A narrow strip of Armenia separates the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic from its national and political parent, Azerbaijan, which makes life very difficult for Nakhchivan Azerbaijan City. Its illustrious history as an important crossroad on one of the great trade routes between Europe, India and China justifies its status as capital of a geographically independent state, but the running sore of violence that has embroiled the entire Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union has left it isolated and completely dependent on the political mood in Baku. Nakhchivan is in fact Azerbaijan’s second city, yet the colossal effort it makes to play the part only emphasizes the dust of unemployment, crippled industry and infrastructure, and endemic violence, settling thick on the dream.
It could be, as it was, beautiful. It’s spread across the foothills of the Zanzegur chain of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains, next to a river, its ancient heart marked by narrow streets and a cluster of historic monuments. Ptolemy wrote of its bustling charm, lush gardens and prosperity in the 2nd century BC, when it was already more than a thousand years old and, according to legend, the place where Noah docked the Ark. Now, anonymous blocks of both Soviet and more recent vintage shut out many of the best views of anything interesting, and you’re lucky to get water out of the tap twice a day. Nakhchivan Azerbaijan City has survived Alexander, Tamurlaine and Stalin; and it will survive its role as hostage, with Nagorno-Karabakh, in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute.
Visitors have the option of enjoying the city’s many interesting historical sites or taking a trip to the surrounding countryside to explore this wonderfully atmospheric semi-desert region.
Avoid the extremes of midwinter (-30 °C [-22 °F]) and midsummer (42 °C [108 °F]).
The city hospital famously – and successfully – treats lung diseases by leaving patients overnight down a local salt mine.