Standing with the greatest glories once upon a time and serving as a home to a large population, several abandoned cities and ghost towns can be found around the globe which now stand in ruins. Whether as a result of a natural disaster, war or economic downturn, these cities now stand as a testament to an era that no longer exists. Discovered by archaeologist Mark Gioloany on September 17, 1955, and recognised by UNESCO, “Ani” is one such medieval Armenian city now located in the Kars province of Turkey. Situated on a triangular site on a hilltop near the borders of Armenia and Turkey, it was naturally protected on its eastern side by the ravine of the Akhurian River and its western side by the Bostanlar valley.

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City of Ani_©Ben Men Lyun
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Ani_©www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/01/the-ancient-ghost-city-of-ani/100668/

Ani has been inhabited since the Bronze Age but prospered in the 10th and 11th centuries AD as the capital of the mediaeval Armenian kingdom of the Bagratids growing to a population of about 200,000 at its peak. Ruled by a series of dynasties of Byzantine emperors, Ottoman Turks, Armenians, nomadic Kurds, Georgians, and Russians, it acted as a critical junction for commercial caravans because of its position on the confluence of various trade routes like the silk road. The city’s decline began with the Mongol conquest, followed by a disastrous earthquake in 1319 and a shift in trade routes. By the 18th century with the impact of World War I and the later events of the Armenian Genocide, it had all but died out.

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Walls of Ani_© Marko Anastasov

Also known as “the city of 1001 churches”, this walled city is accessed through the lion’s gate and is the home to a collection of residential, religious, and military structures created by successive Christian and Muslim regimes over centuries. Armenian churches from the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries are the most well-known monuments. All of these structures are made of an easily carved out stone, local volcanic basalt, which comes in various vibrant colours. Some of these important structures are as follows.

The Cathedral

A very early example of Gothic Architecture, The cathedral was constructed under the reign of King Smbat II by the most renowned architect of medieval Armenia- Trdat. A domed basilica, it followed a rectangular plan measuring  34.3 m long, 21.9 m wide and 38 m high with its dome supported on pendentives, The dome no longer exists as it was destroyed during the earthquake. The interior space has pointed arches and is divided into three aisles by free-standing piers ending in a gabled roof. It was also converted into a Mosque during the Seljuk’s rule but was again converted to an Armenian church. 

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Cathedral of Ani_©en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ani#/media/File:Ani-Cathedral,_Ruine.jpeg
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Cathedral of Ani Interiors_©Teo Romera

The Mosque of Manuchihr

Overlooking the Akhurian river, the mosque was built on the edge of the ravine and was named after the first ruling member Minuchihr of the Shaddadid dynasty that ruled Ani in 1072. Engraved by the word “Bismillah” in Kufic lettering on its northern face, stands the oldest surviving structure of the mosque, the tall, octagonal minaret.

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The Mosque of Manuchihr_©Jean & Nathalie

The Church of the Holy Redeemer

19-sided externally and 8-apsed internally, a huge central dome was set on a tall drum built by Prince Ablgharib Pahlavid to house a fragment of the True cross. Completed in 1035, it was skillfully crafted and contains Armenian scripts on its surface that act as a testimony to Ani’s history.

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The Church of the Holy Redeemer_©www.wmf.org/project/church-holy-redeemer
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The Church of the Holy Redeemer_©www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/01/the-ancient-ghost-city-of-ani/100668/#img16

The Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents

Built during the rule of Zakarids, it was completed in 1215 and has a domed type of plan. Highly detailed walls with animal carvings and scripts, the name is based on the wealthy Armenian merchant who ordered and paid for its construction.

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The Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents_© Teo Romera
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The Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents interiors_©www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/01/the-ancient-ghost-city-of-ani/100668/#img16

Other monuments include The Church of the Holy Apostles, Surp Stephanos Church, King Gagik’s church of St Gregory, Virgins’ chapel, and foundations of several residences and palaces. Encircled by a line of walls, the northern side of the city has the highest walls, being the only side not protected by natural features. Each ruler kept making these walls higher and thicker as suggested by the inscriptions and carvings on the walls.

Ani is currently the focus of an ambitious preservation initiative led by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MCT) of the Republic of Turkey, which is backed by a historic collaboration between the ministry and the World Monuments Fund (WMF),  partially funded by the US Department of State’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.  It was also inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 15, 2016.

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Double walls on the northern side of the city_©upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a1/Double-Walls-Northside-Ani-Armenia-1885.png
An overview of Ani_©Scott dexter

References:

  1. Centre, U., 2022. Archaeological Site of Ani. [online] Whc.unesco.org. Available at: <https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1518/> [Accessed 22 May 2022].
  2. Taylor, A., 2022. The Ancient Ghost City of Ani. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: <https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/01/the-ancient-ghost-city-of-ani/100668/> [Accessed 22 May 2022].
  3. Turkish Travel Blog. 2022. Tigran Honents Church Of Ani : East Of Turkey : Turkish Travel Blog. [online] Available at: <https://turkishtravelblog.com/tigran-honents-church-ani/> [Accessed 23 May 2022].
  4. Virtualani.org. 2022. Armenian Architecture – VirtualANI – The Mosque of Minuchihr. [online] Available at: <http://virtualani.org/minuchihrmosque/index.htm> [Accessed 23 May 2022].
  5. Watenpaugh, H., 2014. Preserving the Medieval City of Ani. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 73(4), pp.528-555.
  6. World Monuments Fund. 2022. Church of the Holy Redeemer. [online] Available at: <https://www.wmf.org/project/church-holy-redeemer> [Accessed 23 May 2022].
Author

An architect by profession, Soumya is a history enthusiast and an avid traveller who loves to capture buildings and pen down her architectural perspectives. She has a keen interest in analyzing the role of architecture in building a city as a whole. She believes in designing spaces where people can unravel and compose themselves.

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