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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

There is plenty to interest one in Baku


Caspian Sea steamers for Persia leave Baku on Sunday and Tuesday at midnight. There was a fierce sand storm raging at the time and the steamer had returned without being able to land her passengers at their destination. I decided to wait till the Tuesday. There is plenty to interest one in Baku. I will not describe the eternal fires, described so often by other visitors, nor tell how naphtha was tapped for the first time at this place, and how in 1886 one particular well spouted oil with such tremendous force that it was impossible to check it and it deluged a good portion of the neighbourhood. A year later, in 1887, another fountain rose to a height of 350 ft. There are myriads of other lesser fountains and wells, each covered by a wooden shed like a slender pyramid, and it is a common occurrence to see a big spout of naphtha rising outside and high above the top of the wooden shed, now from one well, now from another.

The process of bringing naphtha to the surface under ordinary circumstances is simple and effective, a metal cylinder is employed that has a valve at the lower end allowing the tube to fill while it descends, and closing automatically when the tube is full and is being raised above ground and emptied into pits provided for the purpose. The naphtha then undergoes the process of refinement. There are at the present moment hundreds of refineries in Baku. The residue and waste of naphtha are used as fuel, being very much cheaper than

coal or wood.

The greater number of wells are found a few miles out of the town on the Balakhani Peninsula, and the naphtha is carried into the Baku refineries by numerous pipe lines. The whole country round is, however, impregnated with oil, and even the sea in one or two bays near Baku is coated with inflammable stuff and can be ignited by throwing a lighted match upon it. At night this has a weird effect.

Apart from the oil, Baku--especially the European settlement--has nothing to fascinate the traveller. In the native city, Persian in type, with flat roofs one above the other and the hill top crowned by a castle and the Mosque of Shah Abbas, constant murders occur. The native population consists mostly of Armenians and Persians. Cotton, saffron, opium, silk and salt are exported in comparatively small quantities. Machinery, grain and dried fruit constitute the chief imports.

The crescent-shaped Baku Bay, protected as it is by a small island in front of it, affords a safe anchorage for shipping. It has good ship-yards and is the principal station of the Russian fleet in the Caspian. Since Baku became part of the Russian Empire in 1806 the harbour has been very strongly fortified.

The most striking architectural sight in Baku is the round Maiden's Tower by the water edge, from the top of which the lovely daughter of the Khan of Baku precipitated herself on to the rocks below because she could not marry the man she loved.

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