Scattered throughout the peninsula, are the ubiquitous Nodding Donkeys. Without doubt, the oil & gas industry is Azerbaijan's lifeblood. In fact, in 2007, mining and hydrocarbon industries accounted for well over 95 per cent of the Azerbaijani economy. The nodding donkey, the backbone of the industry, is a typical oil pump jack which brings the black gold up to the surface. It is their repeated head bobbing action which lends them their name.
While some might say Baku's Maiden's Tower is the unofficial symbol of Azerbaijan, some votes would go in for the nodding donkey.
The best choice for oild fields in terms of being close to city centre is Bayil district - it's just 10-15 minutes drive by bus from Icheri Sheher tube station, taxi wouldn't be expensive as well. Drive towards large Bibi Heybat mosque there - from that place you will have a nice panorama of Absheron oil-fields. You will be allowed to enter them, there is usually a tight security in such strategic locations. But at least you will have a nice panorama of Baku oil-fields.
This incredible 'forest' of 1930s nodding-donkey oil pumps lies at Baku's southern limits. It has been nicknamed the James Bond Oil Field since featuring in the opening scenes of the movie The World is Not Enough, but hurry to see it before a long-overdue clean-up operation sanitises the whole area.
As mentioned above the scene is best surveyed from near Bibi Heybat Mosque, which was for centuries the region's holiest shrine. However, the original 13th-century building was demolished by the Soviets in 1934 and today's Ottoman-style structure dates from 1998. The shrine is overlooking a forest of old oil derricks on the former Selimkhanov oilfield. It's ugly yet very photogenic at sunrise or sunset.
Before the land was reclaimed from the Caspian, the waters here were famed for their subterranean gas vents. Nineteenth-century tourists reported eddies so powerful that they'd 'blow a passing boat right over'. But they rowed out here anyway to 'set fire to the water'.
Another good oil field that you can get up close and personal with is very near the Fire Temple (Ateshgah) in Surakhani. Just across the road from the fire, you'll find leaky oil drills pumping big puddles of oil right next to people's houses, and behind the residential area spreads a wonderful land of donkey pumps. You can either take a minibus or a train to get to Surakhani from Central Baku, or a taxi of course. The fire temple is worth visiting as well as the oil mess.
Bibi Heybat Mosque
One of Azerbaijan's holiest Muslim sites, Bibi Heybat Mosque (founded 1257) was demolished in the anti-religious campaigns of 1936, ostensibly for 'road widening'. It enshrined the simple grave of 'Bibi' (ie 'Aunty') Okuma Khanum, sister of the controversial seventh Imam. She fled with her sisters to Baku in the late 8th century escaping fallout from the schism which would eventually divide mainstream Shia Islam from the Ismaili branch. The name Heybat is said to be that of her faithful servant who was buried nearby. Re-dedicated in July 1998, the present structure was the first Stalin-destroyed mosque in the former USSR to have been totally rebuilt.