Winter at its best in Kars & Erzurum
It's that time of the year! Best days to visit Kars in Eastern Turkey
Starting our cruise with Lake Çıldır. This loch-like expanse of water at 1900m altitude, about an hour drive from Kars is impressively beautiful. The second largest lake in eastern Anatolia after Lake Van is at an altitude of 1959 meters above sea level and covers 123 square kilometers.
Lake Çıldır has begun to freeze a bit later than usual this year and will stay frozen for up to eight months. The lake offers a visual feast in the ambiance of a remote area and is a great spot to partake in some regional winter activities like troika rides, ice fishing and ice sports.
Kars, a transit point between Anatolia and the Caucasus, is a medieval city once called "City of 1001 Churches". If you are looking for an alternative holiday on the Silk Road in the Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey, Kars is the perfect winter destination for you with its pastel colored stone buildings dating from the 19th century Russia, impressive ancient ruins, natural beauties, ski centers, delicious cuisine and hospitable people. When making your travel plans, consider the season as it is covered with snow for much of the year!
Kars Castle was built in 1153 by the Vizier Firuz Akay on the orders of the Saltuk Sultan Malik Izzeddin, probably incorporating an earlier Bagratid Armenian fortification. It was connected to the city walls and stood on a hill with a commanding view over the city.
In 1356, the castle was destroyed by the troops of Timur. In 1579 it was rebuilt by the Ottoman general Lala Mustafa Pasha, during Sultan Murat III era. In 1606, the castle was destroyed by the Iranian Shah Abbas I but it was rebuilt, then restored in 1636.
In the second half of the 19th century, Kars was conquered by Russian forces who successively occupied the castle. When they left decades later the castle was badly damaged. It would have had 22 towers of which only 7 remain today. It has 4 gates of which 2 are still functional.
The castle has four gates. "Su Kapısı" or "Çeribaşı Kapısı" is situated in the west, "Kagizman Kapısı" or "Orta Kapı" in the south and "Behram Kapı" in the east. The main gate located in the north opens up to a chasm in front of the castle.
Taşköprü, or the Stone Bridge, is a basalt three- arch bridge that spans the Kars River, below the castle. It was built in 1719 replacing a 16th-century original that had been destroyed by a flood.
The city unfolds at the foot of the castle to many more attractions nearby. Kümbet Mosque or initially the Church of 12 Apostles, has a turbulent history starting from 10th century, being passed from Christianity to Islam, back to Christianity and then being used as a museum before reverting back to a mosque. The name derived from the bas-reliefs representing the 12 apostles ringing the dome's exterior drum.
With an especially attractive north facade, the 16th-century 'Mosque of Saints' or Evliya Camii was built to commemmorate the 11th-century saint Hasan-i Harakani who brought Sufi-inspired Islam to this region of Anatolia before being martyred in Kars.
Topçuoğlu Turkish Bath built in 1742 is walking distance to Mazlumağa Turkish Bath and Namık Kemal House.
Between 1877-1896, Russian Cheltikov Family had been settled in Kars and built the building as mansion for themselves. Then the Russian Government used it as Opera House. After Russians had left Kars, the building had served as infants' school, military pharmacy warehouse, and even hospital. The building has been converted to Cheltikov Hotel in 2011. By far the best option for your stay.
With its pastel-colored stone buildings dating from the 19th-century Russian occupation, and its well-organised grid plan, Kars looks like a slice of Russia teleported to northeastern Anatolia. And the city's mix of influences – Kurdish, Azeri, Turkmen, Turkish and Russian – adds to its distinct feel.
The city center of Kars looks quite different from the ones of other cities. Older than a century, most of magnificent and elegant buildings built during the Russian occupation lie on both sides of wide streets that crosscut one another.
Built as Barracks for Cossacks in tribute to Alexander Nevsky, the cathedral has been converted to Fethiye Mosque.
A battalion was martyred in the bastion that was designed for the protection of eastern borders by the Ottoman Empire in Kars during the Ottoman-Russian War. Today it is converted to the Caucasian Battlefields Military History Museum. The images at the museum take the visitors to those days. Wax figures of soldiers recreate the scenes when soldiers were cured at the infirmaries, operated on by doctors in surgery rooms and had a rest in dorms, read their letters or cooked in their kitchen.
The museum also houses the white wagon of Kazim Karabekir Pasha. This was a favor in return of Kazim Karabekir Pasha's gift of white horses to the Russian generals for the Treaty of Gyumri in 1920. A year later the Russian delegation gifted the white wagon for the Treaty of Kars.
The museum is well worth a visit!
The Battle of Sarıkamış; Russian was an engagement between the Russian and Ottoman empires during the First World War. The outcome was a Russian victory. The Ottomans employed a strategy which demanded their troops to be highly mobile and to arrive at specified objectives at precise times in an attempt to counter the Russian numerical superiority. The Ottoman troops, being ill-prepared for winter conditions, suffered major casualties at Allahüekber mountains and Enver Pasha's effort ended catastrophically.
You will find many cemeteries on the way to Sarıkamış.
About 42km east of Kars, the medieval city of Ani (Ocaklı) lies mostly in ruins on the ancient Silk Road. Throughout history, the Saka Turks, Sasanian empire, Bagratid dynasty, Byzantine empire, Seljuk empire, Ottoman empire and Russian empire have reigned on the site. Inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2016, the Ani ruins with numerous churches, mosques and caravanserais are encircled by impressive fortified walls.
Lying on a secluded plateau in the Turkish City of Kars, Ani is home to military, religious as well as residential buildings and fortifications which trail back hundreds of years. These structures reflect the characteristics of the medieval urbanism that was formed within centuries by Christians and Muslims. It grew into a magnificent capital of the Bagradit Armenian Kingdom in the 10th and 11th centuries CE with a population over one hundred thousand and gained economic power by controlling one branch of the Silk Road. Even after coming under the sovereignty of Byzantines, Seljuks, and Georgians, it kept playing a vital role as a significant crossroads for merchants. However, the city started to go into decline after the Mongol invasion and a destructive earthquake that occurred in 1319. Through the technically and artistically advanced structures of the region built between the 7th and 13th centuries CE, this archaeological site provides the modern-day archaeologists with valuable information that unveil the evolution of medieval architecture.
Bagratid King Smbat II laid the foundations for the Surp Asdvadzadzin Cathedral in 990 A.D. and after his death, its construction was completed in 1001 A.D. by Queen Katranide, the wife of King Gagik I, Smbat’s brother and successor. The architect of the cathedral was Trdat, who also worked on the restoration of the Hagia Sophia after it had collapsed in an earthquake in the same century.
The Cathedral of Ani was converted into a mosque after the conquest of the city by the Seljuk Sultan Alparslan in 1604. The monument carries a separate meaning because it was the first conquest in Anatolia and hence was named after it as Fethiye Mosque.
Manuçehr Mosque dates back to 1071, can you believe it! It's the first mosque of the Great Seljuqs.
Georgian (St. Stephanos) Church is believed to be built some time between 1124 and 1218.The church was referred to as "Georgian". Back then "Georgian" did not simply mean an ethnic Georgian, it had a denominational meaning and would have designated all those in Ani who professed the Chalcedonian faith, mostly Armenians.
Arpaçay River and the bridge sets the border between Turkey and Armenia.
After visiting Ani ruins, you can drop by the ski center in Sarıkamış with resort hotels set in a scenic pine forest. The center offers a skiing season of 120 days through a year. Sarıkamış and the surrounding area are suitable for alpine skiing, ski touring and cross-country skiing.
The city is endowed with a safe haven, a wetland, a feast to the eyes of birdwatchers called Lake Kuyucuk that shelters over 200 bird species. The birds stop over at this spectacular gift of nature for breeding, nesting and feeding during the migration seasons. Spring and autumn are the ideal seasons for seeing tens of bird species together. Besides attracting visitors’ attention to the natural riches it is home to, the region of Kuyucuk has many places like Kuyucuk Village that history and culture fans would very like to see. At every corner of the village you can come by traces of the Doukhobors (a Russian tribe) who came over from Russia during the Ottoman-Russian War. Lining up along the street, the old houses catches eyes and hearts with their striking architectural features. Among the other cultural heritages reflecting that very same period are a church, later a mosque, and the village school building.
Kars is particularly known for its distinctive kilims (rugs) and carpets, and it retains a strong heritage of folk dancing that visitors always enjoy watching. On the mountain pastures villagers produce excellent kaşar cheese and delicious honey.
Did you know the name comes from the Arabic, "Arzu r-Rum," meaning "Land of the Romans"?
The trendy way to get to these cities, especially Kars, is by train. Dogu Ekspresi is rather a shorter one you can enjoy between Kars & Erzurum.
Erzurum is the administrative, economic and transport center of a fertile agricultural region, where livestock is especially important. Agricultural products are principally wheat, barley, millet, sugar beets and vegetables. Erzurum is well-known for handcrafted leather and metal articles.
The history of the city extends back to 4000 BC and it has seen many civilizations. One of the important remains from this periods is the well preserved Byzantine city walls and the fifth-century citadel built by Emperor Theodosius.
Last year Turkey marked centennial of Erzurum Congress which took place in this very building. Led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, later the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Erzurum Congress was held with aim to reunite political parties and plan national struggle during War of Independence.
Erzurum is a city of mausolea! The Three Tombs (‘Üç Kümbetler’) complex in fact consists of four mausolea though the fourth one was left out of the toponym, being a smaller and simpler structure than the other three. Only one of the mausolea is known by the name of its founder, Emir Saltuk, while the other three are anonymous. According to old photographs there was once a cemetery around the mausolea, which now has been turned into a park.
None of the four buildings bear inscriptions. Emir Saltuk Türbesi is dated to the twelfth century based on its architectural style, as well a record in a 1591 Ottoman cadastral survey which attributes it to the Izzeddin Saltuk, who ruled the Satukid principality between 1132 and 1168.
The mausoleum on the final picture was believed to be dedicated to Cimcime Sultan and recently discovered that it was in fact for a woman called Hencal. the 14th century mausoleum is situated not far from the Ulu Cami. It hasn't been preserved well, especially works for road uplifts have shortened the monument he tower takes the form of a cylinder with a conical roof. Twelve blind arches formed from a continuous molding decorate the sides of the tomb. Two windows and a door surmounted by a muqarnas hood pierce the sides of the tomb.
The Çifte Minareli Madrasah, or theological college, built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in 1253 astonishes visitors with elaborate stone carvings on its portal and its majestic double minarets.
The beautiful portal and richly-tiled minaret of the 13th-century Yakutiye Madrasah unravel another facet of Seljuk architecture. Sinan the Great Architect from Ottoman era left his mark on the city with Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque.
The city walls and fortress remind that the wind of Byzantine rule once blew over these territories with the fifth-century citadel built by Emperor Theodosius standing on a hill at an altitude of 2000m. Of particular importance are the Seljuk buildings remaining – brilliant examples of a fascinating aestheticism.
Taşhan (Rüstem Pasha Caravanserai) was built in 1561 AD by Rüstem Pasha, the grand vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent. This work-of-art currently serves as a marketplace of Oltu stone artisans. The jet has been carved in the region around Oltu town since the 18th century to produce jewelry, rosary beads, key-chains, pipes and boxes.
Old houses of Erzurum are in fact large family shelter consisting of grandfather, grandmother, father, mother and children. Patriarchal family tree pervaded over the rooms designed to open into each other. These 11 houses were originally built in adjacent form due to protecting from the very cold winter period of Erzurum. In each house, three common elements characterize the main design of the space, namely the fire place, martlet ceiling (authentic structure which is built in a cone-shaped), and terrace set for guests. Today these houses are rearranged as café-restaurant.
Erzurum has one of the coldest climates and is one of the highest altitude positioned provincies of Turkey covered with a blanket of snow for 4-5 months during winter. Palandöken Ski Center, only 4km from the city, is the perfect address to enjoy the snow It has a capacity for 12,000 skiers, and consists of 24 trails to be among the longest and steepest in the world.
Impressive Narman Fairy Chimneys also known as the ''Land of the Red Fairies'' could definitely garner fresh interest from visitors. Although the site was added the list of temporary World Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in 2012, it is soo underrated. Hope they would become as famous as those of Cappadocia
Cağ kebabı, the horizontally stacked marinated rotating lamb kebab, is a trademark of Erzurum. You don't want to miss this taste man!
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