The Land of Fire - Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, located within the South Caspian Sea basin, is among the world's oldest oil producers. The petroleum industry in Azerbaijan produces about 800,000 barrels of oil per day and 1 billion cubic meters of gas per year. There is so much oil and natural gas reserve under the Absheron Peninsula that the ground practically leaks all over.

Throughout Azerbaijan, numerous fires have been burning since antiquity and these were reported on by historical writers such as Marco Polo in the 13th century, and later by the famed writer Alexandre Dumas, who described a Zoroastrian fire temples built around a natural fire. This phenomenon of spontaneous fire caused by gas seepage have given Azerbaijan the moniker "Land of Fire." It also created a cult of fire worshippers – the Zoroastrians, which first appeared in this region over 2,000 years ago before the Islamic rule came into effect. Numerous references to fire can also be found in Azerbaijan’s folklore and culture.

There are at least three places where one can observe Azerbaijan’s famous fires.

Yanar Dag, the burning mountain, in Azerbaijan.

Yanar Dag 
Yanar Dag, which literally translates to "burning mountain", is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Flames jet out into the air 3 meters from a thin, porous sandstone layer. Around this open fireplace the atmosphere is filled with the smell of gas. The naturally occurring fire burns in colorful flames most impressively at dusk, when both tourists and locals can view it from nearby teashops.

Ateshgah of Baku
The Ateshgah of Baku near Baku, off the Greater Caucasus, is another famous site of Azerbaijan’s eternal fires. Ateshgah means “temple of fire”. This pentagonal complex, which has a courtyard surrounded by cells for monks and a tetrapillar-altar in the middle, was built during the 17th and 18th centuries. The fire was once fed by a vent from a subterranean natural gas field located directly beneath the complex, but heavy exploitation of the natural gas reserves in the area during Soviet rule ended the flow of natural gas to the temple and extinguished the holy fire in 1969.

The temple was converted into a museum soon after the fire went out. Today, the fire that can seen here is fed by mains gas piped from Baku city.

Yanar Bulag
Yanar Bulag or the "burning spring" is located to the city of Astara in southern Azerbaijan. It consist of a metal stand pipe inside a small pavilion through which water comes gurgling out. It looks nothing unusual, but when you light a match and touch the water, the water itself is set ablaze. This occurs due to the water’s high methane content.

The locals believe the water from the spring has remedial properties, and would often take a drink while the flame is alit. There are always people at the spring who stop by to fill their bottles and carry on their journeys.


Karajia Purunmachos

About 60 km northeast of the city of Chachapoyas, in Luya Province, in Peru, lies the archaeological site of Karajia, where the funeral tombs of the “ancient wise men” are located. Perched high on a ledge by the side of a limestone cliff, the six sarcophagi (coffins carved in stone and displayed above ground) resembling six limbless torsos with large heads and enormous jaw lines, stand proud with their chin up and facing the abyss. Some of the headpieces are embellished with horns, imitating deer antlers, while others have encrusted human skulls, which are presumed to be trophy heads. Each sarcophagus is 2.5 meters tall.

The sarcophagi were built by the Chachapoya people to house the remains of important individuals in their culture, about 600 years ago. Originally, there were eight sarcophagi but two were destroyed by earthquakes and other natural elements. Their inaccessible location high above a river gorge has thankfully preserved them from destruction by looters.

The sarcophagi are shaped like large capsules built of a mixture of clay, straw and gravel spread on a wooden structure, and each has room to house one mummy. The deceased were placed in the fetal position, wrapped in a cocoon of wild cane stalks tied up with twine. This structure was then covered up with a thick layer of clay and straw as a binding material. Afterwards, the head was sculpted and placed on top. The sarcophagus body was painted white, while the head and headpiece were decorated with delicately brushed ocher strokes. Feathered tunics, also painted with ochre, adorned the body of the sarcophagus. The gender of the deceased was also displayed on the cone-shaped body of each sarcophagus.

The Sarcophagi of Karajia are not the only ones in the Chachapoyas area, but they are the most important ones. On the western bank of the Utcubamba River north of Kuelap many other sarcophagi of varying sizes have been recorded. The sarcophagi are so inaccessible that only a few archaeologists and TV crews have managed to get close to them.

The "Purunmachos" as the local people call them were exposed to the world in 1984 after their discovery by the archaeologist Federico Kauffmann.


The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto is a sea cave located on the coast of the island of Capri, in southern Italy, famous for its otherworldly blue glowing waters. The grotto's fluorescent glow comes from a large underwater cave opening beneath the entrance used by visiting boats that illuminates the grotto's water from below, like neon lights in a pool. Known since the days of the ancient Romans, the Blue Grotto’s intense and brilliant blue has been fascinating visitors ever since.

The Blue Grotto is 60 meters long and 25 meters wide. The clear blue waters go down 150 meters until it reaches the sandy bottom. Light into the cave comes from two sources: one is a small hole in the cave wall, precisely at the waterline, that is a meter and half in diameter, and used as the entranceway. The second source of light is a larger submerged hole lying directly below the entranceway, which is responsible for most of the lighting.

The grotto was known by the Romans, as proved by the antique statues which were found in the cave. It is thought that the grotto was the personal swimming hole of the Emperor Tiberius, when he moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the island in 27 AD. In Tiberius' time, the grotto was decorated with several statues of Roman gods which have been recovered from the cave and it is thought more might lie on the deep bottom. The grotto was known to the locals under the name of Gradola, after the nearby landing place of Gradola, but it was avoided because it was said to be inhabited by witches and monsters.

The Blue Grotto was largely forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1826, by Polish poet August Kopisch and his Swiss friend, the artist Ernest Fries. Kopisch was greatly impressed by the beauty of the cave and described it in his book "Entdeckung der blauen Grotte auf der Insel Capri”. Since then the Blue Grotto has become the emblem of the island of Capri bringing tourists from far-off places. Two years later, the poet Wilhelm Waiblinger wrote an ode to it as a tribute to the era of Romanticism and man's "return to nature." It subsequently inspired Hans Christian Andersen's 1835 novel, The Improvisor, a 19th-century bestseller that triggered an unending flow of Grand Tour visitors to Capri.

The entrance to the Blue Grotto is crowded with tourist boats.


The Mountain With A Hole Through It

Torghatten is a mountain on the island of Torget in Brønnøy municipality, in Norway, famous for its characteristic hole that goes right through the mountain. This hole, which is 160 metres long, 35 metres high and 20 metres wide, was created during the Ice Age as ice and water gradually eroded away the loose rock, while the harder rock around the top of the mountain remained. The hole is a massive tourist attraction, and its possible to walk up to the tunnel on a well-prepared path, and through it on a natural path. The view from the top is said to be incredible, and a real opportunity to see the Helgeland coast and its hundreds of tiny islands.

According to legend, Torghatten was formed when Hestmannen, the troll, was chasing the beautiful girl Lekamøya. As the troll realized he would not get the girl, he released an arrow to kill her, but the King of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow's path to save her. The hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle.


Travertine Chimneys in Lake Abbe

Lake Abbe is a salt lake, the largest and last of a chain of six connected lakes on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border. The lake lies on a basin called the Afar Depression at a point where the Arabian, Nubian, and Somalian plates are pulling away from each other. The strain caused by the splitting Nubian and Somalian plates has created a strange landscape around Lake Abbe. As the two plates drift apart, the crust above them thins until it cracks. Magma pushes to the surface through the thin spots and warm underwater springs. As the boiling water bubble up to the surface, they deposit the dissolved calcium carbonates creating towering chimneys, the same way water trickling down the roof of limestone caves create stalactites and stalagmites. Some of these chimneys reach heights of 50 meters, and puffs of steam vent from the top. The otherworldly landscape inspired Charlton Heston to shoot his classic 1968 film, "Planet of the Apes", on the shores of Lake Abbe.

The Afar Depression is fascinating to geologists because it is the place where new ocean is being formed. The depression is forming as the African plate splits into the Nubian and Somalian plates. In a few million years, the Indian Ocean will break through the coastal highlands and flood the Afar Depression, creating a new ocean and making the Horn of Africa a large island. When continental plates move apart in the ocean, it creates new sea floor, but in East Africa, the process is happening on dry ground, where it is called continental rifting.

Lake Abbe is fed by the Awash River, and seasonal streams which enter the lake from the west and south, crossing the vast salt flats. On the northwest shore rises Mount Dama Ali, a dormant volcano. Lake Abbe was once a much larger lake but diversion of water from Awash River for irrigation in the 1950s has shrunk the lake surface area by two-thirds and water level by 5 meters.

The nearest town lies 200 km away, but there is a small settlement established by the Afar people near the lake's shore. Aside from the Afar shepherds who brings their herds of sheep or donkeys to feed, the only inhabitants of this lake are pink Flamingos.