My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Pilgrimage to Eastern Turkey: The sights of Kars

First we went to see the Armenian Church of the Apostles. The tourist information board in the grounds helpfully tells us that it was built from 932 to 937 AD by Bagradit King Abbas – of clean cut basalt stone in a clover leaf layout with a steep dome.
The twelve apostles can be seen in relief high up on the outer walls.
In 1064 it was converted to a mosque when the Seljuks conquered Kars. It was an orthodox church for 40 years from 1878 when Kars fell to the Imperial Russians, (who held the city until 1920) then it fell into disuse for some time before being used as a museum from 1969 to 1980.

It became the Kumbet or Kethuda mosque in 1994, when the structure was registered and came under preservation status. That may be so, but the plants sprouting generously from the walls and roof will surely hasten its decay unless money can be found for some renovation work soon.
The mosque is surrounded by brilliantly colorful flower beds – not to the manicured standards we are used to further West, but from a distance striking enough and a welcome flash of color in an otherwise cold and grey landscape.

We then climbed up to the massive and forbidding citadel towering over the city. Built in 1153 AD, it was rebuilt around 1579 after its destruction by Mongol invaders. It was the last place held by the Armenians after the First World War 

The approach road to the citadel, starting from near to the Church of the Apostles, is steep, and was festooned with the ubiquitous litter, being rummaged through and picked over by free range chickens and stray cats, of which there were plenty.
There then follows a long gentle path, to reach the coffee bar where the site plateaus out about half way up. Here one can find sustenance and refreshment, before the last leg of the climb which becomes really steep, tricky and challenging for some. It was definitely not for the fainthearted, the steps in places being difficult, steep and uneven, definitely easier to climb than to descend. But we were rewarded by superb views of the surrounding town and countryside once we made it to the top.

In the center of the town we visited the Mosque of Fethiye (or Fethiye Camii) – separated from a bustling street market selling all manner of fruit and vegetable by a large and untidy public concourse. This building was originally built by the Russians as a church at the end of the 19th century in their occupation period 1878-1918, in typical Baltic architectural style. It was later converted into a mosque in 1985 when two minarets were added. It is the only mosque in Turkey having that distinctive Russian/Baltic architectural style, a style repeated through the old streets of the town, singling it out among Turkish cities. Venturing inside, after the usual deposit of shoes outside the door and the obligatory covering of our female heads, we were confronted by one huge space, the brilliant red of the carpet with a typically Islamic pattern, the brilliant shades of blue adorning the walls, and again the traditional Islamic decorations.
Reflecting on the sadness for Christians of this beautiful building being turned from a church to a mosque, I was then reminded of the many Christian churches that were themselves built upon earlier pagan sites. Life, religions and cultures move on through all stages of history.

There was an interesting mix of Russian, Armenian and Ottoman architecture in this city among the squalor of fly tipping and general mess and litter. The Russian style buildings reflect the fact that Imperial Russia held Kars for some time, from 1878 until 1920.

For a long time it was thought that civilization began in Egypt, but archaeologists have found mud bricks used in this way in Turkey from 6500 BC, with the earliest evidence of metallurgy in the world, dating at 7,200 BC, along with signs of many other skills such as geometry, astronomy and technology of these early inhabitants of Turkey.  For those wishing to know more about Kars and everything it has to offer there is an excellent official government tourist guide online.

Before our journey continues I think I shall need to delve a little into the history of this fascinating area in my next post....

1 comment:

  1. Eleanor, I'm finally able to read your posts on the trip (pilgrimage) to Turkey without interference from WebRing! Some nice technician from Norton antivirus software (with an Indian accent and inflection) helped get rid of it two days ago. It took half an afternoon!
    And I'm really enjoying your observations. I love learning about the history of cultures! Thanks for including the tourist guide to Kars. That was interesting.