Zoroastrians are commonly thought of as fire worshippers. And they do worship in fire temples, such as Ateshgah, on the outskirts of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, so it is easy enough to see how the misunderstanding came about.
However, it is not the case.
Zoroastrians incorporate fire into their temples because they see fire as pure. Fire is pure because it’s an element that cannot be polluted. And it is through this pure medium that truth may be perceived and spiritual insight gained.
Most fire temples will have a fire altar upon which an eternal flame burns. This fire is symbolic of the light and wisdom of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian deity.
Ateshgah – The Fire Temple of Baku
Ateshgah, the fire temple of Baku, is thought to have been constructed between the 1600s and 1700s. The temple features a castle-like outer wall, a large courtyard, and a small altar containing the eternal flame.
The original eternal flame – which utilised a natural source of a gas – burned uninterrupted for centuries before going out in 1969. Nearby gas and oil extraction operations were blamed.
The new eternal flame relies on a gas pipe.
Oil and gas is so plentiful on the Absheron Peninsula – home of Ateshgah – it seeps from the ground and bubbles to the surface unaided.
At nearby Yanar Dag, a natural gas vent burns with a three metre high flame. It’s been alight since at least the 1950s.
Practical information and how to reach Ateshgah:
Ateshgah is located on the outskirts of the Azerbaijani capital and can easily be reached with public transport. More transport info here.
Ateshgah is on the tentative list for UNESCO World heritage listing.