Kars’ period under Russian rule, between 1878 and 1920, explains both the unusual grid layout of the city centre, and its incongruous belle époque buildings. Most of these structures were made from basalt and sport elaborate street facades and iron roofs; rainwater is often channelled onto the ground with decorative (often animal-shaped) spouts.
The best place in which to hunt for these architectural treasures is the stretch of Ordu Caddesi north of Faikbey Caddesi, which is studded with several superb examples. Approaching from the north, the first building you’ll come across is the old Governor’s Mansion, a large, lemon-coloured structure built in 1883; this is where the Treaty of Kars was signed in 1921. Just southeast, the squat Chamber of Industry and Commerce sports decorative motifs on its front walls. Further south again is the peach-coloured Revenue Office, a large structure with false columns and some wonderfully elaborate balconies – you certainly wouldn’t want to take tea on any of these, they all look set to drop off any second.