Eastern Turkey is filled with little-known gems and must see destinations. As a first time traveller to Turkey, I had only heard about the famous tourist destinations like Antalya, Ephesus, Cappadocia, and Istanbul. It never occurred to me that Turkey would be filled with incredible destinations all around the country. Now that I think about it, it makes sense that Eastern Turkey would have just as much history as Western Turkey.
Kars is a province in North Eastern Turkey. The main city of Kars is relatively small, but it has its own unique charm. Kars is located right next to the Turkish border with Armenia. It was the capital of an Amrenian state in the 10th century before being captured by Seljuks, Mongols, and Ottomans. Later, it was captured by Russia and not returned to Turkey again until 1918 (https://www.britannica.com/place/Kars). Kars is a fascinating city to visit because the architecture reflects the unique history of the city. Driving into Kars, I was confronted with majestic mountains and a quaint city below. While winding down the mountain to the brick streets below, I was able to get a taste for the unique story of Kars. Overlooking the city sits a castle and fortress. This citadel has kept a watchful eye on Kars for five hundred years. Below the fortress sits an Armenian church turned mosque. Brick streets guide visitors past unique Russian architecture and a plethora of local coffee shops and restaurants.
Our trip to Kars was only one night, which ended up being just enough time to enjoy the night in Kars and spend an afternoon in Ani. Spending the night in Kars was a delightful cultural experience. Silkroad Moments arranged for us to stay in the charming Hotel Katerina Sarayi which sits directly under the citadel on the Kars River. The Katerina is a charming hotel that gives guests an intimate and relaxing atmosphere. It is situated in between the mountain and river, which offers a relaxing seclusion from the bustle of city life. Though small, I was delighted to take in all of the cultural beauty of the Katerina. After enjoying a meal of local goose in the garden, we were invited to stay outside to enjoy the live music and bonfire. With complimentary tea in hand, we were immersed into local culture with lively music and welcoming people. I enjoyed this particular experience because the hotel staff were friendly and accommodating. We were able to get to know the other guests and enjoy the natural beauty of the mountain and river. Anytime I travel, I try to seek out any unique cultural experiences like food and music. I was able to experience all of this at the Katerina. After an enjoyable night outside with entertaining cultural music, dancing, and food, I went to bed in a comfortable and clean room.
In the morning, we enjoyed a great Turkish breakfast with everything you would expect in a great kahvalti including vegetables, fruit, olives, cheese, honey, and delicious bread. Additionally, the staff made sure we had our fill of coffee, tea, and omelets. Satisfied with a delicious breakfast, we made the 30-45 minute journey to Ani. This drive gave me an opportunity to see the charms of the countryside. Green mountains melded into plains and quaint farms. The countryside is charming and delightful. The real beauty and astonishment came at Ani, though.
Placed high on a plateau, Ani was a center for trade and travel on the Silk Road for over 2,500 years. After being inhabited by Armenians, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Georgians, it was finally captured by the Mongols in the 13th century, which marked the beginning of it’s decline. Ani unfortunately never recovered from a devastating earthquake around this time. However, the glory of Ani is still visible today. At its peak, Ani was the capital of Armenia in the last half of the 10th century and holds the glory of one of the world’s most prominent cities of the time. It is said that it’s population in the 10th and 11th centuries reached 200,000 ⁸million. Situated on a hilltop between a ravine and a river, Ani holds a position of power dominating the landscape. Though earthquakes, time, and conquerors have left their mark on the city, Ani stands as a gateway into the glory of past civilizations. Visitors can see the passage of time in the cathedrals, frescos, mosques, and old city gates. Preserved in stone, unique aspects of multiple civilizations are on display at Ani.
Ani is being worked on to conserve the property and it’s structures from destruction due to seismic activity and human destruction. Other than this, Ani is untouched and remote. Visitors can walk the same paths that have been travelled for thousands of years. One is able to walk the same road from gate to gate past cathedrals and bazaars that has been travelled for centuries. All around are the rubble and ruins of this civilization. Many structures are still standing and even more foundations and rubble give evidence of a large bustling city. I was transported back in time by walking down the paths of stone laid from the main gate.
Ani is awe inspiring. Walking through the rubble to ancient churches on the hilltop was an experience like no other. I couldn't help but try to imagine what the city looked like in its prime. With stone and brick laid out in formations of streets, houses, and glorious buildings, it isn't hard to imaging completed buildings, people milling about, and the scent of cooking food. The green grass and blue sky stand in stark contrast to the ancient ruins dotting the landscape. It is exciting to imagine tue colors of a bustling and bright Ani. I wonder if the people wore clothes made from local wool dyed bright colors or if they sat in the small bazaar shops drinking tea. Walking down streets of brick, I can almost hear the echo of children laughing and see tue clothes hanging on the line strung between buildings. Generations have called Ani home and even more generations of people stopped here on their Silk Road journey. From Armenians to Seljuks and Mongols, peoples of many nations have been established in Ani. Though it is now an empty city with many forgotten stories, the ruins of Ani still speak of the glory of generations past.
Kars and Ani are must see locations for anyone traveling in Eastern Turkey. Kars offers a unique historical and cultural experience while Ani encourages visitors to step back into civilizations past. Spending the night in Kars gave us the opportunity to take a peak into Turkish life in the East. The hospitality and music welcomed us with warmth. Stepping into Ani was an experience I will not soon forget. Whether you like nature, culture, or history, Ani and Kars offer all that and more. I spent one night in Kars and 4 hours in Ani. If I could go back (and I want to) I would plan for some more time exploring Kars and maybe one more hour in Ani. At Ani, refreshments and toilets are available at the ticket booth. We ate a large breakfast at the Katerina before leaving and we were set for several hours at Ani. There were almost no other visitors while we were there in the morning, so that is definitely the time to go.
Visiting Kars and Ani was an incredible experience that allowed me to step back in time and experience the wonder of Eastern Turkey. I am finding that there is so much to learn in visiting any new place. Every place we go, there is a unique story to see, hear, and experience. The Story of Kars and Ani was a delight to get to know. I am excited to experience the unique stories that are both hidden and clear in every place I visit. Learn the story of the places you go and come experience the unique stories to be discovered here in Turkey!