Temple of Eternal Flame Ateshgah is the real Azerbaijani exotic. He is known almost all over the world. It is located 30 km from the center of Baku, on the outskirts of the village of Surahani. This area is known for such a unique natural phenomenon as burning outlets of natural gas (gas escaping, comes into contact with oxygen and ignites), which gave the name to the temple - Ateshgah, which literally means "House of Fire", "Place of Fire".
The earliest mention of Zoroastrian fire worship in Transcaucasia dates back to the Sassanid era (3rd century). In Surahani there was a sanctuary of Zoroastrian fire-worshipers who came here to worship the sacred fire. After the conquest of the Arabs and the adoption by the inhabitants of Islam, the temple of fire of Zoroastrians was destroyed. Many Zoroastrians, not accepting Islam, were forced to leave for India. The further history of fire worship continues there. Many generations changed before trade and the Silk Road did not connect fire-worshipers again with the sanctuary in Surakhani. The worship of fire in Surahani resumed after the 15th century in view of the development of economic and cultural ties with India. In the 17th century, sources mark the pilgrims of the Hindus who arrived in Baku to worship fire.
In its modern form, the temple was built in the 17-18 centuries. It was built by the Hindu community living in Baku, belonging to the Sikh caste. The earliest construction of the temple dates back to 1713. The most recent is the central altar temple, built, as the inscription says, at the expense of the merchant Kanchanagar in 1810.
During the 18th century, chapels, cells, a caravanserai grew around the sanctuary, attached to each other. On the cells of the monument there are inscriptions carved in stone, executed in fonts of Indian script. Built in local architectural traditions, Ateshgah combines the features of ancient altars of fire. It is a pentagonal structure, with a serrated outer wall and an entrance portal. In the center of the courtyard rises the quadrangular rotunda of the main altar temple. Above the entrance portal there is a traditional guest room on the Absheron - "balakhana".
Near the temple sanctuary is a quadrangular pit where the bodies of dead Hindus were previously burned in sacred fire. The hermits, numbering several dozen people who lived in Ateshgah, worshiped fire, led an ascetic lifestyle, tormenting their flesh and purifying the soul. They hung chains on themselves, the weight of which reached more than 30 kg, lay on quicklime until the death of individual parts of the body. They did not work, they lived on the donations of Indian merchants. Above the entrances of some of the cells are stone tablets with brief dedicatory inscriptions. To date, 14 Hindu, 2 Sikh, and one Persian (Zoroastrian) inscriptions have survived.
At the beginning of the 19th century, after the end of the Russian-Persian wars and the entry of Transcaucasia into the Russian Empire, the Surakhany Ateshgah became famous in Russia and was often visited by Russian and European travelers. In November 1858, the French writer Alexander Dumas, Atashgah, was visited by his father, who in his memoirs called the church attendants "Parsi", "Gebras" and "Maji" (that is, magicians).
In 1855, with the development of oil and gas fields near the temple, a factory was built, and the natural lights of Atashgah began to gradually weaken. Pilgrims took this as a punishment of the gods and began to disperse. Ateshgah, as a place of worship, lasted until 1880. In 1887, Emperor Alexander III visited the temple with already greatly diminished lights. Finally, the lights of the temple died out on January 6, 1902.
For a long time the temple was in oblivion, but in 1975, after the restoration work, Ateshgah was open to the public. In 1998, the temple of fire worshipers Ateshgah was submitted to UNESCO for inclusion in the List of World Heritage Sites. In 2007, the temple was again restored. Today, the ancient Zoroastrian Temple as a museum is again open for visiting and attracts tourists, only with artificial lights. In the former cells there are expositions telling about the history of the temple.