Baku is hosting its first Azerbaijan Grand Prix today (last year’s race in the city was called the European Grand Prix). To mark the occasion, we’ve unearthed 25 facts about this little-known sliver of Central Asia…
1. It loves pancakes
Kutabi – filled pancakes – are practically Azerbaijan’s national dish. They’re stuffed with pumpkin, veggies, meat or just a sprinkling of herbs, then flipped and toasted on a griddle. Leave your Nutella at home: Azerbaijan’s pancakes are strictly savoury.
2. It was home to ancient man
In the lowest reaches of Azokh Cave in western Azerbaijan, archaeologists have found tools and remains dating back 1.5 million years. The six chambers of the cave complex hold a bounty of prehistoric remains, and it’s thought that the caverns were occupied for nearly two million years.
3. Its borders are complicated
In western Azerbaijan, you can cross the border into Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-declared autonomous region. However, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. It’s famed for its epic mountain ranges and the mulberry groves and vineyards that flourish in its valleys.
4. Azerbaijanis take tea with jam
No social occasion is complete without tea, served with myriad trimmings. It’s often sweetened with jam – and flavoured with thyme, lemon, mint or rosewater.
5. No sugar, no wedding
When families are matchmaking, the tea tray gives a good indication of how arrangements are progressing. If it’s served without sugar, more negotiating needs to be done; if it’s sweet, a wedding is definitely on the cards.
6. Its horses are heroes
The karabakh horse – renowned for its effortless speed, intelligence and endurance – is the national animal of Azerbaijan. They are endemic to the country, and one of the oldest breeds in the world. Horsemeat was once widely eaten in Azerbaijan, but now it has fallen out of favour; you’ll find lamb and beef on the menu instead.
7. It’s actually quite small
It’s roughly the same size as neighbouring Armenia and Georgia, but is dwarfed by Turkey, Iran and Russia, who it also shares borders with. At 86,600 km², Azerbaijan is roughly four times the size of Wales.
8. It enjoys proverbs
Notable examples include “Cheap meat never makes a good soup”, “Politeness is not sold in the bazaar”, and “I tried to draw the eyebrow, but I ended up poking the eye”. Quite.
9. It has a city built on stilts
The settlement of Neft Daşları started life as an oil rig and a couple of elevated walkways in the Caspian Sea: today, it’s an entire stilted city. It was built in 1949, and communities have cropped up around bakeries, shops, cultural areas, hostels and hotels.