On the drive out to Ani, from Kars, we drove through long stretches of dusty and dry farmland where hawks circled overhead, or perched on rocks and fences along the roadside.
The former medieval capital of Armenia, Ani was in it’s prime around 1000A.D. It’s importance at the time rivalled that of Constantinople, Baghdad and Damascus. Ani is said to have been home to:
But time hasn’t been kind to Ani. It’s history is long, complicated and bloody and eventually the city ended up being more or less abandoned in the seventeenth century.
Wandering through Ani.
Passing through the city walls, you find yourself staring across a vast dusty plain, with structures dotted across the landscape.
We were surprised just how many structures had survived the centuries. There was a real mix as we walked throughout the site. Some were no more than piles of rubble but others stood strong and sturdy, having battled for hundreds of years against man and nature.
The most photographed sight in Ani is The Church of the Redeemer. Having survived wars, earthquakes and lack of attention over the years, it was finally a lightning strike in 1957 that left it a shell of its former-self, with only half of the structure now remaining.
Well-preserved both inside and out was The Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents. We stood mesmerised inside this church, not by the beautiful frescos, but by the swallows who flew around and around and around the inside of the dome. Do birds get dizzy?
Even today, history and politics continue to impact the site, due to tensions between Turkey and Armenia. In 1920, Ani passed into Turkish hands where it’s remained ever since. The border to Armenia is just across the river, at the edge of the site. However due to ongoing tensions, the border between the countries is for the moment well and truly closed.
Armenians feel that the Turkish have let the site slowly decay, spending little money on restoration and maintenance. Part of the site is also currently a Turkish military zone. The sign for which we almost missed as we started up to the castle – which is well and truly on military land.
Whatever the reason or whoever is to blame, we’ll certainly never know but during the 1990s and early 2000s, Ani appeared on the World Monuments Fund (WMF) list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites around the world. Thankfully in 2011, the WMF announced it was beginning conservation work at the site in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and we saw evidence of this work continuing during our visit.
Hopefully this means that for those who have the time to visit this remote part of the world, Ani should remain standing for centuries more.