Where to Visit in Kars

Kars name may be derived from the Armenian word հարս (hars), meaning “bride”. Another hypothesis has it that the name derives from the Georgian word for “the gate. the city  is a city in northeast Turkey and the capital of the city Province. Its population was 73,836 in 2011. the city, in classical historiography (Strabo), was in the ancient region known as Chorzene, part of the province of Ayrarat in the Kingdom of Armenia, and later the capital of the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia from 929–961. Currently, the mayor of the city is Türker Öksüz. The city had an Armenian ethnic majority until it was conquered by Turkish nationalist forces in late 1920.

According to Turkey’s 2011 Statistical Yearbook, the area has been depopulating because of migration to bigger cities. In Istanbul alone, there are 269,388 people from the city, more than three times the city’s population. Today, the city has a mixed population of Azerbaijanis, Kurds and Turks. The Azerbaijanis are mainly composed of the Terekeme and Qarapapaq sub-ethnic groups. The Shia Azerbaijanis make up 20% of the city’s population. Most of the population in the city is Sunni Muslim, mainly made up by the population of Kurds and Turks, and the minority is Shia Muslim, mainly among the Azerbaijanis.

The Castle of the city (Turkish: Kars Kalesi), also known as the Citadel, sits at the top a rocky hill overlooking the city. Its walls date back to the Bagratuni Armenian period (there is surviving masonry on the north side of the castle) but it probably took on its present form during the thirteenth century when the city was ruled by the Zak’arid dynasty. The walls bear crosses in several places, including a Khachkar with a building inscription in Armenian on the easternmost tower, so the much repeated statement that the city castle was built by Ottoman Sultan Murad III during the war with Persia, at the close of the sixteenth century, is inaccurate. However, Murad probably ordered the reconstruction of much of the city walls (they are similar to those that the Ottoman army constructed at Ardahan). During the eighteenth century, at the Battle of the city (1745), a crushing defeat was inflicted upon the Ottoman army by the Persian conqueror, Nader Shah, not far from the city of the city. By the nineteenth century the citadel had lost most of its defensive purpose and a series of outer fortresses and defensive works were constructed to encircle the city – this new defensive system proved particularly notable during the Siege of the city in 1855. Below the castle is a mosque, formerly the Armenian church known as Surb Arak’elots, the Church of the Holy Apostles. Built in the 930’s, it has a tetraconch plan (a square with four semicircular apses) surmounted by a spherical dome on a cylindrical drum. On the exterior, the drum contains bas-relief depictions of twelve figures, usually interpreted as representing the Twelve Apostles. The dome has a conical roof. The church was converted to a mosque in 1579, and then converted into a Russian Orthodox church in the 1880s. The Russians built porches in front of the church’s three entrances, and an elaborate clocktower (now demolished) next to the church. The church was used as a warehouse from the 1930s, and it housed a small museum from 1963 until the late 1970s. Then the building was left to itself for about two decades, until it was converted into a mosque in 1993. In the same district of the city are two other ruined Armenian churches. A Russian church from the 1900s was converted to a mosque in the 1980s after serving as a school gymnasium. The Grand Mosque of the city is the largest historic mosque in the city. Built by the Seljuks, it was restored by the Ottomans in 1579. The “Taşköprü” (Stone Bridge) is a bridge over the Kars river, built in 1725. Close to the bridge are three old bath-houses, none of them operating any longer. As a settlement at the juncture of Turkish, Armenian, Georgian, Kurdish and Russian cultures, the buildings of Kars come in a variety of architectural styles. Most Russian-era buildings in the city are identical in architectural style to those of Gyumri in Armenia. Orhan Pamuk in the novel Snow, set in the city, makes repeated references to “the Russian houses”, built “in a Baltic style”, whose like cannot be seen anywhere else in Turkey, and deplores the deteriorating condition of these houses. The Mansion of Ahmet Tevfik Pasha (Ahmet Tevfik Paşa Konağı), The Stone Bridge (Taşköprü), The Topchuoglu Bath House (Topçuoğlu Hamamı), The Ilbeoglu Bath House (İlbeyoğlu Hamamı), The Mazlumaga Bath House (Mazlumağa Hamamı), The House of Namık Kemal (Namık Kemal Evi), The Palace of Beylerbeyi (Beylerbeyi Sarayı), The Mansion of Pasha (Paşa Konağı), The Cemetery of Arap Baba (Arap Baba Şehitliği), The Mosque of Yusuf Pasha (Yusuf Paşa Camii), The Mosque of Evliya (Evliya Camii), The Tomb of Ebul Hasan-i Harakani (Ebul Hasan-i Harakani Türbesi), The Mosque of Fethiye (Fethiye Camii), The Mansion of Gazi Ahmet Muhtar Pasha (Gazi Ahmet Paşa Konağı)

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