While Turkey is usually 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, the ruined city of Ani has been vacant for more than 700 years and continues slowly succumbing to the ravages of time. However, 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 acquiring the necessary permits in advance, a traveler wishing to visit Ani had to first stop at a screening checkpoint and 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, though there are 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 crossroads for Silk Route caravan traders. 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 reveal the massive outer walls, which have been partially restored. Once through the entrance gate, the vista reveals a ghostly grassy plateau with a handful of buildings standing starkly against the backdrop of a hilltop citadel. Walking clockwise to the left brings you to one of the more impressive ruins, the cliff side Church of St. Gregory-Tigran Honentz (Resimli Kilise), which has more colorful and intact artwork than most of the other buildings.
Continuing in a clockwise direction, you can easily view and explore the other ruins including the Cathedral (Fethiye Camii), Menüçer Camii (first mosque built by the Seljuks in Anatolia) and the Church of St. Gregory-Abughamrentz. The fortress-like citadel looms in the distance but is off-limits to visitors.
After circling the ruins, take some time to reflect on what might have transpired here 1,000 years ago while you sip 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.