I’m fairly loose with my travel planning, but when I stopped by the bookstore before going to Turkey, a was flipping through a guidebook and saw this photo:
So strange. Just a wall, sitting there in a field of debris. I knew I had to make to make it there. So I made my way to the city of Kars, about as far east as you can go in Turkey, with one destination in mind…Ani.
Enigmatic. Ruined. And a slice of ancient Armenia, right here in modern-day Turkey. Those were the thoughts going through my head as we drove through the rolling green hills into what felt like another world. We arrived at a very modern-looking city wall, literally a stones throw from modern-day Armenia (yaaaaaay restored ruins…you know how I feel about that…)
But a walk through the gate showed hints of the surreal field of debris and churches that lay ahead…
In its heyday in the 10th Century, Ani was a powerful, medieval city-state, whose population topped 100,000. And, of course, those people needed places of worship. In medieval Armenian society, that was Christianity and virtually at that remains today are bits of and pieces of the thousands of churches that once dotted this city.
Some are brilliantly preserved, both on the outside and inside, with brilliant, yet faded frescoes depicting the life of Jesus Christ. Their exterior walls depicting inscriptions in Armenian text.
Others are eerily not…
Given the tensions between Armenia and Turkey (there is not an open border between the two countries), it has not always been this easy to visit Ani. In the not-so-distant past, visitors had to be escorted and all cameras had to be checked at the gate. But reminders of the ongoing tensions remain, like this sign, which stopped me from going towards the castle…
Thankfully, those days have passed and, for me, it was Ani in ruin that was so spectacular. Something I discovered when I wandered over towards an otherwise normal looking building.
But this building held perhaps the biggest surprise of all…
This was the 10th Century Church of the Holy Redeemer, which, if you can believe it, was a whole building until 1955 when it was struck by lightning. Then half of it literally collapsed… See it there on the ground?
The nearby grand Cathedral fared much better, looking fairly ordinary from the outside.
But it too held an interior secret…
Some exquisite detail work caught my eye, especially in the Church of the Holy Apostles.
But in the end, it was the buildings in complete ruin that really stood out to me…
The beauty of Ani is its ruin. The sensation that you’re stumbling into an ancient place. Not one that’s been beautifully presented just for tourists. One that you can explore and discover for yourself. For what you might discover around that next bend is exciting, as structures rise out of the rubble. Enigmatic, indeed!
And what can I say? My visit to Ani was definitely one of the true highlights of my time in Turkey!
8 replies on “Photo Essay: Inside Enigmatic Ani”
Wow Aaron! An amazing place – and your photography is incredible.
I’ve read through this post twice and I’m sure I’ll pour over it a few more times before I can move on to anything else today. Thanks for introducing me to enigmatic Ani
I loved Ani and the guide said there was still so much more to excavate. Shame that no one will put up the funding
That doesn’t surprise me. I read that the Turkish army used to use some of the monuments as target practice! I hope one day there will be a greater appreciation for the site!
Indeed it is!
Amazing place…great photographs. Got to make it a destination for the future. Especially love the photograph with the sky through the crashed roof of the church…
It really was an incredible place! Yes the collapsed dome was striking, but nothing was quite as iconic to me as the Church of St. Gregory, which was literally split in half! It’s eerie, enigmatic and one of those places that still hasn’t been fully overrun with tourists!