Journey to Kars

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

.. and lots of other interesting places .
An archaeologist escorts ex-pats and Turks to rarely visited historic
sites in eastern Anatolia

Susanne Fowler

ANI, Turkey

The sun was beating down on the blustery plateau at Ani, the deserted
ancient city on the Turkish side of the Armenian border, as archaeology
professor Geoffrey Summers led an international group of 40 on a tour
of the historic landscape.

The Istanbul Friends of ARIT (American Research Institute in Turkey)
organized the recent trip to Urartian, Armenian and Seljuk sites in
rugged eastern Anatolia. Highlights included a morning hike through
the ruins at Ani, a stop at Akdamar Island on Lake Van and a visit
to the Ishak Pasha Palace in the hills above Dogubeyazit. Our group
departed by air from Istanbul on a Thursday morning and landed in
Van after circling overhead for about 20 minutes because of a storm
passing over the city.

Wasting no time, Summers, a professor of archaeology at Middle East
Technical University in Ankara, introduced the travelers to Urartian
carvings and other artifacts at the Van museum. Then, it was back on
the bus to reach the ruins of an Urartian fortress in Anzaf, north
of Van. The region was part of the kingdom of Urartu almost 3,000
years ago.

After a hearty kebab lunch, the group trudged up slippery rocks to
get a closer look at the Van citadel and the cuneiform inscriptions
on the outer stonewalls of the fortress.

The next day began with stops at an Urartian citadel at CavuĊ~_tepe
and a medieval castle at HoĊ~_ap.

Following a lunch of grilled trout, the group boarded a ferry to
examine carvings on the 10th-century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross
on Akdamar Island in a postcard-like setting on turquoise Lake Van. A
few hearty participants even went swimming off the rocky shore.

Day three saw a scary stroll across a wooden footbridge -- worthy
of an Indiana Jones movie -- to check out the Muradiye waterfalls. A
drive afterward to the windswept Ishak Pasha Palace found it crowded
with holiday weekend visitors.

The drive to Kars offered great views of Mt. Ararat, its peak clearly
visible thanks to minimally cloudy skies.

Our tour wrapped up with a scenic drive through emerald valleys and
rust-colored gorges to Erzurum and onto our way home.

One of the treats of the trip was having access to Summers,
a personable expert. Some of the travelers eventually had their
fill of ruins, however, and adjusted their Sunday schedule to spend
more time wandering around the streets of Kars in search of places
mentioned in Orhan Pamuk's novel "Snow."