Ani – A Forgotten Ancient Capital of Armenia in Eastern Turkey
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Ani was once a thriving ancient capital of the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia with nearly 100,000 residents. After the kingdom collapsed, Ani experienced a long history of war, looting, vandalism, capture, and transfer of power. It was later abandoned and neglected in the 17th century.
Ani is now situated on the eastern Turkish province Kars and bordering Armenia. The site is open to the public for visiting. You can take a guided tour or a shared van from Kars to see its incredible medieval ruins, get to know its history, and admire its rare Armenian architecture.
History of Ani
The documented history of Ani can be traced back to the 5th century as a strong fortress on a hilltop. It was incorporated into a territory during the medieval Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia and became the capital city in 961. Ani then reached its historical peak of power and wealth, and became a culture and trading hub along the Silk Road.
Sadly, after the King of Gagik past away, Ani was captured by numerous empires over the next hundred years, namely the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuk Empire, the Georgians, the Mongols, the Nomadic Kurds, the Russians, the Armenians, the Persians, and the Turkish until it was completely abandoned in 1775.
Meanwhile, the city gradually lost its splendor and glamour from the past as a result of natural disasters, slaughter, and amateur excavations and destruction. All of these have exerted a devastating effect on the monuments and artistic structures of this place.
The conservation work started in 2011 and Ani is now on the list of UNESCO Heritage Sites. From then, Ani has grown to become a protected place but is also open to tourists to this day.
How to get to Ani
Taking a shared van from Kars city center is the most budget-friendly way. You can book the van through your hotel in Kars and pay 50 liras for a round trip. Our van picked me up at 9am from my hotel, went around the city picking up other passengers along the way, and then off to Ani.
It was mid-winter when I visited and the snow was heavy. We drove around the city for a few minutes and then on the highway. All we saw was the infinite stretch of snow and the faint light of the sun. We hardly saw any cars on the road except ours; therefore, it is not recommended that you hitchhike to Ani during the winter season.
Related articles that will help you plan your travels to Turkey:
- From Ankara to Kars on Eastern Express
- Hot Air Balloon Ride over Cappadocia in Winter
- Lake Çıldır – The Largest Freshwater Lake in Turkey’s East Anatolia
A trip to Ani
Ani is a remote place in Turkey and it was cold and covered in snow, but that did not stop people from visiting. The groups of people scattered around different areas and walking on different paths, made this forgotten city all of sudden come alive.
We had two hours in this place before heading back to the bus. I thought two hours was more than enough, but I was wrong. It took a while to walk from one place to the other. I had to skip a few interesting sites and merely scratched the surface of this ancient city.
The Church of St George
Ani was known as “The City of 1,001 Churches”, although only 40 churches have been discovered to date. Most churches there were spectacular, and my favorite was definitely the Church of St George.
Built in 1215, the Church of St George is the best-preserved building in Ani. The moment I stepped inside this church, I was surrounded by an interior decorated with frescoes illustrating the life cycle of Christ and Georgian trader Saint Gregory on all sides.
The gate behind Church of St George is a cliff drop where you can get an impressive views of the Arpa and Akhurian River that go through the border between Armenia and Turkey, as well as the Monastery of the Hripsimian Virgins perched on the rocky promontory.
On the opposite side of the Church of St George are the underground caves that have been dug out. These caves were used as tombs, churches, and dwellings. The topography of these caves makes it feel like a mini-Cappadocia.
Church of the Redeemers
The Church of the Holy Redeemer was completed in 1035 and the most prominent features are the huge dome and 19 archways. Inside the church was Armenian script revealing the history of this church and Ani’s early settlement.
Only half of the church remains, which tells a historical past and the inevitability of time. The status of this church is fragile and for me, it was a spectacular architecture feast regardless.
The City Walls
Built by the Bagratid family, Ani has a double-line city wall that was constructed in the 10th country. This wall served as a strong defense for the Bagratids. The wall has protected its citizens from numerous attacks and tells history of bloody war among Bagratids, Byzantines, and Seljuk.
It is incredible to walk through the city walls because so many things like battles, cultural exchange, and artistic workshops and worship have happened inside, and it is hard to process all these events all at once.
Silk Road and Turkey – Armenia Border
As Ani was built on a hilltop; the paths are on the cliff side. While walking on the Silk Road, I could immediately sense the melancholic feeling in the air. It was once a city full of people and glory that has been almost destroyed and forgotten for centuries. All its remains were abandoned red-stone buildings standing on Turkey and Armenia’s border; still revealing magnificent Armenian architecture and you can easily imagine what was it like to live in the Bagratid Kingdom of Armenia.
During the visit, I saw parts of Armenia with watch-towers. It was easy to assume that you can just walk straight to Armenia from there, but it is not that simple. Turkey failed to acknowledge Armenian Genocide that they carried out during World War I, and nowadays land crossing in between these two countries needs to be diverted through Georgia.
Overall, I had a great time visiting Ani and learned quite a bit of history that I would never have known, and it was absolutely fascinating to see a once a powerful medieval Bagratid Armenia kingdom with my own eyes. The desolate location and the empty setting made it feel like you have reached the end of Turkey.
Where to stay
In my experience, accommodations in Ani is very limited or none, so I recommend you to stay in Kars and visit Ani on a day trip. I stayed at Kars Konak Hotel in downtown Kars. The hotel offers complimentary breakfast and has welcoming staff that frequently offers their guests free Turkish tea. It has cozy rooms with free WiFi, TV, and a panoramic view of Kars. The staff helped me to arrange my day trip to Ani ruins and Lake Çıldır.
What to know about visiting Ani
- Ani is huge but the paths are mostly flat and it is easy to walk.
- It has a small shop next to the front entrance where you can get snacks and a café, and you need to pay cash for admission
- This area is cold and snowy in the winter so wear sunglasses and dress warmly.
- Don’t smoke, throw trash or attempt to cross the border.
- If you go on your own, read some history of this place before you go, as some structures have no signs. I also found some signs and introductions have deteriorated and are difficult to read.
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