Cities

Sneaking into closed soviet city in Azerbaijan

Hitchhiking up north to Quba in Azerbaijan, on the right side of the road we saw blocks surrounded by a fence made of rusty runaway strips. There was something off about it, maybe how lonely they looked on the sandy steppe… On the way back we knew we had to check this place out. Unlike many abandoned/dark tourism or whatever-you’ll-call-it places, about this one we did not know anything before starting our travel. Probably because there’s hardly anything about it online. 

The heat was crazy, dust in the air could be felt on our teeth. The driver going to Baku was pretty shocked to learn that we would like to leave the car in the middle of the road. We took our backpacks and went towards the sea on the destroyed asphalt road. Though at the gate there was some kind of guarding post, it looked abandoned. Now that we could get a closer look, blocks looked very poor but were lived in, in front of us we saw some men sitting. While approaching them we silently made an excuse for our “trespassing”, excuse that soon will turn into a real plan. After standard question about our nationalities we were asked what we’re looking here for, “we’re trying to get to the beach”. Response was unexpected “You cannot go through here, it’s military city, it’s closed”. We failed to learn more about it but when we saw the buildings in the far, their unique architecture, closed urban plan and abandoned look, it was tempting… 

As instructed we left the town the same way we came in and, as every real explorer would do, we started to move next to the fence to find other way. Except for one man that told us that the place is off limits others seem not to mind us at all. On the other side of the block we found a family relaxing by the cement table, we approached them and told them the same story about the beach. On the balconies behind them a lot of furnitures were stored, glass in windows was broken, many wooden planks installed – we’ve seen places like this before for example in Georgia. That made us think that those people might be relocated refugees, maybe from Karabakh area. Vividly shocked that we are here, they said that there’s no way through here but their friends are going to do some fishing and we can go with them in the car. It was parked near the block and indeed 3 guys came down with fishing gear, we exchanged our looks, decided that we’re going to do it and sat in inside.

The road to the beach was long, two times we had to stop so one of the passengers could go out and move some rusty strips in the fence, making a way for the car. We used this time to look around, the buildings looked amazing and very mysterious, we bookmarked them on the map so we could reach them on the way back from the beach. 

Finally we got to the shore. It should be said that probably it’s the best place to swim, maybe in the whole Azerbaijan. Unlike busy and noisy beaches in Abscheron Peninsula – full of tourist “attractions”, water parks and fenced areas, here it looked like more to what we are used to. Turquoise water, nice sand, no people in the sight (except for our fishermen) and far in the north view on the looming unique and mystical Besh Barmag Mountain. We separated from the guys which started to prepare tent on the side of their jeep. Took our time to cool off our sweaty bodies in the water (it felt so good) knowing that soon we will start a long way back into the unknown. Later on waved to the guys goodbye and set off. 

First part was desert like steppe, we did not do much talking cause the heat was intense. After 20 minutes we reached a huge building site, a new road going through Azerbaijan shore. We attracted many looks going between trucks and axcavators. Next part – abandoned airport (40°48’58.3″N 49°25’46.1″E). Two overgorwn lanes, many stray dogs with their tongues out and many ruined buildings around. In one of them we stumbled upon a small owl looking at us with its huge eyes. It looked just as shocked as the workers on the new road. We tried to take a short-cut and left the airport lane, but then in the grass we spotted probably the longest snakeskin we’ve ever seen, so we quickly backed away. 

Outskirts of the town. It all looked amazing and at the same time pretty eerie. One of the first building we approached was round, next to it was old wagon surrounded by a garden. It looked like somebody was living there and at time to time we felt like we could hear some kind of radio music, but we were not sure. In the round building water flow could be heard. We started to get closer to the blocks where we left with the car. Next on our road were many abanodned buildings, covered with falling off, odd red paint, one of them showing year on the facade (1953). It’s hard to say what was the purpouse of them, maybe military barracks. We took a look inside one and the painted fruits and vegetables on the posters hinted that it could be some closed market place. The buildings resembled stalinist style architecture, their walls were wide, facade finishing looked somewhat beautiful. 

Some people started to appear, older sheppard with few sheep, younger guy in hurry to somwhere (maybe to the garden near the wagon). At this point we thouhgt that it’s better to keep on walking instead of getting in a conversation. 

We reached the fence, rusty pipeline with runaway strips attached to it, found the entrance where before we went through with the car. The buildings there were uncommon and their site plan very interesting – all together around 10 structures, with a closed from each site central square (40°48’15.4″N 49°24’42.7″E). Arches at the entrance of each facade were very characteristic, some of them were modified and filled with wall, probably to expand the interior (?). In the end maybe it was the amount of chimneys on each roof that made it look so odd. With out mouths open we continued our way inside. If not for here and there hanging clothes we would assume that the place is abandoned. We went straight in on the center square, there we found an old rusty playground where few kids were playing and they all turned their faces towards us. We continued to one building where we spotted an older man. 

Kids started to gather around us, talking to us in Azerbaijani so we could not understand. We were happy that soon we should learn something more about this place from the old man. He was smiling a lot, unfortunately before we finished to answer all his questions about us (basically “what are we doing here”), the kids started to whisper to him, that “the army is comming”. It was maybe not army but two guys in military suits, anyway pretty stressful, even though it was not our first time dealing with such situations. After they run up to us, they started to look around as if searching for more foreigners, looking very shocked they had to take a breath to start talking to us. We took out our passports because we thought we were asked to show them, but in fact, all they wanted to see is our camera. Marek showed it to him and was ordered to remove all pictures with no exceptions. Old man near us looked very saddened about the situation. Luckily that was it, soldiers showed us the way out and soon two cars full of guys in military suits came. The guy who caught us waved to them like he would show them that all is taken care off. We hurried to the exit again next to the blocks we first time came in. Just after long minutes when we were back on the main road, hitchhiking back to Baku, we were able to talk. The photos you can see in this post are the one that we were able to recover. Good to know for the future that recovering option is pretty easy! 

It is a pity that we got caught at that moment when there was a lot to learn about this place. Still we are wondering what each of the corners there hid. We may never learn why in the end it was guarded by army, and who were the people living there.

PS. We tried to learn something more about the place. Our friend Mikayil that is Azerbaijani did some research too. Unfortunately there is not much we learned – the only few facts concern the abandoned airport. It was built during soviet era and since 1981 served for 200th Aircraft Squad which took part in fights in Afghanistan (Soviet – Afghan war).

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