What is the Gobustan State Reserve?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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The Gobustan State Reserve is a massive reserve in Azerbaijan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 2007. It is listed as a World Heritage Site as the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape. The Gobustan State Reserve is known for its enormous collection of rock paintings.

The reserve contains more than 600,000 distinct paintings, going as far back as 20,000 years to as recent as 5,000 years ago. The paintings in the Gobustan State Reserve depict a wide range of figures and scenes, including various hunting scenes, war scenes, trading scenes, and individual animals, and people. The Gobustan State Reserve covers more than 1300 acres (530 hectares), and encompasses many distinct sites.

The rock paintings at the Gobustan State Reserve were first uncovered sometime in the 1930s. By the 1940s a massive cataloging of the paintings was underway, and a number of archeologists made the site their life’s work, eventually cataloging the majority of the immense number of rock carvings and paintings in the area.


The petroglyphs at the Gobustan State Reserve have a number of similarities to other stone paintings throughout the world, and some people have used this to further a theory that the people of Gobustan traveled north to Scandinavia. To further this claim, people point to a number of paintings which depict what appear to be Viking long boats, which were probably used to sail the strait between the Caspian and Black Seas. Thor Heyerdahl is the most vocal proponent of this theory, holding that the people from Gobustan migrated sometime around 100AD and transferred their boat building skills to the Vikings.

The Gobustan State Reserve also contains attractions other than the Paleolithic rock paintings. Most notable among these are the mud volcanoes. Finding the mud volcanoes is probably one of the most difficult things to do in the reserve, and it is highly recommended that visitors hire a local guide to get to them. The mud volcanoes steadily burp out warm mud that oozes and slides around, and those who don’t mind getting completely filthy will enjoy them immensely. The mud is renowned for its healing qualities, and some people travel to the Gobustan State Reserve primarily to bathe in the mud.

The Gobustan State Reserve is also home to a number of so-called Singing Stones, most notably the Gaval Dash. These stones create musical tones when touched, and can be essentially played to create a haunting music.

Also of note in the Gobustan State Reserve is a nearby rock which is the site of the easternmost Roman inscription. This appears to be “graffiti” left by the 12th Legion of the Roman Empire, traveling in the area around 75AD and commemorating the eastern point of the Roman Empire.

The site is about 40 miles (65km) away from Baku, and some of the roads are fairly rough. Most people drive to the area and then hire a guide to take them around the reserve, showing them points of interest and explaining what the various paintings are of. There are a number of field guides to the Gobustan State Reserve Paleolithic paintings as well, and these can act as handy references to date the different clusters, and to find some of the more isolated and impressive paintings.


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