While Turkey is lauded for its beautiful Mediterranean coastline, historic Roman ruins and the amazing continent-straddling city of Istanbul, there are other parts of this diverse land that are seldom visited by most tourists. The ancient kingdom of Ani is one such place.
Located on the ragged edge of Turkey’s eastern border with Armenia is the ruined city of Ani. Vacant for more than 700 years, it continues slowly succumbing to the ravages of time. Yet, a few proud buildings remain, straddling this remote river border like sentinels standing watch.
It was not that many years ago that the Soviet Union’s southwest border snaked along this very spot. After fist acquiring the necessary permits, a traveler wishing to visit Ani had to first stop at a screening checkpoint to leave behind all cameras, binoculars and notebooks. At the archaeological site itself, visitors were forbidden from stopping for any length of time. Thankfully, these days are over and visiting Ani is much simpler. There do remain a few areas off-limits to visitors because of safety reasons.
Ani was once located on a branch of the Silk Road, making it an important capital city of the Armenian Bagratid kings. Ani prospered and reached its peak in the 10th and 11th centuries. Later, under the reign of Seljuk and Georgian rulers, the city kept its strategic importance as a Silk Route caravan crossroads. By the 14th century, though, Mongol conquerors, a major earthquake, and shifting trade routes hastened its decline. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Ani is an interesting and inspiring place to visit. The lack of tourists adds to the dreamlike and surreal experience of drifting through this remote landscape.
Your first glimpse of Ani is of the massive outer walls. The next vista reveals a ghostly grassy plateau. A handful of buildings stand starkly against the backdrop of a hilltop citadel. Walking clockwise to the left brings you to one of the more impressive ruins, the cliffside Church of St. Gregory-Tigran Honentz (Resimli Kilise). This mostly intact building has more colorful artwork than the others.
After circling the ruins, take some time to reflect on what might have transpired here 1,000 years ago while sipping a traditional tulip-shaped glass of hot Turkish tea.
If you go:
- Ani is accessible from the city of Kars, located about 45 minutes away by taxi or private car (allow 2-3 hours to wander around). You can also arrange a half-day tour in Kars.
- Kars is comfortably reachable by train (the East Express), bus, or air.
- Winter skiing is enjoyable at Sarıkamış 45 minutes west of Kars by train or minibus.
- A new railway line completed in late 2017 now connects Kars with Tbilisi in Georgia, making this an exciting overland route to visit the Caucasus region and beyond.