Chloe Dewe Mathews (UK): Caspian
Languishing quietly between two great continents, the Caspian is the world’s largest inland sea. In 2010 I travelled to its edge, to the point where Asia dissolves into Europe. For centuries, surrounding powers have laid claim to the region; first the Ottomans, the Persians, the Mongols and most recently Soviet Russia. These Empires have ebbed and flowed, each one leaving its mark on this enigmatic landscape.
In the 10th Century, oil was discovered on the Caspian coast near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and has been exploited ever since. The boom of the late 90’s brought the current wave of prosperity to the area. However, Caspian crude oil is not only used conventionally as fuel: since long before mechanized extraction it has provided a curious health treatment.
In the “spa town” of Naftalan people gather to bathe in the chocolate-brown goo, which is purported to have therapeutic properties. Here, a substance normally associated with power, wealth and global trade is used for healing and wellbeing. They call it the ‘miracle oil’ and it has been bathed in for centuries.
As the Caspian oil industry continues to grow, the distribution of wealth is increasingly skewed. Migrants trickle toward the port city of Aktau, in Kazakhstan, finding work constructing elaborate mausoleums for the new oil rich middle class. I spent days camping among the workers, … read more