Trans Eurasia travel

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A road runs south from Talin across the Talin Plateau eventually to drop down into the plains of Armavir province. Leaving Talin there is a very large ruinous caravanserai on the left: its sheer size is testament to the importance of the trade routes across Armenia. In about 6km the road reaches the village of Dashtadem. In the centre is a large fortress whose perimeter walls are entered through an arched gateway over which are interesting carvings of animals. Built according to the best theories of castle building, the gateway requires anyone entering to turn through a right angle thus preventing horsemen charging the entry. Within is a keep of the 9th or 10th century to which half-round towers have been added at some later date and under which large cellars can be explored. An Arabic inscription of the month of Safar 570 (ie: September 1174) on the fortress records that it was then under the control of Sultan Ibn Mahmud, one of the Shaddadid Seljuk princes who ruled in Ani.

All but one of the houses lie derelict, some half demolished. There are no animals. The keep has been restored, not entirely felicitously, and the small 10th-century chapel against its inner wall has been rebuilt. It is possible to scramble up onto the walls of the keep from where there are good views but care is needed; there are no safety precautions. Rubble and metal barriers litter the site. It is to be hoped that the families displaced from the fortress now live in the new houses in the village outside. Work seems to have stopped, leaving the fortress in limbo, no longer a living community but not an appealing ancient monument either.

Good views of the fortress on its hill can be obtained by continuing past the village along the main road. About 2km along this main road a khachkar marks a track going off left which leads to the restored 7th-century Church of St Christopher, built of rather forbidding grey stone, and with a more recent (13th-century) detached bell tower. Around the church is an extensive graveyard in use from the 6th century to the present day.

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