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 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.
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).
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.
12th century homes
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 the Holy Apostles
Dating to 1031, this church was turned into a caravanserai by the Seljuk Turks in 1064.
City walls and gates
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or +90 532 226 39 66.