Ruins of Ani

Ruins of Ani

An abandoned city of ghosts
Ruled by a dizzying array of kingdoms and empires over the centuries – from the Byzantines to the Ottomans – the city of Ani once housed many thousands of people, becoming a cultural hub and regional power under the medieval Bagratid Armenian dynasty. Today, it’s an eerie, abandoned city of ghosts that stands alone on a plateau in the remote highlands of northeast Turkey, 45km away from the Turkish border city of Kars. As you walk among the many ruins, left to deteriorate for over 90 years, the only sound is the wind howling through a ravine that marks the border between Turkey and Armenia.

The toll of many rulers
Visitors who pass through Ani’s city walls are greeted with a panoramic view of ruins that span three centuries and five empires – including the Bagratid Armenians, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, Georgians and Ottomans. The Ani plateau was ceded to Russia once the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War. After the outbreak of World War I, the Ottomans fought to take back northeast Anatolia, and although they recaptured Ani and the surrounding area, the region was given to the newly formed Republic of Armenia. The site changed hands for the last time after the nascent Turkish Republic captured it during the 1920 eastern offensive in the Turkish War of Independence.

A hotly contested territory
The ruins of an ancient bridge over the Akhurian River, which winds its way at the bottom of the ravine to create a natural border, are fitting given the vexed state of Turkish-Armenian relations. The two countries have long disagreed over the mass killings of Armenians that took place under the Ottoman Empire during World War I, and Turkey officially closed its land border with Armenia in 1993 in response to a territorial conflict between Armenia and Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan.

‘The City of 1,001 Churches’
At its height during the 11th Century, scholars estimate that Ani’s population reached as high as 100,000 people. Artistic renderings based on the site’s archaeological findings show a bustling medieval centre crowded with myriad homes, artisanal workshops and impressive churches scattered throughout.

Known as “The City of 1,001 Churches”, Ani’s Armenian rulers and city merchants funded an extraordinary number of places of worship, all designed by the greatest architectural and artistic minds in their milieu. Although the nickname was hyperbole, archaeologists have discovered evidence of at least 40 churches, chapels and mausoleums to date.

An imposing cathedral
A rust-coloured brick redoubt, the Cathedral of Ani looms over the now-abandoned city. Although its dome collapsed in an earthquake in 1319 – and, centuries later, another earthquake destroyed its northwest corner – it is still imposing in scale. It was completed in 1001 under the reign of Armenian King Gagik I, when the wealth and population of Ani was at its peak. Trdat, the renowned Armenian architect who designed it, also served the Byzantines by helping them repair the dome of the Hagia Sophia.

Half of a church
Only one half of the Church of the Redeemer remains – a monument to both the artistic prowess of the Armenian Bagratid Dynasty and the inevitability of time. Propped up by extensive scaffolding now, the church was an impressive architectural feat when it was built. It featured 19 archways and a dome, all made from local reddish-brown volcanic basalt.

The church also housed a fragment of the True Cross, upon which Jesus was crucified. The church’s patron, Prince Ablgharib Pahlavid, reportedly obtained the relic during a visit to the Byzantine court at Constantinople.

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Finally, İf you have a chance to go Kars, you should visit ro ruins of Ani.

Sami Önk

About Author

ı m sami from Kayseri, Turkey. ı m student at Kafkas University and my major is translating and interpreting of English and French.

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