Some of you may have heard of the Great Medieval Armenian capital. At least from the crossword puzzles, they love her a lot there. However, the Ani City sounded to me somehow suspicious, as one of those three-or two-letter words that the compilers of crosswords seem to deliberately invent to fill the holes between truly meaningful words. With a great deal of astonishment, I found myself there in the middle of June, on the very boundary between the present-day territories of Turkey and Armenia. Let me show you.
At the exit of the modern village of Ani, quite insignificant on its own, you are welcomed by the remains of the fortress walls of the medieval city. You can read on the web that, in the days of its bloom, the capital has numbered over 100,000 people and was known as the “city of 1001 churches”. You may also read how the Seljuks destroyed it upon its conquest. Today, it’s not too much left, true. But it’s still worth seeing, and the fortress walls are impressive.
Most of the preserved buildings, albeit in ruins, are part of the 1001 churches in question. Some are preserved only as separate walls, such as the so-called Georgian church. Others stand in halves, like a cake cut through the middle. Such is the Church of the Holy Savior, also known by a second name, which is absolutely un-pronounceable for the regular visitor – “Saint Amaenap’rkitch”. This is not an isolated phenomenon; many of the sites in Ani City have several different names.
This also applies to the best preserved church in the whole complex. You will find it as St. George and as the church of Tigran Honents. Quite exceptionally, it is known who this Tigran Honents was, and he was the man who built the temple. The church itself is extremely picturesque, located on the edge of the Arpacay River canyon, which today marks the border between Turkey and Armenia. One of the few with preserved murals in the interior, and if you look carefully in the photo below, you will notice the texts cut into the outer stone walls.
The so-called Cathedral of Ani City is currently being restored and the entry inside is not allowed. On the other hand, you can enter the Mosque of Manucher, whose atypical minaret, resembling a factory chimney, can be seen from afar in the direction of Ani’s citadel. Manucher was the first Seljuk emir of the city in the late 11th century. The mosque has recently been restored and offers a rare moment of coolness if you have found yourself in the place in sunny weather. And also great views of the Arpacay Valley.
If you have more time, you can walk to the Citadel, but most visitors turn from here back to the entrance, passing by several more iconic sites. The first is the symbol of the Ani City – St. Gregory’s Church or, in the local style, Church of St. Kirkor. You can see it in the titular photo of this article. Following is the Caravansarai, the former Church of the Apostles. Quite poorly damaged by the past centuries, but with exceptional interior decoration. I will try to show you its ceiling, though it is very difficult to shoot –
The last big church in the Ani City – of St. Gregory or, if you will believe, of King Gagik, is unfortunately in ruins and its beautiful architecture can only be perceived on the spot, possibly on an aerial photo. It consists, as far as I could see, from at least two concentric rings. The giant columns have collapsed in the inner ring, and their capitals with filigree decoration are scattered everywhere. You can only imagine how beautiful the building was in its entirety.
The return road passes by more ruins, offering a look at the neighboring canyon, whose walls are dotted by caves and niches like a honeycomb. People are said to have lived in them until the middle of the last century. The last building near the fortress walls is the Seljuk Palace of the 12-13 centuries, which simultaneously fits into the surrounding landscape and is radically different from the rest of the architecture. But I guess that’s quite logical.