All photos are by Joel A. Tropp, except as noted. Historical information has been shamelessly appropriated from Lonely Planet guides and other sources. Send an email for more photos or information.

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The Caucasus (Summer 2005)


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  • A costumed vendor sells sour cherry juice outside the Blue Mosque. By Matt Valentine
  • Trabzon

    Sumela monastery. The Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary was established in the Byzantine era and abandoned in 1923 after the founding of the Turkish Republic. The interior displays elaborate biblical frescoes, tagged with a century of graffiti.

  • View of the monastery. By Matt Valentine
  • An action shot of photographer Matt Valentine


  • The Armenian Church of the Apostles, built around 932, and converted to a mosque in 1579
  • Kars Castle. Originally established by Saltuk Turks in 1153. Destroyed by the Mongol hordes in 1386, under Tamerlane. Reconstructed in 1579 for sultan Murat III and rebuilt again in 1855. Armenians and Turks clashed here during World War I.

  • Exterior view of Kars castle
  • Interior view of Kars castle
  • Ani

    Ani. The sometime Armenian capital was established here in 961 on an important trade route. It was conquered successively by Byzantines, Seljuks, Georgians, and Kurds. In 1239, the Mongol hordes swept through the city. It was crushed by an earthquake in 1319, and Tamerlane finished the job in 1379. Since then, the city has been turning slowly to dust. Detailed information is available at Virtual Ani. The ruins remain under military control, and until recently it was not possible to visit them without an escort.

  • The exterior walls, which are largely reconstructed
  • The lion gate, which is also reconstructed. May be named after the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan who conquered the city in 1064
  • An interior wall, in more natural condition
  • A view of the Church of the Redeemer, built around 1034. It was shattered by lightning in 1957
  • The interior of the Church of the Redeemer
  • View of the Armenian Church of St. Peter, built in 1215 for Tigran Honents
  • Fading frescoes on the façade of the Church of St. Peter
  • A segment of wall overlooking the Akhuryan River
  • The Akhuryan River gorge with Armenia on the opposite bank
  • The rather uninteresting exterior of the Armenian Orthodox cathedral, reconsecrated as Fethiye Camii (Victory Mosque) by the Seljuks
  • The interior of the cathedral
  • Menüçer Camii, built in 1072, the first Seljuk mosque established in Anatolia
  • A fallen minaret
  • A fragment of a khachkar, or Armenian stone cross
  • The Church of the Holy Apostles, built in 1031, and adapted by the Seljuks into a karvansaray
  • Interior of the karvansaray
  • Exterior of the Church of St. Gregory, built by Gagik I
  • Interior of the Church of St. Gregory (Gagik I)
  • Thistles with the Church of St. Gregory (Abughamrentz) in the distance
  • The Church of St. Gregory (Abughamrentz), built in the late 10th century
  • The remains of the 11th century Georgian church, which collapsed around 1840


  • The twin peaks of Mt. Ararat, from the Turkish point of view
  • A girl restrains her sister for a photograph, aiming to extort money from the photographer
  • A boy trying to sell a pigeon to the photographer
  • The tea room at a bus station somewhere between Doğubayazıt and Van
  • İshak Paşa Palace. Built by Çolak Abdi Paşa and his son Isaac between 1685 and 1784. It blends architectural styles from the cultures that waxed and waned in eastern Anatolia: Armenian, Georgian, Seljuk, Persian, and Ottoman.

  • Overview of palace complex
  • Palace mosque exterior
  • Palace mosque interior
  • Van

    Akdamar Island. Houses the remains of the 10th century Armenian church Akdamar Kilisesi, built by Gagik Artzruni. The walls show detailed reliefs of bible stories. The water in Van Lake is slippery on account of high alkali levels.

  • Boats wait to transport visitors to the island, at right
  • The island's shoreline
  • The church, under renovation
  • Çavuştepe. Here remain the foundations of the Urartian fortress Sanduri-Hinili built between 764 and 735 BCE. The site offers clues about Urartian agriculture and civil engineering. The cuneiform inscriptions have been deciphered, in part through the efforts of the long-time caretaker.

  • The caretaker holds a squirming Van cat. Note its eye colors
  • Hoşap Castle. Constructed by the Kurdish chieftain Mahmudi Süleyman in 1643. It overlooks the town of Güzelsu, a gasoline smuggling center near the Iranian border.

  • View of the fortress
  • An interior wall
  • A guard tower


  • An old man invites a photographer for tea in the metal bazaar
  • Power tools
  • Bright copper kettles
  • Mt. Nemrut

    Mt. Nemrut. Around 38 BCE, An obscure king, Antiochus I Epiphanes, ordered the top of the mountain razed. The debris was piled back on top of the mountain as a funerary mound. On each side, the king constructed a row of seated statues of the gods Apollo, Tyche, Zeus, and Hercules. He placed himself among this pantheon. The monument was forgotten, and it probably fell to an earthquake. It was rediscovered in 1881 by a German mining engineering, who was surveying for the Ottomans. The decapitated statues remain, and the heads are founded on the ground in front of the thrones.

  • The head of Zeus Ahura-Mazda (?)
  • The head of Hercules


  • A boy leading a donkey in Ihlara Valley
  • Some of the famous "fairy chimneys"

Back in Vienna

Michoacán (January 2006)


    Pátzcuaro is the ancestral home of the Purépecha ethnic group, also known as the Tarascans. The Tarascans were the only indigenous group in Mesoamerica to develop metallurgy, which is probably the reason that they were the only indigenous group that was able to repulse the Aztecs. In 1529, the region was secured by a Spanish conquistador named Nuño de Guzmán whose cruelty was so severe that the Catholic church sent bishop Vasco de Quiroga to protect the Purépecha. Don Vasco encouraged the indigenous people to become skilled artisans, and their craftmaking traditions remain an important source of income.

    Lago de Pátzcuaro

  • Isla de Janitzio, a sort of floating souvenir shop crowned by a statue of the revolutionary hero José María Morelos y Pavón
  • Boats at the Janitzio dock
  • A local undertaker and the hearse
  • A Shakespearean graffito near the lake


    Tzintzuntzan means "place of the hummingbirds" in the Purépecha language. It served as capitol of the Tarascan league in the early 16th century when the Spanish invaded. Although the Tarascans reached peaceable terms with the first Spanish emissary, soon after Nuño de Guzmán appeared and burned the local chief alive.

  • The Templo de Nuestra Señora de Salud, home of a revered icon, El Santo Entierro de Tzintzuntzan
  • A Tarascan ruin, Las Yácatas. The semicircular bases of the temples are unique to this site.


    Morelia. Founded in 1541 as Valladolid, the city of Morelia attracted many families of the Spanish nobility who left a legacy of Spanish colonial architecture. In 1828, the city was renamed Morelia in honor of the revolutionary hero José María Morelos y Pavón. The city center retains its colonial character, and it has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site.

  • A man breathing fire in the street to earn money from drivers
  • A night view of the Morelia cathedral, built between 1640 and 1744

Santuario Mariposa Monarca

    Santuario Mariposa Monarca. Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies fly down from the Great Lakes region to winter on a few hundred acres in the mountains of Michoacán. In the spring, the butterflies mate; the males die; and the females fly north to Texas and other parts of the US to lay their eggs in the milkweed. The next generation of monarchs continues upward to the Great Lakes to complete the cycle.

  • A butterfly resting on a flower
  • A butterfly alighting on the photographer's arm
  • The swarm of butterflies is almost like a blizzard

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Last Modified: 20 February 2006