Azerbaijan travel guide

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Oil rich potentates and ancient monuments.

Travelers to Azerbaijan will get the feeling they are leaving Europe and entering the Third World. Mosques replace the Orthodox churches of Russia, Georgia, and Armenia and the political culture becomes more corrupt. Almost since independence in 1991 Azerbaijan has been ruled by the Aliyevs, first the father, then the son. Political opposition is not tolerated and billboards proclaiming the virtues of Ilham Aliyev are seen all around the country. This situation is fed by foreign oil companies which put profits before principles and Western democracies which much prefer a secular dictatorship to an Islamic state. Few travelers visit Azerbaijan. Those using land or sea crossings must obtain their visas beforehand but some nationalities are able to purchase visas upon arrival at Baku Airport (check). Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on the Caspian Sea is perplexing with the utter devastation of oilfields and refineries on the outskirts and numerous excellent theaters, parks, monuments, mansions, and museums in town. The Opera and Ballet Theatre on 28th of May Street and the Russian Dramatic Theater a few blocks away present outstanding programs. Baku’s walled old town contains the Shirvan-Shah's Palace, Juma Mosque, narrow streets, and the eight-story Maidan Tower which together enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status. Daytrips can be made to Gobustan, 70 kilometers southwest of Baku, to see neolithic rock carvings and mud volcanoes. Also of interest is the ancient city of Sheki, 325 kilometers northwest of Baku, with its 18th century Xan Palace, summer residence of the Sheki Khans. Also in Sheki is an old caravansarai used to house Silk Road travelers and still a hotel.

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