Ani: The Abandoned Capital of Armenia (Part II of the Quick Trip to Turkey’s Eastern Frontier)
Ani, an abandoned Armenian city, sits right on Turkey’s border with Armenia. In the land negotiations following World War I, the site was ceded to Turkey. Since then, disputes over Ani have involved claims of neglect, mismanagement, and looting as well as a quarry on the Armenian side destroying the surrounding earth. Of course, the most obviously visible forms of destruction at Ani are due to nature: earthquakes, lightning, and the passage of time.
Until recently, due to Ani’s location right on the border, you had to get a permit to visit the site, and photos were prohibited. Thankfully, these conditions have been relaxed and now we can all enjoy it simply by paying an entrance fee or flashing a museum pass. Of course, you have to get to Eastern Turkey, but I’ll leave that to you guys!
The city’s heyday was from the mid tenth to eleventh centuries, and it was known as the land of 1001 churches. Basically, churches are what survives today, although some have been converted to mosques. Although the churches were originally Armenian, some were Georgian-ized after Georgia occupied the area or Islamized after Muslims came to town.
The first church we visited, the Church of the Holy Redeemer, is an example of nature’s tolls on buildings. It was struck by lightning in a storm in 1955 and now only half remains.
Because we were with ARIT, we were allowed into the fenced off area where archaeologists are reinforcing the structure and organizing its half-ruins. Also, we got to climb the scaffolding, which was pretty cool! It was built in the 1000s to house a part of the true cross that a merchant had bought in Constantinople, as the inscription says, and was probably used as a pilgrimage point. Interesting carvings and frescoes are somewhat visible today.
Before you get bored with all of the churches, I have to talk about the amazing scenery of Ani. It’s set in the steppe of the Kaskar mountains and is bordered by the Akhurian River with a view of Mount Aragats (in Armenia) from the whole site. Rain threatened the whole time we were there, and we ended up taking refuge in an old palace when the dust storms and hail started. Still, the changes of light provided by the incoming storm made the area endlessly watchable.
So, back to the churches. Our next stop was the Church of St. Gregory, built by the wealthy merchant Tigren Honents.
It was built and decorated in the Georgian style, which means FULL of decoration. Check out these close-ups to get an idea:
The biggest silhouette in Ani’s landscape is the cathedral. It was probably completed in 1001. Today, it’s a hulking ruin with a collapsed dome and some really fun crows who like to chase incoming swallows.
My favorite ruin was a palace in Armenian times and a mosque in Arab times, depending on the nationality of who you ask. On entering the building, beautiful river valley views are framed in tall decorated windows – it’s breathtaking! It was also pretty handy refuge when the storms passed through.
Architecturally, the most interesting place was the caravansaray. As usual, the building’s purpose is under debate, and our historian believes that it was actually just a meeting house or gathering place. The ceiling is impressive. Although it looks like mosaic tiles, it’s actually stones cut to fit into intricate designs.
At this point the rain and wind really picked up, and my partner left his raincoat on the bus, so we left the site. I’ll leave you with a few more views of the area surrounding Ani:
If you’re interested in learning more about Ani, or taking a virtual tour (of sorts), I recommend this page: http://www.virtualani.org/kars/index.htm