Sofi Hamid in Azerbaijan - Atlas Obscura

Sofi Hamid

Qobustan, Azerbaijan

A colorful and enigmatic cemetery in the middle of nowhere. 


Camels, samovars, sewing machines, prayer beads, guns, cars, snakes, camels and fruits. What do these have in common? Fifty kilometers from Baku, hidden from the public eye, lies a mysterious place called Sofi Hamid. And this is the place where you will see all kinds of images from nature and daily life. If you would land there by helicopter, you would wonder: who was buried here? What do those symbols, images, and bright colors mean? Adding to this confusion, you would soon discover that the writings on the graves are in Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic scripts. 

That’s why Sofi Hamid Cemetery will tell you more about the history of Azerbaijan than any museum or history book. Functioning as a cemetery since the 18th century, the stylistic approach and writings on the graves will narrate the story of this land’s inhabitants and their beliefs. Islam, Communism, and then Islam again.

Locals know only a little about the life of Sofi Hamid, whose shrine is located at this spot. Sofi Hamid had a big camel herd, but his main reputation among the locals came from his Sufi teachings. At his deathbed, he asked his followers to bury him wherever his camel would rest. His will was granted and this spot became his tomb and shrine. 

One of the pictures found on one of the graves depicts a woman dressed in black feeding a snake. According to locals, if you are a person of integrity, the snakes won’t harm you. And the snake carvings on tombstones symbolize that this person buried was so kind and pure that even snakes wouldn’t harm them.

As time elapsed, Sofi Hamid’s shrine gained a sacral significance and people started visiting his tomb for good luck and with the hope that their wishes will come true. These kinds of sanctuaries are known as “pirs” among the locals and are very widespread across the country. Women who are unable to conceive visit this shrine and crawl under the camel three times, a practice that is supposed to help them to get pregnant.

The unique colors, images, and scripts craved on wind-swept graves make it a must-see gem that will leave an impression on anyone visiting this mysterious place.

In partnership with KAYAK

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