Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Anavarsa: Roman Ruins, a Castle, & a Flock of Sheep

Turkey is a country so rich in history that it seems we are never short on ideas for our next big adventure.  We have been enjoying little day trips on Dan's days off lately.  Several weeks ago, we explored the ruins of an Armenian castle made entirely out of black volcanic rock.  This castle is called Toprakkale (which means "dirt castle", otherwise known as Black Castle to the Americans on Base).  We had fun exploring the rooms of this unique castle with the help of a local guide who insisted on showing us his favorite parts.  The castle was built in the top of a mountain and the view on that clear, sunny day was magnificent!

Last week, we recruited a couple of our friends to join us on our latest day trip.  We ventured about an hour down the road to Anavarsa.  This ancient Roman city now sits nestled in a quiet field, surrounded by farms.  A steep mountain with a glorious castle on top of it overlooks the ruins of this old city.  Luckily our friends, Erin and Nate, were feeling as adventurous as we were as we approached the ancient city and rain started pouring from the sky.  We bundled up with coats, ponchos, & umbrellas and started our journey to the ancient Roman city of Anavarsa. 

Thankfully, the rain let up soon after we started trekking through the muddy field and it wasn't long before we were dry again.  We spent all morning walking through the never ending field of ruins.  Anavarsa must have been an incredible city.  We explored ancient bathhouses, Byzantine churches, roads, archways and columns as we stood in awe of the dramatic cliff that hovered near us.  The overcast sky added to the drama of the atmosphere around us.  We were not alone as we explored the field.  We shared the land with a large flock of sheep, an even larger herd of cows, and some Turkish shepherds.  At times, the cows were a little too close for my comfort level, but my traveling companions assured me that we were just fine. (Someone has to be the cautious one, right?  It might as well have been the mom of the group.)  Peter, who had only seen cows in books, was absolutely thrilled.  He mooed excitedly for about 30 minutes straight.  The atmosphere was absolutely unforgettable.  We all stood still for a moment, just soaking it all in.  The only sound heard for miles was the soft ringing of the sheep's bells that rolled through the quiet, still field.

We went back to the car to have some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese, and almonds for lunch before our climb up the mountain.  We drove to the base of the mountain, strapped Peter in the backpack, and started our climb.  There was not a trail to be found, so we climbed up large porous rocks (the large holes in the rocks made them look like moon rocks!) and through thick greenery.  Halfway up the mountain, we discovered an ancient graveyard with large open tombs.  After a bit more climbing, we approached the castle.  It was beautiful.

It took us several hours to walk through the entire castle.  It was massive.  One of the highlights of this castle was discovering the ruins of a church.  We could see the remnants of frescoes painted on the arch of the church's ceiling.  We saw 11 halos with faint faces.  Part of the ceiling was gone, so we suspected that at one time this may have been the 12 apostles.  Above the halos, were traces of angel wings.  Amazing!

After lots of climbing we made it to the top of the castle.  The view was absolutely incredible.  We were up so high!  We looked down on the field of ruins that we explored that morning.  The sun had peaked out after lunch and it ended up being a beautiful, sunny, clear day.  Dan and I took in the magnificent view of the mountains, little villages, and fields stretching for miles.  Dan read my mind as he said, "We'll never be able to capture this view with words or pictures". 

We hiked back to our car and drove home as dusk was approaching.  It had been a long, satisfying day.  I've definitely found my new favorite castle in Turkey!

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