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Gobustan Rock Art

Gobustan Rock Art
Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape has an outstanding collection of more then 600,000 rock paintings. They depict primitive men, animals, battle-pieces, ritual dances, bullfights, boats with armed oarsmen, warriors with lances in their hands, camel caravans, pictures of sun and stars, on the average dating back to 5,000-20,000 years.


Alfons and Riki Verstraeten (Netherlands):
Just back from our trip to Azerbeidzjan and Georgia (end of sept.2012).The Rock Art in Gobustan National Park is
widely spread over a huge area. Valcamonica and Tanum are more impressive, but the new museum is fantastic.
Date posted: October 2012
Christer Sundberg (Sweden):
An early start and a roadside breakfast together with some locals Azeri’s who’ve probably never met a Scandinavian traveler before, was the start of my visit to Gobustan. After some 2-3 hours drive, south of Baku the first stop was at the burping and oozing mud volcanoes. The volcanoes are found on a small hill not far from the Gobustan petroglyphs and are an absolute must if you can find your way on the bumpy roads without non-what-so-ever signs to direct you to the right place. A local guide is therefore an absolute must.

On the road leading to the Gobustan visitor’s center and the rock carving site, there is another point of interest to be found – the “Roman graffiti”. A group of Roman soldiers, probably on a recognizance tour carved out a message stating the most Eastern point any Roman patrol ever ventured to.

Over 6000 rock carvings have been found in Gobustan and bears witness of a 12000 year old civilization that once lived by the Caspian Sea shore. Today the sea is found some 7-8 km in the eastern direction but it is still a fascinating landscape with large rocks that once functioned as roofs to the early settlements. The carvings usually depict humans, domestic and wild animals, boats and battle scenes.

During my World Heritage travels I’ve now seen rock carvings in Sweden, Norway, India and Azerbaijan and it’s interesting to find that there are similarities between them all. But to go as far as the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and suggest that the Scandinavians once originated from ancient Azerbaijan is probably a little too far fetched…
Solivagant (UK):
Gobustan was 1 of 3 “Rock Art” sites among the 22 added in 2007 (with Twyfelfontein and Lopé). There are already many such sites on the list (see my reviews of Valcamonica, Tanum, Alta and the Matabo Hills for just some of them!). Whether Gobustan adds a great deal is open to some debate. In 2004 ICOMOS had decided that the nomination should be deferred to allow development of a research program. The revised 2007 evaluation concluded that the site met but 1 of the proposed criteria (but that a case had not been adequately made on 2 others) and recommended further referral for reasons of management plan and boundary “inadequacies” - yet UNESCO accepted the site on all 3 criteria! If you are in Baku you should certainly take the c65 kms trip south to see it but we personally, as non-experts, wouldn’t rate the visit that highly in comparison with the other rupestrian sites we have seen, either for what is on show or for the conditions under which you are shown it.

One problem with visiting sights which are then inscribed some years later is that one hasn’t always taken a photo as confirmation of the visit! And, when we visited in August 2000, we certainly hadn’t regarded this site as future “World Heritage” material “requiring” such a snap (There was no easily available “T List” information then). But that isn’t the main reason why the only “confirmation photo” I can provide is of the ticket for visiting “Qobustan”. Perhaps reflecting the fact that one of our expensive (foreigners?) tickets is numbered “00002” (I have lost the other which may indeed have been “00001”) and that there were no other visitors that morning, we were treated to the full weight of officialdom on our arrival with lectures on all the things one couldn’t do and close supervision throughout (the 2003 evaluation talks of 1000-2000 visitors pa – though it doesn’t seem credible that this could include Azeris). Yet both the 2004 and 2007 evaluations (rightly) criticise such practices as filling the engravings with toothpaste to assist photography – who was doing it and how! I feel that we, as foreigners, were receiving “special treatment”! I cannot remember whether the reason I took no photos was because we were told that it was forbidden or because it required some outrageous “foreigners” price ticket. Oh for the relaxed and friendly Scandinavian approach towards visitors at Tanum and Alta!

We only visited the main area described in the inscription documentation as “Boyukdash” situated on a cliff overlooking the Caspian with oil derricks as and connecting bridges as far as the eye could see. But, having seen the photos of the Gobustan inscriptions on the Web, I don’t believe that our officious guide took us to see a full range of the Palaeolithic and Bronze Age inscriptions. Indeed, my main memory of the visit was of the “singing stones” rather than of the rock art itself, recollection of which has largely been erased by the passage if time. These stones permit a range of musical notes to be “played” on them and were certainly used for this purpose in prehistoric times. The site has a little museum which I also remember more than the in-situ drawings.

Those interested in “travel trivia” might be interested to know of a fenced-in rock near to Gobustan (you can pass it on the way to/from from the main road to Baku) with what is the eastern-most Roman inscription ever found (it commemorates the 12th Legion which reached there in around 75AD during the reign of Emperor Domitian) – it is NOT part of the inscribed site (but I DO have a photo of it!).

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Site info

Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape
Country: Azerbaijan
Inscribed: 2007
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (3)
Category: Human activity, Cultural landscape Archaeological site, Rock Art

Site history:
2007 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription
To undertake a research and analysis programme for the site, in order to quantify its significance in the wider world context

Site links

Official website:
»Gobustan Rock Art

In the news:
Not available

Related links:
» Wiki on Gobustan.

Related Forum posts:
Not available

Getting there

This WHS has 3 location(s).


Cave dwellings .
Petroglyphs .
Caspian Sea . Caucasus .
Bronze Age . Palaeolithic and Mesolithic .
Human Activity
Archaeoacoustics .
Late Pleistocene .
World Heritage Process
Inscribed on a single criterion only . Relict Cultural Landscapes .

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