Stalin’s Prison in Azerbaijan, Where the Water Burns Like Fire

Stalin’s Prison in Azerbaijan, Where the Water Burns Like Fire

Stalin’s prison, also known as GULAG, was a system of forced labor camps in the Soviet Union that was established by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. The camps were used to imprison those considered to be political opponents of the Soviet regime, as well as criminals, ethnic minorities, and other groups deemed undesirable by the government.

This sturdy brick-barrel tower once imprisoned Joseph Stalin during his early revolutionary days. However, there’s no attempt to commemorate the fact and the building is essentially derelict, with the tiled roof in a state of partial collapse.

The southernmost region of Azerbaijan would be covered in lush tea gardens, citrus bushes, and scenic lighthouses, according to an artist’s drawing of the country.

Lankaran, on the Caspian Sea, is a spectacular region which holds some very special secrets. And a new road links it to the capital, Baku, in just two hours.

Although it’s a short trip, the pace of life feels different from the rest of the country as you glide past verdant fields in the south to Lankaran and the shore.

As a young revolutionary at the start of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin was purportedly held prisoner at Zindan Tower in the Azerbaijani city of Lankaran.

A construction site is bustling with activity, seemingly oblivious to the summer heat, while fruit and vegetable vendors at the side of the road wave vivaciously to draw attention to their vibrant stands from passing cars and a field worker burns dry grass, sending billowing white clouds of smoke into the sky.

Lankaran is the birthplace of Azerbaijani tea culture, and it proudly exhibits its characteristics. On the side of the road, you will frequently find pyramid-shaped silver foil packages full to the brim with scented tea, as well as large gardens overflowing with every variety of citrus you can think of and tiny shops where you can buy Levengi chicken, a delicacy of the region.

The area’s typical tiny red-brick cottages, each with some type of ivy winding up the side of the building, stand out against all this lush foliage.

The people of Lanka are known for their warmth and hospitality, and they are frequently willing to offer some tea and patiently explain how to reach the three most fascinating locations in this alluring area.

Lighthouse without a sea

The symbol of Lankaran city, Lankaran Lighthouse was built in the 18th century.

The building is far from the water and surrounded by modest dwellings, which at first seems strange until you realize that the Caspian Sea’s level has changed over time. So much so, it’s earned the nickname the “breathing Caspian.”

A secret underground tunnel links the lighthouse to the Zindan Tower. This abandoned building was constructed as part of Lankaran fortress and was a crucial element in the city’s defense system.

It’s easy to miss without a carefully drawn map. This historic circular structure, which is situated directly past the narrow bridge going into the city’s center, is obscured from view by gigantic acacia and fig trees; only the top tower, whose branches protrude from shattered windows, is visible.

In pre-Soviet years, up to the early 20th century, Zindan Tower was used as a prison and the old building seems to changed little since it purportedly held captive one of the most ruthless rulers in world history: Ioseb dze Jughashvili, also known as Joseph Stalin.

Stalin was said to have been detained here as a young revolutionary and, legend has it, he escaped through the underground tunnel with the help of Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh, the founder of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. He reached the lighthouse and made off via the Caspian Sea.

Having fallen into disrepair, the building is sadly no longer open to visitors. Its walls conceal their secrets, and for the time being, all that can be seen of the foundation is a thick wall of fig trees blocking all views of it.

Spring where water burns

The small village of Archivan, close to the border with Iran, is home to a very peculiar natural phenomenon: Yanar Bulag, meaning Burning Spring.

High methane content means that this water fountain burns.

Here, a water-fed spring is percolated with methane gas that can be set alight.

A cupola covers the water fountain, which is subtly marked at the village’s entry and where locals stop with jugs and visitors call to fill their water bottles.

Most people merely come to gather the unusually flammable yet completely consumable fresh ice-cold water.

In the hollow space under the spring, a pile of watermelons are kept refreshing chilled.

In terms of both color and smell, the water is entirely as normal, but when ignited, it will burn for five to 10 seconds.

Park where leopards roam

On a subsequent drive, the driver sees communities tucked away in the dense forest, enormous fields extending into the mountains in the distance, huge blue beehives, and a vanilla sunset.

The hot summer air buzzes until the shade of Hirkan National Park arrives.

The park is an excellent destination for trekking and cooling off after a hot and active day. It is home to endangered Persian leopards, ancient ironwood trees, and the picturesque ponds ideal areas for fishing, picnics, and afternoon tea.

The quiet murmur of the river and the wind rustling through the tree branches are the only sounds present in the thick forest, which is near to a chilly river.