An incredible old ruined city
Ani Travel Blog› entry 468 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip:
I didn't even have time to put my bags in a hotel when i arrived into Kars, as i was pounced on by taxi drivers trying to take me to the ancient ruined City of Ani, located some 45kms to the East. Now Lousy Planet claimed that a taxi out here would be at least 39 Euros ($50/78YTL), so i wasn't surprised when the offers began to come in for 100YTL and then 80YTL. I didn't want to rush into a decision so kept saying it was too expensive and i wasn't interested. When it comes to bargaining, walking away almost always sends the prices tumbling and soon i was been quoted 70YTL, 65YTL, 60YTL, 55YTL and finally 50YTL (25Euros/$32).
Ani used to be an Armenian stronghold and even served as the Capital of the Bagratid Kingdom from 961 until 1045, at which time the City was captured by the Byzantines. A succession of rulers then governed Ani, including the Seljuks, Georgians and Kurds, but it was to be the marauding Mongols and then the sweet hearted Tamerlane who put the final nail in the coffin. As was Tamerlane's subtle way, he entered Ani and raped, pillaged and destroyed what was left of a once great metropolis.
Nowadays the City lies inside the Turkish border, which causes great upset amongst the Armenians, who also have grievances regarding the genocide that Turkey perpetrated against them in the early 20thCentury.
Cab driver Zekir got me to the site within 40 minutes and i was soon in for a real Historical treat, something i just can't get enough of! A large fortress wall stood between myself and a mystical City that lay in ruins and my head was awash with thoughts. What had these walls witnessed? Cries of death and fear, bustling streets of 100,000 people, Church bells ringing and muezzins making the call for prayer.
It cost 5YTL ($3.20) to gain admission to the site and i entered through the imposing Aslan Kapisi (Lion Gate), which had a carved lion above the entrance. Once inside the thick City walls, the scene took on an intriguing appearance, with crumbling relics enticing you towards them wherever you turned your head. As i didn't have unlimited time, i opted to work my way around the ruins in a clockwise direction, even though i was keen to head for the biggest buildings first.
Whilst i knew that the ruins were located near the border, i hadn't initially realised just how close they really were.
The Church of the Redeemer is quite a startling sight, mainly because half of it has weathered the test of time and the other half was blasted away by a bolt of lightning! It certainly isn't something you see everyday and it makes you wonder what had ruffled Gods feathers on a stormy 1957 night to make him do this! The Church had been built between 1034 and 1036 and is covered with Armenian script on the outer walls, which claim that a piece of the true cross was to be kept here.
To see the Church of the Redeemer it only took half the time it normally takes to look around a Church, so i was soon on my way to the Church of St Gregory. This was located only a hundred metres away, but it wasn't visible until i descended into a gorge, which served as a natural defensive barrier for the City. The Church was undergoing heavy restoration, but its setting was stunning, as were the colourful frescoes that adorned both the inside and outside walls. The Church was built in 1215 by a chap called Tigran Honentz and dedicated to the memory of St Gregory the Illuminator, who helped convert Armenia into a Christian nation.
Now i know that i said today shouldn't be a day for wandering off the beaten path, but i just couldn't resist it. Lousy Planet advised that the Convent of the Virgins (Kusanatz) was off limits, but there wasn't a fence, so i figured i could play dumb if anyone approached me and asked me what i was doing. In honesty i didn't expect anyone else would come near me, as there wasn't another soul at the place, but i did have a slightly nervous inclination that the sniper in the watchtower might fancy some target practice. I therefore made every effort to look at my book, hold my camera out and generally show that i was no danger of any sort. As the first bullet came whistling past my ear i decided i should make a move... luckily this didn't happen, and my slightly foolhardy gamble to see the Church paid off with no repercussions.
The Convent of the Virgins was situated in the Arpa Cayi Gorge and it really made for a stunning location. The river ran far below, whilst the decrepit remains of a bridge could also be seen. The ancient citadel (still occupied today) loomed in the background, so i decided to stay just long enough to admire the picturesque remains of the chapel, with its serrated roof, before getting the hell out of there.
Climbing back onto the plateau from the gorge was sweaty work, as the weather was unseasonably hot, so i sat on a rock and ate some food, admiring my surrounds in solitude. Having basked in the sun for a short time, i went to take a close up look at the imposing Cathedral, which is arguably the finest structure in Ani. Begun in 987 by King Smbat II, it took 13 years to finish and was cherished by both the Christians and conquering Muslims, who converted the Cathedral into a Mosque when they captured the City.
From here i went to see Menucer Camii, a 1072 Seljuk Mosque, with a towering minaret that dominated the Ani skyline. Along with its splendid location on the lip of the canyon, the striking red and black patterned tiles made this edifice stand out. Situated around the Mosque were numerous partially excavated buildings, believed to have been a row of shops, and also one ruin that was possibly a palace.
From here i walked as close to Ic Cale citadel as i dare, but i wasn't going to push my luck too far, as i knew that the Turkish army still used it.
The Church of St Gregory (Abughamrentz) was in very good shape saying that it dated from the late 900's, and still had its conical roof in tact. I took a quick gander around this and then went on to some other ruined buildings, but i am not too sure what these were. Next up was the Church of the Holy Apostles, which dates from 1031, but was turned into a Caravanserai by the Seljuk's. The colourful tiling was particularly splendid here and i would love to have seen what it had looked like 900 years earlier.
Heading North through the complex i came upon the ruins of a Zoroastrian fire Temple, which dated back to the 1stCentury AD, making it by far the oldest building on display. Just a few metres further on was one surviving wall of a Georgian Church that was constructed at some point in the 11thCentury AD. Carved into one wall were two bas reliefs, one of the Annunciation and the other of the Visitation.
Turning West i reached the Church of St Gregory (Gagik I), which was in a ruinous state, but nevertheless impressed me with its sheer size. Close to this was the barely visible Kaya Kilise which had been cut from the rock face and in contrast to this was the Seljuk Palace, which has been a little too vigorously restored. I don't know why, but this last building really gave me the creeps and i was keen to get away from it, i have no explanation why this was, but i really didn't like it!
My two and a half hours were nearly up, so i followed the City walls back around to the main gate.