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Beach Break by Bodrum

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sunset view from Yalikavak harbor

Come to Yalikavak, Turkey!

We went because I was desperately seeking sunshine and found a great price for a nice hotel on jetsetter.com and a cheap flight on Pegasus, one of Turkey’s budget airlines.  I also thought a day trip to Bodrum’s Underwater Archaeology Museum might help inspire me to work on my thesis (about technology in the Ottoman Navy), but forgot that most museums are closed on Mondays, which is the day we planned to go.  So, instead, we did almost nothing while soaking up sunshine and admiring the view.

When we arrived it was raining and a bit cloudy, but since we both had plenty of work to do, we just worked from inside while watching the light on the water.

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view from Avantgarde’s lawn area

On day two it was a bit cloudy but warm enough to sink our toes in the sand, so we worked from the beach chairs.

We managed to walk into the harbor town of Yalikavak every night for dinner and entertainment.  Thanks to the random stores, we had beautiful sunsets. Some views from the walk:

On our last night, we stopped at Miner Cafe, mostly because there were other people around and it’s kind of weird to be the only people at a restaurant in the off season.  The guy who pulled us in turned out to be the keyboardist for the jazz band playing that night.  We also met the clarinet player, an English guy who came to Bodrum with his partner 12 years ago and could never find his way out the village.  He used to play all over the world with the English orchestras, and even with Count Basie in NYC back when the band had to enter Capitol Studios from the backdoor!  Along with the jokes and the stories, the band could definitely play!  When they found out Todd was from San Francisco, they all started in on how now he had to sing Hotel California with the band.  So he did, like a total rock star! (that’s him in the back right corner)

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Every night we admired the building below, but couldn’t quite make the walk there after dinner and drinks each night, so we settled on just trying to capture it digitally.  Unfortunately we didn’t quite get it, but did meet some interesting people who tried to help us.  This, our best shot, was taken while using a random passerby’s jacket, Todd’s wallet, and the lens cap as tripod and stability devices.

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Ani: The Abandoned Capital of Armenia (Part II of the Quick Trip to Turkey’s Eastern Frontier)

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the east facing gate and walls of Ani

Ani, an abandoned Armenian city, sits right on Turkey’s border with Armenia.  In the land negotiations following World War I, the site was ceded to Turkey.  Since then, disputes over Ani have involved claims of neglect, mismanagement, and looting as well as a quarry on the Armenian side destroying the surrounding earth.  Of course, the most obviously visible forms of destruction at Ani are due to nature: earthquakes, lightning, and the passage of time.

 

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Until recently, due to Ani’s location right on the border, you had to get a permit to visit the site, and photos were prohibited. Thankfully, these conditions have been relaxed and now we can all enjoy it simply by paying an entrance fee or flashing a museum pass.  Of course, you have to get to Eastern Turkey, but I’ll leave that to you guys!

The city’s heyday was from the mid tenth to eleventh centuries, and it was known as the land of 1001 churches.  Basically, churches are what survives today, although some have been converted to mosques.  Although the churches were originally Armenian, some were Georgian-ized after Georgia occupied the area or Islamized after Muslims came to town.

The first church we visited, the Church of the Holy Redeemer, is an example of nature’s tolls on buildings.  It was struck by lightning in a storm in 1955 and now only half remains.

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Church of the Holy Redeemer

Because we were with ARIT, we were allowed into the fenced off area where archaeologists are reinforcing the structure and organizing its half-ruins.  Also, we got to climb the scaffolding, which was pretty cool!  It was built in the 1000s to house a part of the true cross that a merchant had bought in Constantinople, as the inscription says, and was probably used as a pilgrimage point.  Interesting carvings and frescoes are somewhat visible today.

Before you get bored with all of the churches, I have to talk about the amazing scenery of Ani.  It’s set in the steppe of the Kaskar mountains and is bordered by the Akhurian River with a view of Mount Aragats (in Armenia) from the whole site.  Rain threatened the whole time we were there, and we ended up taking refuge in an old palace when the dust storms and hail started.  Still, the changes of light provided by the incoming storm made the area endlessly watchable.

the beautiful valley of the Akhurian River, separating Armenia and Turkey

cave houses on the outskirts on Ani

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the Akhurian River Valley forms the Turkish-Armenian border

Rain on the east side of Ani

Rain on the east side of Ani

So, back to the churches.  Our next stop was the Church of St. Gregory, built by the wealthy merchant Tigren Honents.

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Tigren Honent’s Church of St. Gregory

It was built and decorated in the Georgian style, which means FULL of decoration.  Check out these close-ups to get an idea:

The biggest silhouette in Ani’s landscape is the cathedral.  It was probably completed in 1001.  Today, it’s a hulking ruin with a collapsed dome and some really fun crows who like to chase incoming swallows.

My favorite ruin was a palace in Armenian times and a mosque in Arab times, depending on the nationality of who you ask.  On entering the building, beautiful river valley views are framed in tall decorated windows – it’s breathtaking!  It was also pretty handy refuge when the storms passed through.

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Architecturally, the most interesting place was the caravansaray.  As usual, the building’s purpose is under debate, and our historian believes that it was actually just a meeting house or gathering place.  The ceiling is impressive.  Although it looks like mosaic tiles, it’s actually stones cut to fit into intricate designs.

At this point the rain and wind really picked up, and my partner left his raincoat on the bus, so we left the site.  I’ll leave you with a few more views of the area surrounding Ani:

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If you’re interested in learning more about Ani, or taking a virtual tour (of sorts), I recommend this page: http://www.virtualani.org/kars/index.htm

A Quick Trip to Turkey’s Far Eastern Frontier – First Stop: Kars

Kars threatened by a storm

Kars threatened by a storm

This weekend I joined my archaeological group, American Friends of Research in Turkey (ARIT) for another amazing trip.  We went to visit Kars and Ari, two former Armenian capitals on the Turkish-Armenian border.  Since I’m planning for an Eastern Turkey road trip next month, it was an excellent introduction to Turkey’s frontier.

To get an idea of the area, we started reading Kar (Snow), a novel by Turkey’s Nobel Laureate in literature, Orhan Pamuk, which takes place in the town of Kars, the first stop on the trip.  Although I never managed to finish any of his other books, we both got really into this one (although we still haven’t finished it).  Along with an intriguing story, the novel provides a lot of information about the city and the political changes and history of Eastern Turkey.  Most of the Turks I know are not fans of the author, and both blame him for giving Kars a bad name and cite his book as a reason not to visit.

Here’s a quick list of the civilizations that controlled the Kars area over time: Urartians, Cimmerians, Scythians, Arsaks, Huns, Sasanids, Arabs, Armenian Bagratids, Byzantines, Seljuks, Georgians, Mongolians, Timurids, Karakoyunlus, Akkoyunlus, Afsar Turks, Ottomans, and Russians.  It’s a long and complicated list, and all of the dates of occupations, conquests, and administrations are still unclear.  The lasting ruins buildings are mostly from the Bagratid period and after, but the town’s current architecture is mostly 19th century Russian and Balkan.  Kars is unique for a Turkish town in that it’s on a planned grid (thanks to the Russian era) with sidewalks.  Even though the town is currently in Turkey, I immediately sensed the unfamiliar feeling of organization!

We started with a visit to some of Kars’s renovated buildings, a movement that has only recently started.  The town is built mostly of basalt and other light-absorbing materials, which give it a somewhat grim and gloomy appearance, especially during the long winters.  We were there on a sunny day, however, and I enjoyed the downtown area.  Here are a few pictures from the streets:

Later we visited some of the historical ruins, to include the Armenian Church of the Holy Apostles, built in the early 900s A.D. by the Bagradit King Abbas.  It’s currently used as the Kumbet mosque but retains it’s original church character.   The church’s name comes from the 12 apostles engraved on its upper dome.

Even though we probably could have walked up the hill to the medieval castle in 10 minutes or so, our group chose to circle the whole complex on the bus.  The road was challenging and our driver had to stop several times to get directions, and then other times to reposition the bus on the turns of the single lane tight cobblestone switchbacks.  Most of us walked back down!  Fear aside, it was a beautiful drive.

The castle was originally built by the Saltaks in 1153, destroyed by the Mongols, rebuilt by the Ottomans, and then used by the various civilizations over the years.  The current structure dates back to the 1500s and is in decent shape.  It also provides a great overlook of Kars and the surrounding area.

Finally, Kars is now famous for it’s cheese and honey.  We stopped at a local store in town and stocked up.

As more evidence of how diverse Kars’s roots are, Catherine the Great once had a hunting lodge outside of town.  The structure still exists, but it’s not open for visits.

Catherine the Great's southern hunting lodge

Catherine the Great’s southern hunting lodge

 

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