Our road led to the south-west; and an hour's more travel brought us to the town of Goumri, a strong Russian post, opposite the Turkish frontier.
Aware that Anni, one of the ancient Capitals of Armenia, lay not far within the Turkish frontier, my curiosity was roused to visit it; and I could not refrain from expressing my wish to the commanding officer at the fort, and consulting with him how it might be done without the protection of a Turkish passport. So far from damping my ardour, he entered warmly into all the objects of my curiosity; and telling me, Anni was only forty wersts beyond the barrier, he assured me, if I liked to attempt it, I should have those with me who should be passport sufficient.
Accordingly; next morning, at a very early hour, I took leave of my kind host, and found the promised guard already in waiting. It consisted of ten horsemen, who were to be at my orders all the way to Erivan. We were to take Anni in our march. These men were all well-armed, and capitally mounted; and, I doubted not, could be desperate fellows, should occasions call them forth. At least, so I might gather, from their garb and faces; for, never since I set foot amongst the Caucasus, had I beheld a more murderous-looking band of villains.
Their chief was a brawny, determined-visaged man; and wore round his neck a medal of the Emperor Alexander which had been hung there, with a ribband of St. George, as a badge of his superior bravery, during the late war between Persia and the Russian empire. A pair of long Turkish pistols were stuck at his girdle, from which were suspended his sabre, and a large knife. These, with a carabine slung across his shoulders, completed his arts. His dress was a mixture of Georgian and Turkish; and his horse, which was as wildly and efficiently caparisoned, seemed to possess equal fire with his master. The whole of my escort, under his command, were armed in much the same way; and each carried four or five pouches, filled with balls, cartridges, &c. The morning being cold, several of them were wrapped in their bourkas, which greatly increased the savage air of their appearance.
At parting from the friendly commandant, he told me, that, with these men as my guards, I might consider myself as safe on the other side of the Turkish lines, as in the fort of Goumri.; they being too well known all over the country we were to pass through to admit of any apprehension on our side. I might calculate on their making all fly before them, unless opposed by very superior numbers; and that the officer did not think probable in the present case; for, though both the remains of Anni and the neighbouring districts bore a very bad reputation, as the haunts of banditti, yet their depredations had lately been made in such inconsiderable bodies, they might rather be expected to hide themselves from our sight, than to rush out to attack us.
We set forth. The cold was at 12 degrees of Reaumur; but the animation of my pursuit was, perhaps, a warmer defence than the bourkas of my companions; and riding along the wide valley to the south, towards the opposite frontier, kept the chain of hills, with their cloud-capped Alleguz, to my left. About five wersts onward, we passed the Arpatchai, and so entered the Turkish lines. This river rises not far from Kars, and falls into the Araxes near Hadjy-baramloo; marking, there, the Persian and Turkish frontier to the westward.
The boundary once crossed, we pricked on at a pretty round pace, and soon reached a Turkish village, whose situation was rendered picturesque by the tower-crowned heights in its neighbourhood. These, like those in Georgia, were the remains of ancient strongholds, and of reigious buildings erected, in old times, by the Christian sovereigns of the country. At this point the valley narrowed considerably; and, as we proceeded, I observed more ruins. They were towers also; and, probably, had belonged to a chain of posts formerly established to close the pass.
A few wersts farther, we forded the Kars, a stream which afterwards takes the name of Arpatchai; here it is neither wide nor deep; but on its approach to the monastery of Kotchivan, it is joined by another little river, called the Akhoor, and become by the union a considerable body of waters, takes a course through several fine valleys, till it pours its tributary urn into the Araxes, long before that river reaches the plain of Ararat.
The mountains, on all sides of us, appeared of a rounded form; not a rock even, nor a single tree, broke the smooth surface of the snow, nor interrupted the regularly-flowing lines of the hills. We passed, however, through a very close ravine, where we found rock enough in our path, and had to ascend a rough and steep side of a mountain.
During our course over it, we came to the ruins of a deserted-village; a sight to which my attendants seemed in all ways, to be perfectly familiar. But such ruins, thanks to civilization, are almost as strange to a European's eye, as discordant to his taste. The tale they tell, is of too unqualified a misery, to give any pleasing feeling of interest, while passing their trampled remains. The delapidations of time or of war, on great cities, or on buildings of national consequence, derive grandeur from the magnitude, and not unfrequently from the obscurity of the events which had occasioned their decay; events, which assailing generally, do not strike so deeply on individual happiness. But, in the ruins of a poor little village, we see nothing but poverty robbed of its pittance; murder bursting the doors of the hovel and the defenceless inmates put to death, or turned out on the waste to perish. Such was the spectacle these silent and bare walls conjured up; and I gladly passed on from so sad a memento of human ruthlessness and misery.
On rising the hill, we entered a wide upland valley, across which we took a westward line, while my baggage-horses pursued their way in another direction to the monastery of Kotchivan, where we were to quarter for the night. When I made this division, my escort told me we had then about ten wersts to ride before we should arrive at Anni. The day was far advanced and being eager to reach the place time enough to allow some hours of examination, we set off at a very rapid pace.
The road was exceedingly rough, over low hills, where often a track was scarcely visible; but at length the towers of the ancient city appeared at the extremity of an uneven plain, spreading to a vast extent along the horizon. Impatient, I spurred on; and, at a nearer view, found its southern and eastern faces protected by a deep and impassable ravine, through which flows the Arpatchai. The western and northern fronts have been defended by a double range of high walls and towers of the finest masonry. Three great entrances present themselves to the north. Over the center gate was sculptured a leopard or lion-passant; and near it, on the flanking towers, several large crosses were carved in the stone, and richly decorated with exquisite fretwork.
On entering the city, I found the whole surface of the ground covered with hewn stones, broken capitals, columns, shattered, but highly ornamented friezes, and other remains of ancient magnificence. Several churches, still existing in different parts of the place retain something more than ruins of their former dignity; but they are as solitary as all the other structures, on which time and devastation have left more heavy strokes.
In the western extremity of this great town, in which no living beings except ourselves seemed breathing, we saw the palace, once of the kings of Armenia; and it is a building worthy the fame of this old capital. Its length stretches nearly the whole breadth between the walls of the city on one side, and the ravine on the other. Indeed, it seems a town in itself; and so superbly decorated within and without, that no description can give an adequate idea of the variety and richness, of the highly wrought carvings on the stone, which are all over the building; or of the finely-executed mosaic patterns, which beautify the floors of its countless halls. Near the centre of the city, rise two enormous octagon towers of an immense height, surmounted by turrets. They command all around them, even to the citadel, which stands to the south-west on a high rock, and at the edge of a precipice.
The farther I went, and the closer I examined the remains of this vast capital, the greater was my admiration of its firm and finished masonry. In short, the masterly workmanship of the capitals of pillars, the nice carvings of the intricate ornaments, and arabesque friezes, surpassed any thing of the kind I had ever seen, whether abroad, or in the most celebrated cathedrals of England.
I particularly observed a religious edifice, of less dimensions than some of the others, but of exquisite architecture. It stood very near the octagon towers; and its high arched roof was a beautiful specimen of mosaic work, enriched with borders of the pure Etruscan, formed in red, black, and yellow stone. The pillars, and all ornamental parts of the building, were as sharp and fresh, as if but the erection of yesterday. Indeed, every where, time seemed to have dealt more mercifully with this city, than the hand of man. War had broken down its bulwarks; made its palaces, churches, and dwelling places, tenantless; and in a thousand ways left its desolating marks. But where time alone might be expected to act, or with its destroying auxiliaries, the influences of weather, there we found few symptoms of decay.
Fine, and even brilliant mosaic, executed with more or less precision, spreads itself over the city; and, in general, the form of the cross appears to be the root whence all the various patterns spring. Houses, churches, towers, embattled walls, every structure, high or low, partake the prevailing taste; and, on all, we see the holy insignia carved, large or small, in black stone. Besides these emblems, I found long inscriptions, cut in the old Armenian character, over the principal entrances of the churches; and some of them I should have transmitted to paper, had not the evening been drawing on, and with it a cold so intense as to disable me from holding my pencil. But, had it been otherwise, the impatience of my escort to be gone would not have allowed me to trace a line. Notwithstanding their numbers and their courage, it was probable that, under dusk, they might be surprised by a greater force of equal determination; banditti, issuing from the dark and tomb-like heaps of the city, where, in the daylight, appeared only silence and desolation.
The disposition of many of the ruins, by their closeness and gloom, rendered them apt places for the lurking-holes of these sanguinary freebooters; like most Asiatic cities, the streets appearing to have been not more than from twelve to fourteen feet wide. The generality of the houses along these narrow; but widely scattered lines, were divided into a variety of small apartments, which are easily traced in the divisions of the roofless walls. As I passed by them, and over the almost formless masses of yet more extensive ruins, I could not but think of the interesting stores of antiquity which might be lying hid beneath those mighty fragments of columns, walls, and heaps of stones. Even a few days gathering on the surface would furnish a traveller (could it be attempted with any degree of security) with very fine specimens of the most beautiful ornaments of architecture. The military power of the city, as far as fortifications could render it formidable, must have been very great; for the ravine which I mentioned before, as one means of defence, was additionally strengthened with walls, and towers of different heights. The remains of a noble stone bridge are yet visible over the river which flows at the bottom of the ravine.
When the sun had quite sunk behind the mountains, it was no time to linger longer in such a place; and, with infinite regret, I obeyed the summons of my guides, and took a last look of the majestic relics of Anni, lying, a vast solitude on the grey and wintry plain; for no living creature appeared, even as a single looker-out, from the murderous bands reported to infest the city.
The monastery, which was to be our night's lodging, stood five miles to the eastward; and, to that point, now a bitterly blowing one, we turned our faces. As we rode along, I observed low foundations of old walls, and other buildings, stretching to a considérable distance from the immediate neighbourhood of the city. At one part, two small churches were yet standing, of the same character with those in Anni; and on another spot, I observed a couple of prodigious-sized pedestals, supporting square blocks of stone, which were covered with Armenian inscriptions.
Those pedestals, and the materials with which the ancient capital was built, have all been dug from immense quarries in the vicinity of Kotchivan. They consist of a beautiful kind of rock, which bears the three colours described before as forming the walls and ornamental architecture of Anni. It is very close-grained, and susceptible of being cut into the most delicate combinations without difficulty or splintering, till it is exposed to the air; and then, while it becomes too hard for such work, it acquires a solidity and a surface which resists every destroying effect from the changes of the weather.
Before we reached the convent, night had quite overtaken us; but, dark as it was, I yet discerned much of the interesting scenery of the road; and amongst the rest, a high octagon watch-tower, resembling the two I had seen in Anni. It stood on a height, close to the pathway of the defile through which we were to pass to the monastery. When arrived, its venerable gates opened on no rusted hinge. I found my baggage-horses, with their attendants, had been comfortably housed some hours; and the holy brotherhood welcomed the master, and his train of no very promising aspects, with the most cordial hospitality. Besides these attentions from my Christian brethren, the Turkish chief of the village honoured me with a visit.
As soon as morning dawned through the little window of my cell, I was a-stir again; and, going out amongst my people, with difficulty got those of my escort together. That achieved, I bade farewell to my pious hosts, with sentiments of gratitude, not to them only, for the services I had received, but to the spirit of a religion which makes those establishments, whenever needful, in all lands, the refuge of the traveller. We find these hospitable convents in almost every country of Christian Europe; amongst forests, mountains, and all lonely places where temporary asylums might be necessary; and here, amid the savage hordes of infidel Asia, still the same sacred roof is extended to shelter and to succour the way-faring stranger.
It was nine o'clock before I was able to start; and in taking our course through the glen of the monastery, I was struck with the romantic situation of its secluded towers. It stands on the sloping side of a deep valley, or rather chasm, at the bottom of which dashes the river Akhoor; the rocks in its channel, and the rapidity of the stream, occasioning such a violence in the current as to give it the effect of a water-fall. The village of Kotchvan is near the monastery; and its low-roofed cottages form picturesque groups under the other's loftier walls. Their architecture is of the same style and period as the churches in Anni; and it is curious to observe, that though its palaces are sunk in the dust, or abandoned by their conquerors, a remnant of the faith of its ancient kings still exists where it was planted.
*The monastery Ker Porter calls 'Kotchivan' is probably the monastery of Horomos, a place where many of the 19th century travellers to Ani stayed after visiting the ruins.