The Ancient Armenian Capital of Ani

Once upon a time, there was a magnificent city on the banks of the Akhuryan River whose splendor and prominence rivaled that of Baghdad, Cairo and Constantinople. On the map since the 5th century, it became the capital of the Armenian Bagratuni kingdom in 961 A.D. and enjoyed a golden age during the reign of King Gagik I from 989 to 1020 A.D.

Alas, in 1064 a Seljuk Turkish army arrived and captured the city, slaughtering its inhabitants and marking the start of centuries of alternating rule by the Shaddadids (a Muslim Kurdish dynasty), the Georgians, the Mongols, a variety of local Turkish dynasties, the Persian Safavids and, finally the Ottoman Empire.

By the middle of the 18th century, this ancient Armenian capital known as Ani was completely abandoned.

Today, what remains of the capital lies in Turkey, separated from Armenia only by the Akhuryan River flowing below it. Due to its location, permits were required to visit as recently as 2004 and photography was once prohibited. Luckily, authorities have relaxed these restrictions and I was able to visit easily on a day trip from Kars, taking over 200 photographs during my two and a half hour visit. Here are some of the highlights.
 

Church of the Redeemer

 
Built between 1034 and 1036, a lightning strike in 1957 destroyed half of the church, leaving an open shell today surrounded by piles of crumbled stones.

Church of the Redeemer, Ani
 

Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Tigran Honents).

 
Built in 1215, this is one of 3 churches in Ani dedicated to the saint who brought Christianity to Armenia in the 4th century. The frescoes are the only ones that survive in Ani.

Church of St. Gregory
Church of St Gregory
Church of St Gregory

 

Cathedral

 
Built between 989 and 1010, the Cathedral was renamed the Fethiye Mosque after the Seljuks conquered Ani. It was designed by Trdat Mendet, who restored the earthquake-damaged dome of the Aya Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul).

Cathedral, Ani
Cathedral, Ani
 

Mosque of Ebul Menuchehr

 
This mosque is said to be the first mosque built by the Seljuk Turks back in 1072. While the minaret is allegedly off-limits to climb, a friendly security guard named Orhan insisted on taking me up.

Menucehir Mosque, Ani
Ani, Turkey
Ani, Turkey
 

12th century homes

 
Ani, Turkey
Ani, Turkey
Ani, Turkey
 

Church of St. Gregory (Gagik I)

 
Started in 998, the rotunda of this church would have been one of the largest in medieval Armenia, but it collapsed almost immediately upon completion.

Church of St Gregory (Gagik I), Ani
Ruins of Church of St Gregory, Ani
 

Church of the Holy Apostles

 
Dating to 1031, this church was turned into a caravanserai by the Seljuk Turks in 1064.

Church of the Holy Apostles
Church of Holy Apostles dome
Inside Church of Holy Apostles, Ani
 

City walls and gates

 
Ani city walls
Ani city gate
Lion Gate, Ani
 

If You Go

 
Ani is an easy day trip from Kars – allow an hour driving each way and 2-3 hours to explore. I recommend hiring Celil (pronounced Jelil) Ersozoglu to drive you. He charges 140 Turkish lira (about $80) but will try to find others with whom you can split the cost. Celil speaks good English and seems to be the best known driver/guide in Kars. Your hotel can likely arrange things with him for you as the Grand Ani Hotel did for me or you can contact him directly at celilani@hotmail.com or +90 532 226 39 66.

 

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9 thoughts on “The Ancient Armenian Capital of Ani”

  1. The Church of the Redeemer is insane! I can’t believe that lightening blew it in half like that. It looks like it would be a fun place to off-road bike too, depending on distances.

  2. Lightening did that to a church?? Crazy!

    Also, I love that you recommend your driver by name and include his phone number! He must have been awesome!

  3. It was a beautiful city as many of the Armenian cities now in the Turkish territory.
    Some of the churches were damaged from earthquakes, rains and storms… However, most were destroyed by Turkey in an attempt to wipe any evidence of the Armenian and Christian spirit from that land!

  4. Have you seen the Elle Turkey’s terrible shots with the ruins of Ani as a backdrop for fashion photography… :/

  5. I am headed to Kars next month for three days so sticking this on the list. Thanks for the great photos, they definitely helped me to make up my mind

    1. You’re welcome – it was really a great trip! Kars had some nice sights to see too but it rained a good part of the time I was there so I didn’t see much (my trip to Ani was my only sunny day!).

  6. Very interesting posts – and great photos – about an area I’m not very familiar with. I guess there were no lightning rods on buildings years ago. That’s quite the destruction of the church.

  7. THANK YOU KATIE…
    I have recently returned from that wonderful Ancient city of Ani! As an Armenian I I walked through the landscape gingerly, reverently and with respect for my slaughtered ancestors over a millennia. With passing of time does it mean they are any the less Armenian or valued as my own past? Yes, they were bloody time and one would hope that we are more civilised towards our fellow man! Alas I fear not, as the 1915 Genocide of the Armenian’s by young Turks of the day is still denied by Turkey today! Only yesterday I read the news that Ani’s undergoing excavations of Armenian Churches and not one Armenian Historian like ‘Armen Aroyan’ or someone representing Armenian’s in charge of the excavations. Who better than our own in terms of knowing our own ancient crafts and history of our Churches. It is now the 21st Century and we thrive on transparency. It is not the time for ‘eski gaffa’ thinking [old headed] We have entered a new millennia and the Turks want to enter the EU…Show some humanity, understanding for the first Nation to embrace Christianity in 301 [The Armenians]. Your focal point is not to dis [Take fun of or pock fun at Turkishness] that in its self is an Eski Gaffa thought! Who cares about that! Yet you use 301 as a rule. by what measure did you come to that figure of 301?
    It is a mental hurt that you are suffering for the wrong doings of your forefathers…To want to obliterate Armenian’s for turning to Christianity! So what? You have secular belief, are we wanting to convert you? NO! Live and let live, you do not need to covert, tax or kill us infidels!
    Is the question over property and loss of revenue? You already spend billions upon billions trying to stop the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by your lobbyist’s in Congress in the USA. Do something constructive and mend the broken bridges, [Armenian Hearts}

    JUST ACCEPT THE 1915 GENOCIDE OF ARMENIANS BY THE YOUNG TURKS OF ITS DAY!

    After all what can you lose? A bit of land that once was Armenian…look at the map now, what remains of Armenia now?

    I have been to my lands and seen how people struggle and live in poverty the very people who are now living in Armenian lands and homes. It is a 21st century hell on earth. They deserve more and yet Turkey spends money not to have The Armenian Genocide of 1915 recognised on the backs of these poor, uneducated, bedraggled people you call Turks, most of whom are not Turks but from far away Kurdish villages who were promised better than they got!
    Yes, we choose Russia at the time, the alternative was more death and destruction. TURKEY GAVE US NO CHOICE, then – THEY HAVE A NEW OPTION NOW!
    Seta

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