Question: Where in the world can you find more than 300 “burning mountains” that bubble with freezing mud?
Answer: Gobustan, Azerbaijan
At first glance, you might think that the mud volcanos of Gobustan, Azerbaijan are located on a faraway planet, but this otherworldly site is found in the small Middle Eastern country along the coast of the Caspian Sea. About an hour’s drive south from Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, the Gobustan region is home to about 300 of the world’s nearly 800 mud volcanoes—the most of any country in the world.
While they are known as volcanoes, these bubbling mounds are unlike a typical volcano as instead of expelling hot magma, they ooze thick, freezing cold mud. The perplexing landform occurs in places where underground gas has found weak spots in the earth’s surface and is able to rise from deep within. Mud, methane, and carbon dioxide are then pushed from the earth’s depths and bubble out through the ground.
Once the sludge is released from the belly of the earth at Gobustan, it dries quickly due to the desert air and the salt-encrusted land from the nearby Caspian Sea. The mud quickly changes color and dries in distinct cracks, helping to give Gobustan it’s otherworldly appearance. The geographic wonder may look like something you would find during prehistoric times or on the planet Mars, but really it’s a well-preserved national park.
The volcanoes are called “yanardagh” by locals, meaning “burning mountain,” which is exactly what happened in 2001 when one volcano erupted. A buildup of pressurized gas below the surface triggered an enormous explosion, unexpectedly shooting flames hundreds of feet into the air and propelling underground mud and black smoke into the sky. The site burned for three days with flames visible to communities about nine miles away.
Luckily, eruptions of this caliber are not a common occurrence in Gobustan and typically only happen about once every twenty years. The nearest cities are located far enough away that the eruptions do not pose a significant danger.
For visitors, the bubbling and oozing volcanoes are not the only mind-blowing attraction: Gobustan National Park is also home to more than 6,000 prehistoric rock carvings. The rare engravings depict detailed scenes of human existence—with some drawings dating back 40,000 years. Images of men hunting, women dancing, and humans traveling by boat are portrayed across the desert boulders and illustrate what life looked like from the last Ice Age all the way up to the Middle Ages.
With these historical etchings and the awe-inspiring mud volcanoes, Gobustan is a crossroads of both geological and archeological significance.
More about Gobustan: 8 Interesting Facts
- In addition to nearly 300 volcanoes found in the country, about 140 more volcanoes are found off the shores of Azerbaijan beneath the Caspian Sea.
- The region of Gobustan gets its name from the numerous, deep ravines that cross the territory, called “gobu” in Azerbaijani.
- Gobustan National Park is home to the famous “Gaval Dash” stone, a natural musical stone that makes a sound similar to a tambourine when touched.
- Due to pockets of gas below, a few of the volcanoes continually burn, shooting small flames into the air. It is believed that this geographic phenomenon is associated with the start of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest continuously practiced religions, from over 2,000 years ago.
- Gobustan National Park contains the remains of inhabited caves, settlements, and burials that indicate the presence of human inhabitants during the time period following the last Ice Age known as the Wet Period.
- Archeological excavations of Gobustan began during the 1930s, and from 1939-1940 one Azerbaijani archeologist, named Isak Jarfarzade, discovered more than 3,500 of the 6,000 rock engravings and paintings.
- In 1966, the area was declared a national historical landmark in order to best preserve both the volcanoes and the ancient rock carvings.
- In 2007, Gobustan National Park became a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because of its significant cultural value.
Take a trip back in time while visiting Gobustan National Park during the Azerbaijan: Baku & the Land of Fire pre-trip extension of Turkey’s Magical Hideaways with O.A.T.