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Monday, October 7, 2013

Chasing Ghosts of the Ancient: Part 1

Officer at the Georgian border asked us if our tank was full. “It costs twice as much on the other side, you know”. We knew. We were equipped with personal and Google knowledge and maps and guides and GPS. The day 1 of our Turkish adventure, we left Akhaltsikhe behind us and ventured into Anatolia.
We soon learned that visiting every church, castle and ruins makes no sense. Too many of them. So we chose ones of historical significance. The first day we drove all the way up to Kars, looking at the fields of hay, mountains, horses and enjoying the wonderfully paved road.
Based on Pamuk’s “Snow”, we expected to find a town where depressed hotel owners don’t dare to walk the poverty-struck streets and scarf-covered women commit inexplicable suicides; instead, we discovered a cute little town, with its share of comfort.
The city was under Russian siege in late 19th century and thus contains beautiful Russian/Baltic style buildings. As my hubby took out a tripod to take a pic of the governor’s house, secret police materialized and started inquiring about the nature of our pics.  I guess tripod meant spying, since no one minded our picture-taking before. Anyway, we promised to leave governmental buildings alone and resumed circling the old town.
The next morning we toured Kars Kale, a pretty impressive castle, looked over the city and old Armenian church of 10th century, now turned into a mosque. We consumed a breakfast of baklavas and other carb-loaded Turkish yummies, replenished our supply of Turkish tea and drove towards Ani.
Ani was much more impressive than its descriptions. We just stood in amazement in front of the city walls for a while. We had hard time reconciling the ancient city with cows grazing at its gates, local children playing with dogs and our car in the parking lot.
Ani was established in 5th century and by 9th century it was a capital of Armenia.  It was big and prosperous, and according to Wikitravel, was known as City of Forty Gates and the City of a Thousand Churches.
No wander it was attacked by everyone with a functioning army, including our own Queen Tamar, who rebuilt it and made it nice and ready for the never-ending Mongolian attacks. Finally, the area was conquered by Ottomans and now their descendants charge 5 Lira for the entrance.
We walked around almost all day, looking at all the magnificent ruins, breathing in the 10,15,20 century-old sand. As we finally rested on the floor of an ancient church, one of the workers (the complex is being reconstructed) gave us some of his tea. This kind of hospitality followed us everywhere in Anatolia.
We drank tea, found a prehistoric Zoroastrian temple ruins, photographed tourist scribblings made in 1903, marveled and awed and picked up a hitchhiker. Cool and nice-looking (ahem), a teacher from Istambul, he talked about Turkey and we compared our countries. Turns out he just came back from Batumi and showed us a Borjomi bottle in his backpack as a proof. We parted ways - he was going to see some sultan’s castle by the sea. We were headed towards Erzurum. We still had a shitload of ancient churches to behold.
To be continued…

P.S. the pic: Me stomping the ancient ruins

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