Azerbaijan, the Land of water and the realm of guardians of the sacred fire, a beloved country to ancient religions and historians of antiquity. From travelers of days of yore to today’s tourist, everybody who had ever set a foot in Azerbaijan never forgot this mysterious, beautiful place.
For three thousand years Azerbaijan has been a major territory. Kings, war-lords, and politicians roamed and desired its plains, saints, Sufis, and revolutionaries sought the refuge and serenity of its montane forests. their traces and the works of time have laden Azerbaijan with immense historicality and innumerable monumental memories.
To relate all things that one can find and enjoy in Azerbaijan is not a task for a travel guide, therefor here we’re going to briefly mention some of its attractions so you might be persuaded to go there and find out the rest for yourself.
Azerbaijan, the Land of water and the realm of guardians of the sacred fire, How to get there?
Azarbaijan on map
The historical land of Azerbaijan is segmented nowadays into various weather and geopolitical territories. One of them is the West Azerbaijan Province in northwestern Iran.
The province borders Turkey, Iraq and Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, as well as the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan, Zanjan and Kurdistan, so you can travel there by various means from other places of interest and vacation spots. From inside Iran, you can take a bus from every major city to Urmia, the capital of the province. Also, there existed a domestic airport, so you can fly to Urmia from other Iranian cities.
Additionally, you can get to Tabriz (capital of the neighboring province, East Azerbaijan) via its international airport or by the train that travels weekly from Istanbul to Tehran, and therefrom Tabriz to Urmia an hour and a half drive on the bridge over Urmia Lake would be a pleasant and easy way to access W. Azerbaijan.
Hotels in West Azerbaijan:
There are some decent hotels in Urmia, including:
address: No 80, Jam-e-jam Blvd
Urmia Tourist Hotel
Address: Kashani Ave
International Park Hotel
Address: Imam Ave Next To Urmia Historic Baazar
Addrs: Taleghani Ave. City Center
Accommodating options in other major cities are:
Zomorod Hotel (in Khoy)
Takht-e-Soleyman Hotel (in Takab)
Maku Tourism Hotel (in Maku)
and several other motels and lodging houses all over the province.
Major Cities and their touristic attractions:
Having about 1000 kilometers of main roads and highways that connect northernmost point of the province (Bazargan border) to its southernmost part (Bukan), West Azerbaijan province has adequate ground transit accessibility so when you get there going from city to city or site to site can be very easy, and since there is a great variety of attractions to visit in and around every city, knowing where to look for them is the only main task.
Below are some the major cities and their most interesting locations you can pay a visit to while traveling the west Azerbaijan province.
Urmia, the ancient sacred city of water and merriment:
Urmia, the capital of West Azerbaijan province, is one of the most beautiful cities in Iran. It’s known by many acclaiming nicknames: The city of religions, The Iranian Paris, dar-ol-neshat (The merriment-burg), and the city of water, which is the literal translation of its ancient name in Assyrian language: Ur(city)- mia(water).
Most historians agree that Urmia has been a major city for at least three thousand years. the role that Urmia had played in Iranian history saw it become a meeting place for multiple civilizations and cultures, from ancient Assyrians to Armenians, from Ottoman Turks to Russian tzars.
Urmia is surrounded by mountains from every side and its famous lake is known throughout the world. the city is one of the most diverse ones in Iran in terms of ethnicity and religious practices. Azeri people constitute the majority, speaking their branch of Turkic language and living alongside Armenian Christians and Iranian Kurds and remnants of Assyrian ethno-group.
Urmia Lake was once the 2nd major salt lake in the world. Unfortunately today The lake has shrunk to 10% of its former size due to damming of the rivers that flow into it, and the pumping of groundwater from the surrounding area. nevertheless, Its wildlife milieu is still unique. for example, it’s host to various migrating birds of many species.
Even somebody like Leonardo di Caprio is worried about Urmia Lake. go and visit this rare body of salty water before anything worse happens to it.
But inside the city itself, you can find the historical bazaar (dating back to five centuries ago in Safavid era) still in its traditional familiar state, with a thousand Dokans (shops) selling all kinds of handicrafts and spices specific to Azerbaijani culture.
Masjed-e-Jame (congregational mosque) is also available for visitors. situated in the old part of the city, it was constructed in the 13th century during the Ilkhanate era. Segonbad, a historical tomb with its Kufi script inscriptions, is a beautiful structure that tells tales of the rich history of the religions in this city. Likewise, St. Mary’s church, an ancient Assyrian church, is a must-see in Urmia.
The legend has it that the three wise men who hailed Jesus christ at the time of his birth were priests of this shrine, previously a Zoroastrian fire temple. After coming back from Jerusalem, they converted the fire temple to this St. Mary’s church. Even Marco Polo has visited this church and described it in his travelogue, so do not miss it.
But that’s not all: At the outskirts of Urmia you can spend a day or two in numerous natural sites and vacation spots (like Marmishu Lake, Shamalkan waterfall, Shahrchay Lake, Khoshaku Ski resort, etc.)
Khoy, where wandering Sufis end up:
There is no other place like Khoy. Khoy was named in ancient times for the salt mines that made it an important spur of the Silk Route. 3000 years ago, a city had existed on the area where Khoy is located nowadays. It’s drenched in its historic past, but also mineral springs and therapeutic mountain air.
Nearby the city you can find Ghal’e-ye-Bastam (Bastam Castle), an ancient Urartian citadel from the 7th century BC. Shams Tabrizi’s tomb is another historical heritage you can visit in Khoy. If you know anything about the great Sufi Poet Molavi (Rumi), you probably heard of his mentor and alleged lover, Shams. A large bust of the great man looks down upon a flowered courtyard that contains his grave and a strange 300-year-old animal-horn-festooned tomb tower.
Like any other historical city in Iran, the old bazaar is interesting especially ‘cause it contains many other historical monuments inside itself, buildings like Sara-ye-Mir Hashem, Darvaze Sangi, etc. also while in Khoy, you can visit Khatun Bridge over the Ghatur river, an old passage for Ottoman caravans. And speaking of caravans, don’t forget to visit two historical Carvansarays (roadside inns where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey) just outside the city.
Takab, a fantasy setting long forgotten:
Nowhere else in the world you might find what is awaiting you in Takab: an ancient and great fire temple beside a dungeon for the imprisonment of The Div (evil entities in ancient Iranian religions), it’s like a fantasy dream came true. of course, the fire temple, called Takht-e-Soleyman (throne of Salomon) in post-Islamic days, is Azergoshnasb, a shrine dedicated to Anahita, Goddess of water and rivers. The site has important symbolic significance.
The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture. Takht-e Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements created by the Sasanians in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context.
The above-mentioned dungeon though is a volcanic crater, 90 meters deep, the perfect cell if you want to enchain a Div. If you’re reasonably fit, climbing to the crater’s edge should take less than 15 minutes.
The path is muddy but obvious, zigzagging up from the Takab road about 4km south of the Azergoshnasb ruins. Though it’s now bare of all construction, the cone was once enclosed by fortified walls and topped by a religious sanctuary that archaeologists suggest dated to 900 BC. Who can get there and don’t feel the strange spiritual atmosphere? though anyone jailed within the central crater wouldn’t have lasted long, given the noxious sulfurous fumes!
Maku and all its churches:
Maku is a border city, adjacent to the Turkish border. For a long time, it was a key fortress guarding the Ottoman–Persian frontier. The Zangmar River cuts through the city. Maku Free Trade and Industrial Zone is Iran’s largest and the world’s second-largest free trade zone. the “border Bazaar” can be a good place for shopping. Also, there’s a visa-free option: Holders of normal passports traveling as tourists can enter Maku without a visa with a maximum stay of 2 weeks.
A number of historic sites await you there, places like Emarat-e-Kolah Farangi, famous for its delicate stucco and mirror-works. Or Baqcheh Jooq Palace, situated in a vast beautiful garden. Not far outside the city itself, you can find two ancient sites: Qoban Castle and Dakhme-ye-Farhad (Farhad’s crypt).
Farhad is one of the legendary figures in Persian literature, a mythic lover who after falling in love with the Queen, Shirin, was commissioned by the king to carve a mountain so perfectly that there wouldn’t be a mountain there anymore.
Across Iran, there are a lot of mountains allegedly wounded by Farhda’s hand, but this crypt near Maku is actually remnant of a historical city, dating back to the 1st millennium BC and It had belonged to Urartian kingdom. The crypt’s been carved in the heart of the mountain inside a large rock consists of some rooms and is attached to the mountain through a stone staircase and as it fits an obsessed lover, Inside the crypt is pitch dark and there is no source of light.
But maybe the best part of a visit to Maku is something else entirely, is the hunt for Armenian churches in the austere, lonely countryside. In the high hills around maku, centuries ago, the Armenian Christians built a well-known and respected monastery.
Of that original building nowadays remains only a lonely chapel, the Dzor Dzor Chapel, looking upon Zangmar River winding in a beautiful grassland. The other site is the Monastery of Saint Thaddeus, also known lyrically as Qara Kelisa (the Black church). Armenians hold that Qara Kelisa is the world’s first church and was constructed in 68 BC by one of the apostles of Jesus, Saint Thaddeus. In any case St.
Thaddeus, a revered martyr in the tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Church, built a monastery here, although of the original structure today not much remains (some of the parts surrounding the altar apse date from the 7th century.)
Azerbaijan’s Traditions and Souvenirs:
It’s not just these historic monuments and all the breathtaking landscape that make Azerbaijan a necessary part of any visit to Iran. The region also boasts a rich and diverse cultural heritage. A well-known example would be its traditional musicians, called Ashiks (lovelorn).
Ashiks, famous for the incredible improvisational quality of their music still play traditional and ritualistic songs from a by-gone era.
In the province include woodworking, carpets and hand-woven fabrics including Gelim, gloves, scarves, hats, etc. you can find many incredible distillates extracted from local herbs with medical and condemnatory uses.