People have been temporarily living on oil platforms ever since they were created, in the early 20th century, but Neft Dashlari, a giant oil platform complex in the Caspian Sea, roughly 40 miles east of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, serves as a permanent residence to around 1,000 souls. Known as the largest and oldest offshore city in the world, the Soviet-era structure was built in 1949, after engineers found vast resources of oil in the region, thousands of feet beneath the sea floor.
The original foundation consisted of pillars mounted on seven sunken ships, including Zoraster, the world’s first oil tanker. The poles were erected around a central hub, a 17,300-acre artificial island where the main oil wells were located. Between 1952 and 1958, the city grew in size to include 2,000 drilling platforms, joined by a 300-kilometer network of bridge viaducts, spread in a 30-kilometer circle.
In its heydays, Neft Dahslari (Oil Rocks), was equipped to accommodate a population of 5,000. It included all the amenities of a modern city – eight-story apartment buildings, a 300-seat cinema hall, bathhouse, soccer pitch, bakery, library, beverage factory, laundry, vegetable garden, and even a tree-lined park made of soil brought from the mainland. People actually grow fruits and vegetables in their own private gardens. It might not sound very different than most human settlements, but we’re talking about a marine oil platform 55 kilometers from the nearest shore.
Sadly, the city is no longer as glorious as it once was. Two factors contributed to its decline – the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the discovery of new oilfields elsewhere. The workforce was drastically reduced, leaving behind a population of less than half the original number.
Several oil rigs were abandoned, and with no one around to maintain the structures, many of them collapsed into the sea. Those still standing are in rough shape and in desperate need of repairs. Only 45 of the 300 kilometers of roads are currently usable, and population was last counted at 933. However, this figure does not include the 2-to-5 000 people who work in Neft Dashlari at any given time on weekly and bi-weekly shifts.
According to a news report in the German magazine Der Spiegel, “A worker on Neft Dashlari still earns some $130 a month, twice as much as someone employed in the same job on the mainland. But the plant hasn’t been operating efficiently for years. Submerged steel constructions pose a threat to shipping, oil leaks abound and equipment is falling apart.”
Despite this, the government of Azerbaijan is reluctant to completely shut down the creaky antique colony. It stands as a testament to better, greater times and continues to be maintained as a source of national pride and a closely-guarded secret. In fact, according to Amusing Planet, it’s quite difficult for foreigners to gain access to Neft Dashlari, and you can’t even zoom into it on Google Maps. A complete aerial view of the city is not available in most satellite imagery, either.