Ateshgah Fire Temple
In early history Azerbaijan was called the “land of the sacred fire”. Some 2,600 years ago, Zarathustra started new religion- Zoroastrianism, one of the first major monotheistic beliefs. In Absheron, there were many temples of Fire. From their variety, the most famous is the well-preserved temple Ateshgah (“the Fire Place”). The temple is in Surakhany district of Baku, about 30 kilometers east far of the town center. The temple was built over a pocket of natural gas that fueled a vent providing an ‘eternal’ fire. This kind of use of fire in Zoroastrian temples led to the followers of Zoroaster (Zarathustra).
Historians and archaeologists have argued over the construction date of the temple. Some defend that there was a Zoroastrian temple there since the 6th century. However, others delay that event for another seven centuries- to XIII century. After that, Islam started to spread in Azerbaijan and some Zoroastrians escaped to India. Despite that, trade links with India in later centuries continued. It led to renewed contacts with the fire-worshipers, who had migrated from to Northern India. During the 17th and 18th Century, Indian merchants and masons established their settlements in Baku and rebuilt the site.
Ateshgah temple has a mixture of Indian and Azerbaijani architectural styles. It is a surviving proof of historical relationship between these countries. There is a wall with a guest room over the gate surrounding the building. There are still some wall inscriptions in Sanskrit, including poems. Cells for pilgrims line the wall inside. It surrounds the main temple in the center- a quadrangular pavilion with the fire on the altar inside. Moreover, next to the temple there is a rectangular hole, where bodies of dead Hindus were burned in the sacred fire.