Sumgait is the perfect example of a city resulting from the enormous industrial development effort unchained by Stalin. Until the 40s there was only village with 4000 souls. Re-founded in 1944 as an industrial centre to support Soviet engagement in World War II, it quickly became a major site for chemical and metallurgical industries, benefiting from the local availability of oil and gas.
The city is a major steel producer, accounting for about 40 percent of the steel produced in the Caucasus region. An aluminium plant was built in the 50s, but Azerbaijan needs to import bauxite. Because of the large deposits of salts nearby and the availability of cheap hydroelectricity, Sumgait is a major producer of caustic soda. Factories based in Sumgait also produce synthetic rubber, fertilizers, detergents, and petrochemicals.
Recently the city has become a free economic zone, in order to obtain much needed foreign investment.
With such a vast industrial portfolio, Sumgait is a fine example of a grim, Soviet-style industrial city. It's worth seeing if only to grasp the staggering damage to the environment wreaked by the Soviet authorities. The impact on the health of the population was also dramatic and once Sumgait held records for infant mortality (a visit to the children's cemetery will illustrate this dramatically). The presence of oncologycal and psychiatric hospitals also say something about the place. This hasn't helped the city's reputation: in 2007 the US-based independent environmental group "Blacksmith Institute's" included Sumgait in the list of ten 'most polluted places' in the world.
On top of man's damage, nature also takes
its toll, as the city is in a seismic zone. In November 2000 Sumgait was
shaken by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in causing some material damage and
a handfull of fatalities.
Most visitors go to Sumgait only because it's on the way to Quba from Baku (take the M-29 road) but you can spend a while at the 'Sumgayit City History Museum', Dostlug Street, 4th microdistrict
Anyway, if you are there the seaside areas can be quite pleasant. Walk on the beautiful seaside boulevard, rest on the beach, have a drink, but try stay out of the water...
Industrial development brought also the need for a local education infrastructure, and today Sumgait is the place of the Oil and Chemistry College, the Chemistry and Automation college, the University of Organic Synthesis, a medical school and even has a musical college.
If you are staying in the evening there a few nice cafés and some restaurants. If you enjoy the occasional play, try the Arablinski Drama Theatre (21 Azerbaijan street, tel. 59121). There is a stadium named after Huseinzade and a palace for winter sports, both located on Samed Vurgun street.
However, even an industrial city can have behind it a romantic legend. Sumgaitians will tell you about the origin of the name of the Sumgait river and therefore the name of the town itself. In the legend, the hero by the name of Sum is chosen by his community to fight a monster that was blocking the river. Sum eventually accomplishes his mission, but when the river is released he is swept by the waters and never seen again. After that, his beloved, Jeyran, inconsolable by Sum's disappearance, would go to the river and cry "Sum Gayid!" (Sum, return!). So the river became known as Sumgait.
Sumgait became notorious in the recent history of Azerbaijan, as on February 29, 1988, Sumgait was the scene of killings against ethnic Armenians that set off a series of killings involving Azeris and ethnic Armenians. The events surrounding the Sumgait attack and a massacre of Azeris by Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh village of Khojaly (four years later) remain hotly debated and help deepen the rift between the two countries.
Just outside of Sumgait, to the east, you'll find Novkhana, with a salt lake nearby and the excellent beach at Adsyz cape. South of Novkhana lies Sarai, an old village with an interesting ancient mosque.
In contrast with the environmental wasteland in Sumgait, to the east of the city, at the tip of the Apsheron peninsula you'll find a small nature reserve, known as Shakhov Bank.
From Baku you can reach Sumgait by buses or mini-buses that depart from Baku's 20th January metro station.
(40 km northwest of Baku)
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