urban exploration in sheki, azerbaijan

150501-sheki-abandoned-childrens-hospital-blog-coverphoto-2It wasn’t until I realised that all of those empty bottles never held vodka that I was deep inside a complex that held hundreds of sick children many years ago.

When you realise what something is something else, you see everything differently.


So why the hell am I in this place:

Exterior shot of one of the abandoned buildings in the complex.

instead of this place, which is right next door?

Palace of the Shaki Khans, Sheki Azerbaijan.

Palace of the Shaki Khans, Sheki Azerbaijan.

Because I can’t resist.

One of the benefits of slow travel is finding things you didn’t know you were looking for. It’s worth walking miles with pain and sweat, getting lost and spending time and energy to hit dead ends, all to eventually stumble across places like this. Around the corner from that beautiful palace you see above, I found it: this complex of derelict buildings up the hillside.

150501-sheki-abandoned-childrens-hospital-blog-hospital complex-1

Stepping from the sunshine into the dark and dirty hole of a door is always an experience. From the comfort of the public eye, to sneaking into something that feel private. I never know if it’s a good idea or not until it’s over.



I don’t see anything creepy at first, oddly enough. High ceilings and floors filled with dead leaves, plants growing in windows, like nature is slowly forcing itself indoors. Typically, the only signs of recent human action are related to alcohol.

What does makes an abandoned building creepy is when it’s filled with its former residents’ stuff that’s relatively untouched. And that is rare.

Mummified stacks of yellow paper carpet the floors. Strangely preserved, typed in Russian and beyond my basic level of comprehension.




Trying to decipher the text frustrates me, as I am not sure I know what I’m supposed to feel without knowing what was here. So what was all of this paper? As I look I see more, items with colour and faces and animals, things that look like they’d belong in a school.

And it’s frustrating when evidence is contradicting – I see dates spanning decades. When did they last teach schoolkids here?

This mess of bottles forces you to imagine a lonely drinker’s breath. They must have held vodka, an extraordinary amount of vodka.

These are not booze bottles.

These are not booze bottles.

But I don’t see the bottles, I see people sitting in the dark drinking from them. There was nothing strange except for the sheer quantity, nothing unusual as I’ve seen evidence of vodka in the previous abandoned things I’ve explored in Azerbaijan.

But I look closer at the sparkling pile of glass and then it hit me–these bottles were never meant to hold booze, and this building was never a school.

And it’s those realisations that make an abandoned place unsettling.




It’s strange how once you realise the truth, you see all of the evidence contradicting your earlier beliefs so much more clearly. Now I see all sorts of things popping out vividly that give away the fact that this was not a building of education, but rehabilitation:

And now it’s officially creepy. You can’t help but see everything in a different light.

It’s not a toilet or shower, it’s torture chamber:


It’s not rubble, but gravestones:


And you start seeing faces.


And speaking of light, after spending an hour in this place, wading through records and medical supplies and my brain hurting from thinking of what used to happen to the child patients, I needed to see light, the sky, anything. I hurry to suck in the smell of the freedom of outdoors and the scent of grass. And whilst I walk the grounds, I find one cannot escape the creep factor of this place.

No, I did not find anything creepy on the hospital grounds.

No, I did not find anything creepy on the hospital grounds.

But I cannot part with this experience just yet, and spend some more time walking about, in and out of the building. And the closer I look, I find it’s not rusty equipment and grungy rooms, the place does have some life and beauty to it.

After all…

the view is nice…


it has indoor gardens…


animals graze in the courtyard…


and children have returned.

Children playing on the grounds of an abandoned children's hospital in Sheki, Azerbaijan.

Urban exploration is best experienced in person. And if you’re ever in Azerbaijan (which I really think you should at least once) you can go to Sheki (which I highly recommend) and see this place for yourself. You can find it at 41°12’15” N 47°11’50” E, right next door to the Palace of the Shaki Khans.

What about you? Do you like photographing and exploring abandoned buildings? Please share any stories and photos in the comments section.

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