|Baku old domed roof tops on the "Haji banu" (Bath House)|
creative commons image, good_day on Flickr
While the treatment may sound odd to Westerners, the treatment has long considered to be therapeutic. Having performed ablutions in oil since the 6th century BC, Azeris claim the ritual heals everything from impotence to skin complaints.
While Naftalan crude oil is too heavy for normal export uses (unlike Azerbaijan's plentiful Caspian Sea oil), it contains about 50 percent naphthalene, a hydrocarbon that is the active ingredient in coal tar soaps, which are used to treat psoriasis. As such, it is only used for medicinal purposes. People using the oil generally sit in a bath and are covered in oil up to their necks. There are numerous petroleum spas in the city of Naftalan itself. While the naphthalene in the oil is claimed to give it therapeutic properties, Western experts say it, and bathing in crude oil in general, might actually be carcinogenic.
Listed as #4 on the Telegraph Travel's list of the city's 10 weirdest tourist attractions, Baku, Azerbaijan is a good place to try it. "It’s a popular therapy amongst the oil-igarchs and their wives, and the carcinogens are overlooked," points out the Telegraph.
Want to take the oily dip? Here are some options:
- So You Wanna Do the Oil Baths? Shani Backstrom shares her experience, along with do-it-yourself tips, in her blog, The Iceberg Mosaics
- Private Tour: 2 Day Baku Tour with World's Unique Crude Oil Spa
- Private Tour: 3 Day Baku Tour with World's Unique Crude Oil Spa and Cooking Class
- Private Tour: 4 day Baku and Shemakha Tour with World's Unique Crude Oil Spa and Azerbaijan Cuisine Cooking Class
A little history:
Archaeological findings in the region date to the 12th century AD. The qualities of Naftalan oil has been known since early times; Marco Polo noted them. The oil in the area was known to people as far as China and India, and was traded by caravans throughout countries of the Near East. Modern use of the oil has dated to the 1870s under Czarist Russia. Oh, the baths have also been featured on The Amazing Race.
Travel tip: Baku is home to the Museum of the Dwarf Book, and the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum.
Bathe Like An Oligarch At Azerbaijan’s Oil Spas - Travel + Leisure
Take a crude bath in Baku - Men's Journal
Crude Oil Spas of Naftalan, Azerbaijan - Amusing Planet
Things to do in Azerbaijan
Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport transportation guide