the city to one of Azerbaijan's best-known sites this weekend.  It was actually a work-related visit, but fun nonetheless because having a little road trip on a Saturday morning is not a bad thing.  (Especially if there might have been a luxurious breakfast with coffee and pastries preceding the start of the journey.)  It was also nice to bust out a Lonely Planet Guide again, which is something I do quite rarely these days.

Gobustan National Park is an archeological site in the hills south of Baku, near the Caspian Sea shore.  It’s famous for the thousands of ancient petroglyphs carved into the jumbled, rocky hills near the small town of Gobustan, and a popular day trip out of the city, since it’s an easy 60k drive. (Especially easy if someone else is driving, which of course they were, because despite feeling pretty comfy in Azerbaijan by now I’m not really interested testing the bounds of my Medjet emergency medical evacuation coverage by getting behind the wheel here.)

There's a small but quite new and decent museum where you pay the 2AZN admission fee to the park and get to play with touchscreen displays and look at dioramas of prehistoric mannequins with impressively luxuriant leg hair (sorry, no photos) before driving up to the rocks themselves.

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See? Jumbled rocks.

The petroglyphs of Gobustan date from between 5,000 and 40,000 years, which is sort of staggering and hard to comprehend.  (That older than the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge and Betty White.)  I've found this before, this problem when visiting historical sites where you just have no possible frame of reference for what you're seeing.  The Parthenon... tough.  The old city of Jerusalem... also not exactly modern.  But this?  How do you even begin to imagine the life of the people who did this?

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And, because we're all about educatin' the public here at Go Stay Work Play Live, please note that the word "petroglyph" refers to images actually carved into the stone, as opposed to ones merely daubed on with paint.  Those are properly called "petrographs".

Apparently the petroglyphs of Gobustan extend over an area of more than 500 hectares, which includes about 6,000 carvings, along with "the remains of inhabited caves, settlements and burials, all reflecting an intensive human use by the inhabitants of the area during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age, from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages." (Wikipedia.  Of course.  I actually give them money every year now, because they seem to be the de facto repository of all human knowledge, plus this blog would be on even shakier ground than it already is without the work of the good people of the Wikimedia Foundation.) But back to Gobustan.

We only saw the small area of the site that's easily accessible, with nice paved paths and helpful signs telling you where not to walk, because there might be snakes.

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See?  I wasn't kidding.  Though given the temperature, a slithery encounter was unlikely.  
This did not comfort Gerald.

The day started out sunny, but by the time we got to the rocks it was overcast and chilly and windy and I was regretting not bringing a hat.  It did make me wonder about what it would have been like wearing something strapless made from aurochs-hide and living in a cave in this kind of weather.  Though the museum pointed out that the climate was warmer and wetter then, and the seas shore was closer, which makes things better, it would still have obviously a long way from anything you might describe as "comfortable" or even "not-utterly-miserable-all-the-time-please-would-someone-invent-walls-oh-and-maybe-cappuccino-thanks".  And yet they still found the time and energy to chip into the rocks, using only other rocks, to make fantastic images like this:

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Despite the fact that we probably saw about 1% of the site, it was undeniably impressive.  It was also neat because we pretty much had the place to ourselves and though the sky was grey and misty, it seemed sort of appropriate and added to the mystery.

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This was also mysterious.  I'm guessing it's some kind of erosion, but how cool is this?  
There were rocks like this all over the site.

We weren't at Gobustan for long, but I'm glad we made the effort.  And about 10km further down the road there's a collection of Mud Volcanoes, which are something I've never heard of before but which, unsurprisingly given the name, are small conical mounds that "gurgle, ooze and spit" and sometimes erupt with thick mud.  Azerbaijan apparently has more than half of the world's total stock of mud volcanoes, which I'm guessing you did not know.  Sadly, that's as much as you will learn about mud volcanoes here, since we didn't go see them, opting instead to go back to Baku, which has walls and cappuccino, both of which we took advantage of as quickly as possible.

I'm taking you all at your word that shorter blogs are better than no blogs, so that's all you get this time.  I'll just mention that, as usual, there are more pictures up at Flickr, so check it out. And stay tuned. There's another Day Out in the offing, which, while it may not be as cool as mud volcanoes, will certainly involve more red wine.

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The gang at Gobustan

1 Comment:

Viviane in Montreal said...

RobH is right! Nice to hear about your adventures!

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