Kars

We drove to Kars along the (closed) Turkish/Armenian border. It seems that tensions are not running high at the moment, and although the watch towers and the border fences are there, there is no sign of any military build up. In fact the military movements in this part of Turkey are against the Kurds, rather than the Armenians

We did find some turkeys in Turkey

Kars has little to offer, but Ani, well that is another tale. It was particularly illuminating as we had not been expecting anything remarkable here. There is a certain ennui among travellers that you have seen it all, and one more ancient city in ruins, so what? To me Ani was one of the great sites of the world and the memory of Ani and its fading frescoes will stay with me for a very long time. .

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Kars

Kars, with a population of 75,000, is the largest city on the Turkish side of the border with Armenia . For a brief period of time, it served as the capital of the medieval Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia. Its significance increased in the 19th century, when Kars was contested between the Ottoman and Russian empires, with the Russians gaining control of the city as a result of the 1877-78 war. During World War I, the Ottomans took back control of the city in 1918, but were forced to relinquish it to the First Republic of Armenia following the Armistice of Mudros. During the Turkish–Armenian War in late 1920, Turkish revolutionaries captured Kars for the last time. The controversial Treaty of Kars was signed in 1921 between the Government of the Grand National Assembly and the Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, which established the current north-eastern boundaries of Turkey.

Below the castle is an Armenian church. Built in the 930s, it contains bas-relief depictions of twelve figures, usually interpreted as representing the Twelve Apostles. The dome has a conical roof. The church was converted to a mosque in 1579, and then converted into a Russian Orthodox church in the 1880s.. The church was used as a warehouse from the 1930s, and it housed a small museum from 1963 until the late 1970s. Then the building was left to itself for about two decades, until it was converted into a mosque in 1993. In the same district of Kars are two other ruined Armenian churches.

It was a bitterly cold day when we arrived in Kars. We did not know it, but the morrow would bring snow. Our walk round the town was cut short because it was so cold, and we were not dressed for it. Few tourists go to Kars, and the majority of the shops seem to sell "Cheese and Honey", I assume wholesale, as the locals could not physically eat the amount of cheese and honey

We did see the local museum which had little to note, except a curious pornographic decoration. The boys settled for a cup of coffee.

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Ani

Readers will have to bear with me as I go to town on detailing the delights of ANi

The ruined city of Ani is about a 45 minute drive from Kars, and is well worth the drive. In fact it would be worth detouring to the area just to see Ani. We arrived at Ani in the snow, and it was hauntingly beautiful. It is a vast site: it was a vast city. Today only perhaps 10 building have been restored or survive. But these are the buildings you come to see. Because it is right on the Armenian border, the river running past the city is the border, few tourists come here. Because the area is Kurdish, the Turkish Government spends little money on maintaining or preserving the buildings. The experience is what it must have been like for Victorian travellers to come across unknown sites a century ago. The tragedy is that many of the building and their frescos are fading away. You need to visit before it all fades away.

Ani is a ruined medieval Armenian city now situated in the Turkish province of Kars and next to the closed border with Armenia. Between 961 and 1045, it was the capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom that covered much of present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey. Called the "City of 1001 Churches", Ani stood on the Silk Road (you can see where the caravans used to cross the river) and its many religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications were amongst the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world. At its height, the population of Ani probably was about 100,000.

In 1064, a large Seljuk army under Alp Arslan attacked Ani; after a siege of 25 days, they captured the city and slaughtered its population. In 1072, the Seljuks sold Ani to the Shaddadids, a Muslim Kurdish dynasty. It then went back and forth between the Georgians and the Shaddidids until it was sacked by the Mongols in 1236 and devastated in a 1319 earthquake, after which it was reduced to a village and gradually abandoned and largely forgotten by the seventeenth century when the last monks left.

In 1878, the Ottoman Empire's Kars region—including Ani—was incorporated into the Russian Empire's Transcaucasian region. In 1892 the first archaeological excavations were conducted at Ani, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The man in charge Was Nicholas Marr, the son of a Scottish father and an Georgian mother. The excavations at Ani resumed in 1904 and continued yearly until 1917. Large sectors of the city were professionally excavated, numerous buildings were uncovered and measured, the finds were studied and published in academic journals, guidebooks for the monuments and the museum were written. Emergency repairs were also undertaken on those buildings that were most at risk of collapse. A museum was established to house the tens of thousands of items found during the excavations. This museum was housed in the Minuchihr mosque.

The site was effectively abandoned in 1921 when Turkey regained control of the area. In an October 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, Global Heritage Fund identified Ani as one of 12 worldwide sites most "On the Verge" of irreparable loss and destruction, citing insufficient management and looting as primary causes. The World Monuments Fund (WMF) placed Ani on its 1996, 1998, and 2000 Watch Lists of 100 Most Endangered Sites. In May 2011, WMF announced it was beginning conservation work on the cathedral and Church of the Holy Redeemer in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

There are large numbers of rock-cut chambers to be found throughout the cliffs that surround Ani. The caves were used even before Ani existed. Some of them were still being lived in at the start of the 20th century, and many are still used for storage purposes or as pens for cows or sheep. They are clearly visible on the slopes opposite Ani

In March 2015, it was reported that Turkey would nominate Ani to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archaeological site of Ani was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 15, 2016.

All the structures at Ani are constructed using the local volcanic basalt, a sort of tufa stone. It is easily carved and comes in a variety of vibrant colours, from creamy yellow, to rose-red, to jet black. The most important surviving monuments are as follows.

The Cathedral

 

The church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents

 

The church of the Holy Redeemer

 

The church of St Gregory of the Abughamrents

 

King Gagik's church of St Gregory

 

The church of the Holy Apostles

The mosque of Manuchihr.

 

The citadel

 

The City Walls

 

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Grand Ani Hotel

Kars is not the sort of place that many tourists come to. However this hotel was more than adequate for our two night stay - 2 nights as we needed to see Ani while going westwards across Turkey from Iran. and Ani is well worth a visit You can easily walk into town centre from the hotel, it being a 10 to 15 minute walk. The room we stayed in, overlooking a square to the side of the building was bright and modern as in the management. I did not get the sort of negative feelings that some reviewers have in the past, so I assume that there has been an amount of refurbishment going on. The reception desk and the breakfast were "average", which in this part of Turkey means they were better than I might have expected. The small lift - it takes one person plus luggage - was a bit of a pain, as it meant either taking to the stairs with your suitcase, or waiting a long time for the lift to get to you. So overall I felt that it is a reasonable choice for a 2 night stay in Kars

It was an unexpected surprise the next morning to look out of our hotel window and see the streets covered in snow

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So now westwards to Erzerum

On to next town - Erzerum

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016