The Lost Ancient City of Ani, Turkey

Where Far Eastern Turkey .

When July 2014.

How 45 minute Taxi ride from Kars.

Price 10TL Entrance + 210TL cab fare.

Worth It? An explorers dream, just don’t go in the height of summer.

Next Up: Abandoned Soviet Resort of Kobuleti

City Walls

Looking for that Indiana Jones adventure you’ve always craved? Once the beating heart of the Silk Road, today the ghostly ruins of Ani are a crumbling, poignant reminder of how once great cities succumbed to greed and warfare.

The Entrance through the thick Volcanic Walls of Ani

The Entrance through the thick Volcanic Walls of Ani

The soft red and black Volcanic basalt rock produced beautifully carved structures

The soft red and black Volcanic basalt rock produced beautifully carved structures

In the 11th century, Ani was a thriving and diverse metropolis with a population of 100,000 and was known for its 1,001 churches. It was a burgeoning scientific and cultural centre, with great minds from throughout the world gathering to create some astounding architectural feats that were more advanced than anywhere else in the world.

 

 

Due to conflict and strife, the city declined and today, this once glorious city is finally coming out of the shadows and only was recently recognised by the Turkish government as a site of historic significance.

The reasoning for this is, and no surprise really, politics. As Armenia recognises Ani as their ancient capital, the general Turkish conscientious has been to largely ignore this ancient marvel and allow it turn to dust until it is wiped from memory. For decades, tourists were denied entry due to its sensitive location at the Armenian border.47-DSCN0592

The Citadel of Ani is still a militarised zone.

The Citadel overlooking Ani is still a militarised zone with entry forbidden.

Thankfully, due to more global awareness and a slight thawing of Turkish-Armenian relationships, Ani is now by and large accessible and is undergoing much needed archaeological research.

Founded 1,600 years ago, it’s location on key trade routes lead to the city quickly prospering and it became the capital of the the mediaeval Kingdom of Armenia in the 10th century. Renowned for its diversity, it attracted people of all faiths from all over and quickly became known as the city of 1001 churches – owning to its multi faith population and its remarkable volcanic stone churches and palaces.

The sheer vastness is incredibly overwhelming and it is hard to think that this was the home of over 100,000 people.

The sheer vastness is incredibly overwhelming and it is hard to think that this was the home of over 100,000 people.

Due to its location between the Byzantine and Persian empires, the city succumbed to numerous attacks in the 11th century that weakened its position as a leading metropolis. Lying in an active earthquake zone did not help matters and it was struck by a large quake in the 13th century. Further attacks by the Turks, Georgians and even the Mongols in the 13th century brought destruction and famine. By the 17th century Ani had been abandoned, and laid unnoticed until 1905 when the Russian Empire gained a foothold and sponsored a brief archaeological dig.

After WWI, Turkey attacked the area (which had been given to Armenia) and gained control of Ani. During this time numerous artefacts were looted and destroyed and the city as a historical site was neglected by the new patriotic Turkish government.

While there, we realised it would be a great backdrop for a rock album cover

While there, we realised it would be a great backdrop for a rock album cover

Church iof Holy Redeemer, Ani

The Churh of the Redeemer was built in 1035, and stood until 1955 when its eastern side collapsed. It is currently undergoing much need structural reform

Throughout the 20th century the site was militarised and suffered further destruction due to vandalism, further earthquakes and had even been used for artillery firing practise. It wasn’t until the 2000’s that large swathes of the site were formally demilitarised and despite its isolated positioning tourists and academics are slowly discovering this wonder of civilisation which is bound to reveal its secrets in years to come.

Indeed while we were there a group of archaeologists had discovered a confusing web of underground tunnels. Many of these had collapsed and a team of workers were safely excavating them – no doubt in due course more amazing discoveries will be made deep beneath this fascinating landscape.

One of the most well preserved buildings is the Church of St. Gregory (1215). Unique frescos inside depict the life of Christ and St. Gregory.

One of the most well preserved buildings is the Church of St. Gregory (1215). Unique frescos inside (below) depict the life of Christ and St. Gregory.

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The handful remaining ruins around the city of Ani have survived earthquakes, warfare and the extreme weather that affects this region for thousands of years.

The handful remaining ruins around the city of Ani have survived earthquakes, warfare and the extreme weather that affects this region for thousands of years.

GET THERE
  • Fly: Turkish Airlines offer daily flights to Kars from both Istanbul Airports and Ankara. Prices start at €45 one way.
  • Bus & Train: Most major eastern Turkish bus companies (Lüks Gümüşhane, & Kars Kalesi Turizm) serve Kars from Ankara and cities across Eastern and Southern Turkey – connections can be made to Istanbul and the west. Just ask at any local bus station in Turkey and you’ll be pointed in the right direction for direct connections. There are (very slow) train services from Istanbul and Ankara – bus is a much better option.
  • Car: There are rental agencies at Kars airport.  There’s no much traffic so hitching isn’t recommended.

Once in Kars, whether the town, airport or bus station – taxi drivers will offer trips out to Ani. There are no scheduled public buses or private bus tours. At the moment, a joint taxi trip is the cheapest option – see below.

FROM KARS TO ANI
Listen up folks.

Listen up folks.

We took a 11 hour night bus from Trabzon to the bus station outside the small city of Kars; from there it is a 30 – 45 minute drive to the ruins of Ani. As the ruins have only been demilitarised lately, there are still no official tours or public transport to the site and you do have to take a local taxi.

We were hoping to find other travellers to share the taxi journey but unfortunately there was no one else so we haggled down to a price of 210 Lira with a local driver. Entry to the site was 10TL each. Sadly, for the entire journey all he did was attempt to get more money (“nice price of 700TL to Lake Van”), despite my best efforts to ask about his family, Galatasaray or the history of the area itself. Money talks, baby.

A local kid just outside the City walls

A local kid just outside the City walls

The road to Ani is a desolate, well-built 4 lane highway. Its purpose is for future link to Armenia but until then it abruptly ends at the entrance to Ani. We had 3 hours at Ani, and we were lucky that we arrived at 8.30am as by 11am the sun burned brightly and there was no way we could have continued exploring in the searing July heat. We could have explored more but for the heat and went back to Mr Taximan.

Facilities wise there is little around Ani. There is a small shack selling cold drinks and snacks outside the main gate but other than that there is just a small rural village where locals raise goats and produce honey.

The best advice is to bring plenty (and we mean PLENTY) of bottled water, hats and some snacks as it is extremely hot in summer and there is no restaurants anywhere near the site.


The Grand Cathedral of Ani, completed in 1001 was designed by Trdat, the leading medieval architect in Armenia at the time. It inspired visiting European architects and contributed to the development of future Gothic design.

The Grand Cathedral of Ani, completed in 1001 was designed by Trdat, the leading medieval architect in Armenia at the time. It inspired visiting European architects and contributed to the development of future Gothic design. Its dome collapsed in the 14th century.

 

St Gregory Church entrance

St Gregory Church entrance

The Citadel of Ani, due its proximity to the Armenia border is still inaccessible and patrolled by the Turkish army.

The Citadel of Ani, due to its proximity to the Armenia border is still inaccessible and patrolled by the Turkish army.

The border between Turkey and Armenia is hotly contested and barbed wire and watch towers lines the valley

The border between Turkey and Armenia is hotly contested and barbed wire and watch towers lines the valley

The renovated entrance to the City shows the sheer bulk of the city walls that visible from miles around.

The renovated entrance to the City shows the sheer bulk of the city walls – the walls are visible from miles around.

The Grand Cathedral in ruins

The multi hued Grand Cathedral in ruins

Our Galatasaray / money obsessed taxi driver - sure aren't they the same all over!

Our Galatasaray / money obsessed taxi driver – sure aren’t they the same all over!

 

Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions – please do ask!

2 Comments

  1. wardy
    24/01/2015 / 4:22 AM

    is there a Maccas nearby?

  2. Allison
    31/10/2016 / 12:07 PM

    Thank you for this excellent article about your trip to Ani! I am writing a book that ultimately ends in Ani and this is a great resource. Now I’m inspired to travel there myself (eventually). It must have been amazing.

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