Surakhani. Place of Eternal Fire
By Narmina Mammadova
Baku, having lots of beautiful and historically significant places and streets, attracts attention of foreigners. But there are also many places around the capital, with a no less interesting history and important historical monuments. One of them is Surakhani.
The Surakhani village is located on the Absheron Peninsula, at an altitude of 12 meters above sea level, 30 kilometers north-east of the capital. The name of the village is translated from the Tat language as “hot house”, since the suburbs of Surakhani have long been famous for their abundance of oil wells.
Since 1850, the settlement has been touched by the oil boom, and Surakhani has turned into a place of compact residence for oil industry workers. Here everything was "spinning" around the oil. After all, working as an oilman was a great honor.
The Surakhani village was always different from others by its language, way of life, its culture, ethno-historical grid. Once there were small trains called “cuckoo” from Baku. Surakhani was also famous throughout the USSR for its sulfur baths.
White oil, which in the Soviet period was used in the space industry, brought particular fame to the village. This was kerosene, which was used for the corresponding acceleration of spacecraft.
In 1857, at the entrepreneur Vasiliy Kokorev’s initiative, the world's first oil refinery was built in Surakhani. In 1901, the first borehole was laid by the same entrepreneur in Surakhani in order to produce gas for heating the plant. It attracted the other oil owners’ attention. And in a short time Surakhani district gained the glory of a large gas field.
The Kokorev's office consisted mainly of young Azerbaijanis. He sent them to study in Germany. At that time, even Dmitry Mendeleev worked as a consultant at his plant. In general, in those years many businessmen began to work in Baku - the Nobel brothers, the Rothschilds, etc. After that, Surakhani oil was widely distributed not only in Azerbaijan.
Fire has always played a big role in the life of Azerbaijan people. Inextinguishable, beating out of the ground, it aroused a sense of admiration in people. It was idolized, they built shrines. One of these places is the “Ateshgah Temple”, which means "House of Fire", "Place of Fire".
The Temple of Fire Ateshgah is located 30 kilometers from the Baku center, on the southeastern outskirts of the Surakhani settlement of the Absheron Peninsula. The current Ateshgah was built in the 17-18 centuries on the site of "eternal", inextinguishable fires - burning natural gas outlets. It was built by a Hindu community living in Baku, most members of which came from North India and belonged to the Sikh caste.
From very remote times, Baku was noted in the sources as an area where inextinguishable lights were burning. In Surakhani there was a sanctuary of fire-worshiping Zoroastrians who came here to worship the sacred fire.
It is assumed that this first sanctuary refers to the beginning of our era. After the conquest of Azerbaijan and Baku by the Arabs and the adoption of Islam by the inhabitants of Islam, the temple of the fire of Zoroastrians was destroyed.
Many Zoroastrians, not adopting Islam, were forced to go to India. The further history of fire worship continues there.
The worship of fire in Surakhani resumed after the 15th century in view of the development of economic and cultural ties with India. In the 17th century, sources mark the pilgrims of the Hindus, who arrived in Baku to worship the fire.
In the place of the ancient Zoroastrian fire worshipers, rich Indian merchants began to construct buildings. The earliest construction of the temple dates back to 1713. The most recent is the central temple-altar, built, as stated in the inscription at the expense of the merchant Kanchanagar in 1810. During the 18th century, chapels, cells, and a caravansarays grew around the sanctuary, joining each other. There are inscriptions carved in stone on the cells of the monument filled with fonts of the Indian letter - davanagari and gumruk.
Hermits, numbering several dozen people who lived in Ateshgah, worshiped the fire, led an ascetic way of life, torturing their flesh and purifying the soul.
They did not work and lived on donations from Indian merchants. Hermits believed that the human soul after death is reborn and returns to Earth. And in what form - a noble person or some animal - depends on karma - the sum of good and evil deeds.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the temple already had the appearance in which it reached us. Built in local architectural traditions, Ateshgah combines the features of ancient fire altars. This is a pentagonal construction with a dentate external wall and an entrance portal. A quadrangular rotunda of the main temple-altar is located in the center of the courtyard. A traditional Absheron guest room - “balakhana” - is above the entrance portal. Near the temple-sanctuary there is a quadrangular pit, now completely littered with stones, where the bodies of dead Indians were burned on a sacred fire.
In the middle of the XIX century, due to the displacement of the earth, the release of natural gas in this place ceased. Pilgrims took it as a punishment of the gods and began to disperse. Ateshgah, as a place of worship, existed until 1880, when the last Hindu, left alone, went to India.
In 1975, after the restoration work, Ateshgah was opened to the public.
Today, the Temple of Fire-worshipers is declared a State Historical and Architectural Reserve and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
But Surakhani is famous not only for oil and the Temple of fire worshipers. It is also famous for the fact that the first train in the USSR was launched here!
The railway line connecting Baku with oil fields in its suburbs Sabunchi and Surakhani was built back in 1880, becoming the first railway in Azerbaijan. And in 1924, the Baku Council began electrifying the Baku-Sabunchi-Surakhani line. A direct current with a voltage of 1200 V was used here. After putting the road into permanent operation, the line speed increased by 2.5 times, the average speed was 28.5 kilometer per hour. In the future, electric motor-wagon was introduced between the stations Sabunchi and Surakhani, from April 1933 - between the stations Sabunchi and Zabrat, and by 1940 electric trains began to go to the station of Buzovna.
The road, bordered by pine trees, takes us deep into the village. To the right of the road is the famous street, which in Soviet times had the name of the Soviet military pilot, the hero of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Balandin. It is built up with houses, both old and large, two-story mansions. This road leads to the well-known Ateshgah restaurant.
In the village there are several schools, kindergartens, there are also nurseries. School No. 154 is located behind the restaurant "Ateshgah", if you walk through the courtyards. In Soviet times, the school bore the name of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. Soviet schoolchildren gathered at her monument, where rulers and ceremonial gatherings were often held. Today the school bears the name of the national hero of Azerbaijan, the hero of the Karabakh war Albert Agarunov.
A few years ago, not far from the school there was a huge, but neglected park zone. Once in this park there was a summer cinema. The older generation remembers the good times of the district garden, remembers how they went to watch movies on summer evenings, and can tell you about many events connected with the luxurious green park of that time. After the collapse of the Union, the park fell into disrepair.
But with changes in the country, priorities have changed. And today this corner of rest is not recognized. The Heydar Aliyev Center is located in the park and the park itself is named after the national leader. In the newly built park, fountains were built, forming the “Water Theater”. Mass events are held around these fountains. The park is littered with lots of benches, arranged so that visitors can hide in the shade during the hot hours of a summer day.
One corner of the park is fully reserved for the playground. However, in addition to children's entertainment, there are also simulators for those who want to keep themselves in good shape.
Behind the Heydar Aliyev Center, among the abundant greenery, original stone figures are installed. By the way, the green cover of the park is very diverse. There are different kinds of trees, bushes, flowers. But one tree especially attracts attention - this is the tree of friendship between Tallinn and Baku.
There are gazebos in the remote part of the park, where young people and elderly Surahans gather in summer. Children run, their cheerful voices are heard from everywhere. Today, the park returned to the residents of the village a sense of past years. They have where to go for a walk, where to rest, where to go for a concert or some kind of event. In a word, today Surakhani, having a great past, received an interesting future.
We leave the park, cross the road and see in front of us the building of the Palace of Culture, now bearing the name of Sattar Bahlulzade. All possibilities have been created here to spend time with benefits - art and dance clubs, sports clubs, a library. New Year and Novruz holiday celebrations are held here.
Well, then we come to the place where, perhaps, all the attention of the residents, both of the village itself and of nearby Yeni Surakhani, Amirajan and Bulbul, is concentrated. Of course, this is a rich Surakhani market. Here, we are not afraid to say, there is everything. No wonder people come here from neighboring villages.
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