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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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Last Modified: 20 February 2006