Surakhany (Suraxani)
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Surakhani / Suraxani - Azerbaijan - location map Surakhany is a small town in the suburbs of Baku, built by the railway going from Baku in the direction of Mardakan. It is surrounded by decaying oil fields.

Surakhany's claim to fame originates in the Ateshgah Zoroastrian temple, located one kilometre east of the town centre. The temple was built over a pocket of natural gas that fuelled a vent providing an 'eternal' fire. This kind of use of fire in Zoroastrian temples led to the followers of Zoroaster (Zarathustra) becoming wrongly known as 'fire worshipers'.

Surakhany: oil pump (photo by M.Torres)Anyway the fire was not as 'eternal' as expected and the exhaustion of the gas pocket led to the present day situation: since 1969 the temple draws its gas from the public distribution network!

Historians, archaeologists, and theologians have argued over the construction date of the temple. Some defend that there was a Zoroastrian temple in Surakhany since the 6th century, others delay that event for another seven centuries. As the introduction of Islam to the region to the area resulted in the destruction of almost every Zoroastrian temple and documents, this claims are hard to assess.

Ateshgah fire temple  (photo by M.Torres)What you can see today dates mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, built over the crumbling remains of the previous temple, by active Zoroastrian worshipers from India (know there as 'Parsees', for their Persian origin). Surakhany remained a popular destination for Indian pilgrims until the revolution. The temple was last restored in 1975 and although located outside Baku presently is managed by the museum of the Shirvanshah's palace.

The pentagon shaped building is surrounded by a wall with a guest room over the gate ('balakhane'). There are still some inscriptions in Sanskrit, including poems. Cells for pilgrims line the wall inside and surround the the main altar in the centre of the temple - a quadrangular pavilion with the fire on the altar inside. The cells are used as museum displays with was figures, intended to introduce the rudiments of Zoroastrianism to the uninitiated.

Surakhany: Ateshgah fire temple - inside (photo by F.MacLachlan)The remains of another another Zoroastrian temple can be found in a remote location near the village of Xinaliq, west of Quba.

(Surakhany is 15 km north-east of central Baku)

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