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Artyom island

Pirallahi Island (formerly Artyom Island) located at the far Eastern tip of the Absheron Peninsula is the furthest East you can drive in Azerbaijan without ending up in the Caspian. It is said that this was the location of the first Azerbaijani oil exploration nearly 200 years ago. And in the 1930's became the forefront of off shore oil drilling.

Originally known as Svyatoi (Holy Island), this long, low, shrinking raft of land was a sacred spot for ancient Zoroastrian fire-worshippers. It was also the first place favoured by the Persians to extract oil. In the Russian era the extraction was continued by a brother-in-law of rebel leader Imam Shamil who went into partnership with Dutch-Baltic entrepreneurs. The village of Artyom started in 1823 with two buildings - one for the Europeans to live in, the other for refining the oil into paraffin.

The islands' only settlement is the village of the same name. The disproportionately Russian village has little to nothing to offer, a dried up park, a few high-rises, the occasional monument and a bus "station". The people are generally friendly if not super curious to why tourists would be coming here. The village makes for a base to explore the 40 km2 island.

Today, rising water levels have made 'old' Artyom village unstable. The place has been abandoned and the people moved to Pirallahi township, an uninspiring straggle of apartment towers to the west of the railway station (itself built in 1948 by German prisoners).

The northern end of the island is fascinatingly ugly with assorted offshore debris, rickety moorings and oily mud pools. However, it might be interesting for scuba-diving as many antique ship-wrecks lie offshore from a 1669 battle between the Persians and Cossack adventurer Stepan Razin.

The southern spit has virtually disappeared into the rising Caspian along with a former causeway to some offshore oil platforms - a phenomenon more clearly visible from the hill opposite on which Damba lighthouse sits amid the eerie rusting wrecks of old radar-tracker vehicles flapping their derelict wings in the wind.

It's easy finding the coast, after all it a 4 km wide island. During oil production the island was divided into two distinct zones. The south was residential and the north was industrial. This become SUPER obvious. 100+ years of black gold extraction has left it's permanent mark. Although the water doesn't seem as polluted as it might be, the remnants of equipment and machinery lie strewn across the beach and into the sea.

All in all, Pirallahi/Artyom island will never really be on the top of any tourism Azerbaijan brochure. But with time to kill in Baku, it could make for an intrerestingly alternative day trip. The 2-hour bus journey (#50) departs has semi-frequent departures from Ulduz metro station in Baku. If you're looking for comfort, the 45-minute, 10+ Manat taxi leaves from the same place. Either will drop you off at the bus station in Artyom, which is at the north end of town. So with your tetnus shot up-to-date and a good pair of rubber gloves, why not get off the beaten track and head to Artyom?