The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Browsing Posts tagged fire

After failing to find a suitable bus, train, or marshrutska, I eventually  took a taxi out to the Baku Atashgah (Fire Temple).  The taxi driver chatted with me in weak English.  He complained about government corruption and how there should be lots of money in Azerbaijan but it didn’t make it down to the people.  He also complained that California’s Gubernator Schwartzenegger was far too sympathetic to the wicked Armenians.  (Not an accusation I had previously heard!)

The Baku Atashgah or Fire Temple is a much larger complex than the Atashgah in Tbilisi, with a large courtyard surrounded by cells for visiting pilgrims.  The central building, which houses the scared flame, is surprisingly similar in shape and dimensions to the Tbilisi Ateshga.  However, here all four walls have open archways, rather than the closed archways of Tbilisi.  There is also a small crematorium pit to the side.

It is sometimes asserted that the site originated as a Zoroastrian temple which was destroyed by the Arabs, but apparently modern scholarship rejects this.  In any event, the current structure was built in the early 17th c. by Indians with a strong emphasis on Vishnu, with his trident.  (Which is a pity as the original Zoroastrian religious vision seemed much simpler and less superstitious.)  The scared flame was originally fed by a natural gas vent, which, alas, expired in 1882, so it is now run off the municipal gas mains.

Nowadays the site has been restored purely as a tourist attraction, with waxworks figures in the pilgrim’s cells.  The central flame was initially out, but after I paid my admission fee, the attendant discreetly turned on the gas .

On my third try, after much searching, I finally found Tbilis’s Atashgah, or Fire Temple.  The two LonelyPlanet maps show slightly different locations for the Atashgah, both of which are close but slightly too far East.  You can’t access the Atashgah from the path to the Narikala fortress; rather you must come to it by going up into the nameless little streets South-East of the Jvaris Mama church, then taking the steps up to the Meheti church, then going 100 m East.

I finally spotted the Atashgah because I noticed a self-congratulatory sign listing various worthy groups that were funding some restoration program.  But of what?  Then I realized  the rather dull looking redbrick building matched the descriptions I’d read, so I checked with a workman and yes, this was it!

Atashgah interior + wandering Scotsman

It is a strange structure: roughly a 20ft sided cube, under active restoration both inside and out.  There is an entrance doorway, and arched sides but no windows.  The roof is gone and there is a tree growing inside.  There is what seems to be a fire pit in the center. I paid my respects, and gently asked the Lord of Fire to be kind to California (currently plagued by wildfires).

This is believed to an authentic Zoroastrian Fire Temple, established during the short-lived Persian occupation of Tbilisi in the 6th c AD.   The Zoroastrians venerated fire as a pure element and would use the temple flame as a focus (or direction) to worship Ahura Mazda, the one universal god.

[ See also Tbilisi Ateshgah Revisited in 2010].