Sprawled out along the edges of European civilization lies one of the great natural wonders of the world; the Caspian Sea. The largest inland lake in the world, the vast, enigmatic Caspian Sea has long captured the imagination of mankind and has been the birthplace of legends, myths, and numerous mysteries for thousands of years. The ancient Assyrians believed that the lake was from whence the sun rose and set, and the legends of numerous ancient civilizations of the region have been influenced and shaped by this mysterious body of water. Beyond the ancient myths and legends are very real mysteries that have endured through to the modern day, and the lake is pervaded by enigmas both natural and otherworldly. Let us take a tour of the strange wonders of the Caspian Sea.
The Caspian Sea is truly a remarkable sight to behold. At 1,200 km (745 miles) long, 320 km (210 miles) wide, and with a surface area of approximately 371,000 km2 (143,200 sq mi), it is the largest completely enclosed body of water on Earth. Its waters are slightly saline, around one third of the salinity of seawater on average. The Caspian’s shoreline passes along Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan, through terrain as varied as the rugged mountains of the Great Caucasus of Azerbaijan to the west, and the Turkmen and scorched Kazakh deserts to the east. The Caspian is divided into three distinct physical regions, the Northern, Middle, and Southern Caspian, each with its own unique characteristics. The Northern Caspian is the shallowest, comprising the Caspian shelf and reaching average depths of a mere 5–6 metres (16–20 ft). The Middle Caspian gets deeper, at an average of around 190 metres (620 ft), and the Southern Caspian drops off considerably into truly epic oceanic depths of over 1,000 metres (3,300 ft).
This depth variation has contributed to thriving, diverse ecosystems and abundant aquatic life, including valuable fisheries of sturgeon, salmon, perch, herring, and carp, as well as other types of marine life such as porpoises and seals. This biological diversity has also made the Caspian an attractive settlement area for humankind since ancient times. The lake served as a great provider of food, salt, and oil for peoples throughout history, as well as serving as a convenient alternative mode of transportation to perilous overland routes. The Caspian’s rich wealth of resources gave rise to prosperous civilizations and great economies, with many different cultures sharing the region, trading, sharing, and indeed sometimes going to war with each other. However, there is also a great wealth of mysteries here, spanning everything from mysterious creatures, to UFOs, to lost civilizations and treasures.
It seems that among all of the fish and other aquatic organisms that live here, the Caspian Sea is home to something else as well. For years, residents along the southern and southwestern shores of the sea have reported seeing some sort of amphibious creature that somewhat resembles a human being. The mystery beast is described as being around 165 cm in length, with a large mouth that flows smoothly into the neck without a chin, and large, elliptical eyes set into an earless head topped with black and green hair. The webbed hands are equipped with formidable looking claws, and the nose is said to somewhat resemble the beak of a dolphin. It has a solid build, with a protruding stomach and short, heavy arms and legs. Iranians have long known of such a creature, calling it Runan-shah, or “the master of the sea and rivers,” in part because it is said to often be accompanied by large shoals of fish, as well as due to its purported ability to turn water crystal clear simply by swimming through it. It is said that fish can sense when the creature is near, and fresh catches have been known to produce gurgling noises shortly before it makes an appearance. The thing is said to be seen both in the water and on shore.
A fairly high profile sighting of the mysterious marine humanoid was made by the crew aboard the Azeri trawler Baku, in March of 2005. According to the captain of the vessel, Gafar Gasanof, the creature was first seen swimming parallel to the ship for quite some time. The captain told the Iranian newspaper Zindagi that they had first taken it to be just some sort of large fish that is until they noticed that the fins looked somewhat off, and that it sported hair on its head. It was at that point that they made the shocking discovery that the thing had humanoid arms topped with webbed hands. Shortly after, the thing dove down into the depths out of sight. In their homeland of Azerbaijan, the crew were ridiculed for the story, but the Iranians, with their long tradition of similar creatures in the sea, believed them. The newspaper was subsequently deluged with people coming forward with similar reports of their own. Interestingly, reports of these creatures intensified in correspondence to an increase in offshore drilling in the region, as well as increased seabed volcanic activity in the Babolsera area.
Amphibious humanoid creatures are not the only strange creatures said to inhabit the depths of the Caspian Sea. There have been reports of some sort of large, predatory fish prowling the waters as well. In 1998, a fish poacher by the name of Samed Jafarov came forward with a story of a some sort of shark-like creature that terrorized him and his companion. The man was out spearfishing with a friend near a place called Fort Shevchenko, when they spotted a massive sturgeon that they set their sights on. At that moment, a huge, torpedo shaped fish rushed out from the depths that they at first took to be a shark. The man reportedly shot a spear into the thing’s head, but it was unfazed, and proceeded to latch onto his legs with fierce jaws. With this weird, giant fish latched onto his legs, the man made his way towards the surface, where crew aboard the boat managed to pull him aboard. He was rushed to a hospital where he received a blood transfusion and had his leg amputated below the knee. When asked about what his mysterious aggressor might be, he was inclined to think it was a shark. Are there sharks in the Caspian Sea? According to common knowledge, no. The true culprit remains unknown.
What other mysteries lurk under the waves of the Caspian Sea? It just so happens that the area is rife with purported lost cities. The region has long been the stage on which ancient civilizations and cities have mysteriously disappeared. Off the coast of Northern Dagestan lies the capital of what was called Khazar Khaganat, the fabled city of Itihl. This city flourished from the 9th to 12th centuries AD, and then simply vanished without a trace. Further south, we can find the city of Derbent, which sported massive walls that extended up to 300 meters out to sea, and were said to be crafted by the hands of giants. The purpose of such walls, and indeed how they were made in the first place, has remained a mystery.
Along the coast of Azerbaijan, in the Bay of Baku, lies a castle known as Sabayil Castle, also called Bayil Castle or Bayil Rocks, which was originally built in the early 13th century on a small island around 300 meters offshore and now lies completely submerged in water. This castle has been a part of Azerbaijani legends and folklore for centuries. It is a 180 x 40 meter structure from around the 13th century with a trapezoidal shape and sturdy outer walls that were up to 2 meters thick, suggesting it may have been a defensive structure. Additionally, there were semi circular towers surrounding the castle of indeterminate purpose, but no one really knows just who built the castle or for what reasons.
There are many stories surrounding the mysterious structure. One is that Alexander the Great wanted to conquer a city with a magnificent castle on the banks of the Caspian Sea, but the people steadfastly refused to yield. Alexander the Great asked advice from his teacher, Aristotle, who pointed out that the city was located below sea level, and with only a single large stone preventing water from inundating it. A special liquid was designed to dissolve the rock, and it is said the water came bursting in to inundate the city and its castle. Another legend suggests that there was an enormous earthquake in 1306 which rose the sea level and buried the castle underwater. Yet another idea lies within the name of the castle itself, “Sabayil.” There was once said to be a tribe of people in a land called Saba, which is mentioned in the Koran. It is said that the people of this land worshiped the sun, and for this disobedience to the one true God, they were punished by having their land submerged by the sea.
Archeologists have determined that the castle once had nine rooms, two of them with hearths. An inscription places the date of construction at 1234-1235. Among the ruins were also found fragments of some sort of pottery, which was probably used for cooking, as well as pieces of pipes which are surmised to have possibly been water pipes. Within one room was found an ancient coin which was minted during the rule of Shirvanshah Fariburz III, in the first part of the 13th century, as well as various other copper coins, some of them inscribed with the names Fariburz bin Garsasb and Xassif An-Nasir, who were the Sirvanshahs, or muslim rulers of ancient Azerbaijan, from 1180 to 1225. A bizarre feature of the castle ruins is that they are surrounded by nearly 700 large stone panels bearing Persian and Arabic script carved right into the rock, as well as decorations and various images of animals such as oxen, dogs, camels, numerous mythical creatures, even human faces and a life-sized depiction of a warrior atop a horse. Additionally, there are genealogies of various Sirvanshahs written in stone, and it is thought that many of the carved animals symbolize these powerful ancient rulers. All of the carvings are meticulously done, obviously crafted by skilled hands. There is some evidence to show that there were once life-sized stone sculptures of animals such as horses and lions on the premises as well.
As to the purpose the castle may have served, it is mostly thought to have been some sort of defensive structure, due to the towers and unusually thick outer walls, although to defend from whom or what remains a mystery. Some have suggested that it may have been some sort of fire worshipping temple used by the Zoroastrians, a customs office, a monastery, or even a stop off point for land caravans, or caravanserai. However, for all of the theories, to this day, it is a complete mystery as to who built the castle, for what purpose, or why is has sunk beneath the waves. The Institute of History at the Academy of Science spent 30 years from 1939 to 1969 studying the underwater castle yet even after extensive research were unable to ascertain the answers to these questions, and so Sabayil castle remains a complete enigma. In modern times, the castle has seen a lot of wear from the elements and the fact that it has been submerged for centuries, so only its foundation remains, and although some have been brought up for study, many of the large, inscribed stones remain at the bottom of the Caspian. Due to the dramatic fluctuations in sea level of the Caspian Sea over the centuries, sometimes as much as 7 meters, a large number of mysterious ruins of structures and even entire settlements have been lost beneath the waves, and these submerged ruins have become a magnetic for undersea archeology.
The Caspian Sea holds mysteries not only in its depths, but also in the skies above. There have long been reports of mysterious lights in the skies here, and the region is the origin of one of the more interesting UFO encounters in recent years. On August 28, 1991, at around 5 PM, an enormous unidentified object that measured an estimated 600 meters long and 110 meters in diameter suddenly appeared over the Caspian Sea. The object was picked up on a Russian radar tracking station positioned on the Mangyshlak peninsula, which tracked it at an altitude of 21,000 feet and moving at a speed of around 960 miles per hour. The Russian military was perhaps understandably alarmed, and sent four MIG-29 fighter jets on aggressive orders to engage the mysterious craft and get it to land. If the craft refused to land, the pilots had been instructed to shoot it out of the sky.
Upon approaching the unidentified object, it soon became obvious that it was not any type of known aircraft. Pilots described it as being a massive, elongated object that was shiny metallic grey in color, and it was also noticed that there were strange green symbols written on the outside of the craft that were not in any recognizable language. Attempts were made to make radio contact with the object, but when these were ignored, the fighters were ordered to open fire. As soon as they fired a warning shot at the craft, all of the instrumentation related to the weaponry and other electrical systems allegedly malfunctioned, forcing two of the MIGs to return to base immediately. It was reported that as these pilots left the area, all systems returned to normal and they regained control of their jets. The remaining MIGs continued to attempt to fire upon the mysterious craft, but they too soon lost most control of their planes and were also ordered back to base as the gigantic UFO continued unhindered. Meanwhile, the tracking station on the ground was maintaining radar contact with the object and noted that it assumed a zigzag course, and that its speed began to increase dramatically until 45 minutes later it suddenly vanished from the radar.
The story would only get more bizarre from there. About a month later, at the end of September, local rumors began to spread of an enormous object that had crashed into the Tien Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, on Russia’s border with China, in a craggy, rocky gorge called Shaitan Mazar, which roughly translates to “Grave of the Devil.” The rumors claimed that those who had stumbled upon the crash site had experienced burns on their bodies and their watches had gone haywire. A local expedition of skilled mountaineers, joined by the Russian UFO group, SAKKUFON, was mounted to try and locate the downed object, but weather conditions eventually caused them to turn back after weeks of turning up no sign of the crash. The region’s poor weather also caused the deadly crash of a Russian Air Force helicopter that was tasked with finding it.
When the Russian Air Force allegedly finally found the crashed object after weather conditions cleared up, it was reported that members of the expedition experienced severe anxiety and feelings of horrific dread when approaching to around 1,000 meters from the site. At a distance of around 800 meters, all members were beset by a profound state of physical fatigue and potent nausea to the point that some people collapsed where they stood or were unable to go any further. At around 600 meters from the crash, all watches, cameras, and other electrical equipment either malfunctioned or stopped altogether, with videotaped footage being completely erased. Anyone who soldiered on and made it to around 500 meters of the craft reportedly began to display nasty radiation burns, and this was about as close as anyone was willing to get. All attempts to fly over the object also failed, as whatever energy field it was emitting also caused any aircraft in the vicinity to lose control of their electrical systems. In one case, yet another helicopter is said to have crashed and killed all aboard after attempting to remove a piece of the craft’s debris from the snow. It is currently unknown what became of the crash site and alleged mysterious craft after this, and if the Russian Air Force has any knowledge of it they’re not sharing it.
The Caspian Sea is clearly a place of wonders, both natural and historical. However it is also possessed of its share of mysteries as well. From bizarre monsters of the deep, to ancient mysteries, underwater castles, and UFOS, this is a place as full of enigmas as it is legends, myths and history. What is there to be found here at the Caspian Sea, around it, under it, and over its waves? Whatever the answer to this question may turn out to be, the Caspian Sea will likely continue to capture the imagination of mankind far into the future, as it has done for countless generations of centuries past.