Sunday, 25 November 2012

Britain's favourite dictatorship had so much oil its heiresses bathe in it... but beneath the fabulous wealth of Azerbaijan lurks very murky secrets.

Cleopatra, queen of ancient Egypt, bathed in asses’ milk for the good of her complexion, but here in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, an even more surprising treatment is on offer. Disrobing from their Gucci or Oscar de la Renta outfits, the ladies who lunch lie naked in baths of crude oil, believing, as did Marco Polo, that the warming effects of 40C crude cure skin diseases, rheumatism, arthritis and even ‘nerves’.

Medical science says that, beyond ten minutes, the effects are more likely to be carcinogenic.

Oil is everywhere in Baku, even the spas. It is in the sharp, acrid taste of the wind blowing in from the Caspian and in the army of derricks marching far out to sea. Solidified into glass and concrete, it is changing everything in this ancient town once known for dusty streets and traditional carpets, creating instead a city of staggering ostentation.

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