Turkish Delights, Part I: Kars and Ani
Recently, my colleagues and I returned from a whirlwind trip to Turkey. Eight nights, each at a different hotel, three internal flights and hours of driving, it was an adventure that may not appeal to everyone but I would repeat it in a heart beat. Besides visiting the well known sites such as Ephesus or Pamukkale, we were fortunate enough to have a chance to explore the far corners of Turkey and at one point found ourselves just few yards away from the border with Iran. After the trip, we concluded that Eastern Turkey was the highlight for all of us.
Immediately after our transatlantic flight, we continued to Kars. The three hour Turkish Airlines flight was smooth, food thousand times more delicious than whatever they serve on US domestic flights these days, and with a window seat, I got a sneak peak of the impressive and rugged mountains we were to admire for the next couple days. The airplane made a nice circle around Kars and its Citadel which I guessed must have been purely for our benefit as we were the only plane that was landing there that afternoon.
We were all pretty tired at that point but since time was tight, we had to take advantage of the beautiful weather and decided to go directly to Ani, the ancient capital of Armenia. It’s only recently that this beautiful site opened for tourists, as it used to be within the militarized border zone with the former Soviet Union and now independent Armenia. We were the only visitors which gave us a chance to roam freely within the large territory of mostly still uncovered sites. Of the city, that once was home to up to 200,000 people and was often called the City of Thousand and One Churches, only few partially reconstructed buildings remain today – the Cathedral, few churches, a Mosque, a Citadel and the city walls. It was eerie but beautiful to walk on the grounds of the city knowing that under every heap of soil or hill there was a crumbled house or church more than a thousand years old. Soon enough, our eyes were glued to the ground as we started to notice potsherds and even pieces of frescoed walls. Our guide who used to be an archeologist could not help falling into his old routine turning over a stone every once in a while and very quickly was rewarded by finding a coin! It was fascinating to see him clean it to try and see what is under the layers of dirt.
And this is how it went from Ani on. At every site, after a while of taking in the beauty of the landscape, architecture or statues, we would promptly turn our gaze down to see what piece of history we might find. (All our findings were always handed over to the local museums and that is how it should be!)
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