Ani is a sad/fascinating place.
In the evening of the 10th I return from Ani (wiki) to Kars again; it is cold and rainy after a pretty clear day. It has been a sad day.
Ani lies at the farthest eastern edge of Turkey, separated from Armenia by the deep ravines of the Akhurian River.
Glorious Ani was once the capital of medieval Armenia (Virtual Ani), Ani was maybe the 4th most important city in the then world, placed on important trade routes, known for its splendour and magnificence, rivalled only by Constantinople, Cairo and Bagdad. At around 1000 A.D. Ani had 100,000 to 200,000 inhabitants; it was called the city of 1001 churches. Ani produced shapes, arches and domes in an artistic architectural way at a time when Europe was dormant, Europe would not come up with anything similar for another 200 years.
But the Christian glory was short lived. Muslims started having an influence since 1064 on when the Seljuks moved through first. Georgians and Shaddadids, a Kurdish clan exchanged powers over Ani many times thereafter. Finally with the Mongol sacking starting in 13th c. the final decline of Ani set in. And - what the wars and invasions could not accomplish the many earthquakes and thunder storms managed. By the 18th c. it was totally abandoned.
Ani is a place of destruction over a thousand of years: Worst, what had remained intact of churches, palaces, city walls and mosques fell in the early 20th century to the hatred of Armenians and Turks. The Turks claim an Armenian priest used dynamite on some minaret of some mosque in 1919 (if I remember the year correctly), but no word is mentioned on apparent explosives’ use on many churches around shortly after when Ani fell to the Turks again, “the monuments of Ani to be wiped off the face of the earth” was the order.
Ani is a city abandoned for centuries, so much is buried under meters of rubble; not much has been professionally excavated since decades, much has been carted away by treasure hunters, so much destroyed by vandals. The Turkish state is widely being accused for allowing for dilettante excavations and rebuilding over the past 5 decades, all is considered to have destroyed more than it has revealed or recovered. (documented by Virtual Ani, rape of Ani.)
So I enter through the great walls, a Saturday, some Turkish/Kurdish tourists and many children from the village nearby.
Ani is now widely left to the cows and the boys that herd them, the flies sit on their dung, thousands of grasshoppers swirl around, small lizards seek flight in the gaps between the stones and one monster spider trots my way at the end of the day, makes me shudder, when I sit on the grass pondering the destructions. Its sheer size makes me tremble, fearing he could jump at me I forget to set the camera and hold it still, forget for a moment what is below the grass and the rubble of centuries.
The Church of the Redeemer (Surb Prkich).
I drift left, towards the Akhurian River, the ravine; there stands what is left of the Church of the Redeemer after half a storm cut it in half in 1955. Seems this place was not spared anything.
St. Gregory of Tigran Honents.
The cathedral is not far, but I turn towards the river. Underneath at the edge of the cliff lies the magnificent partly restored church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents. Built early 13th c.; before the Mongol invasion. The inside captures through impressive blue frescoes on walls and dome, beautiful.
Virgines Chapel/Monastery and the Akhurian river/valley.
A stone throw further south in the valley a minuscule Virgins’ chapel or monastery, perched at the slopes. Even further away down in the valley the remains of the Ani bridge over the Arpa/Akhurian river. Ani on the trade routes; what spectacle must it have been to see caravans of traders and cattle and soldiers come through?
The Cathedral is Ani’s largest remaining and most important building, gives an idea of Ani’s grandeur. Construction started end of 10th c. Later it became a mosque and then again a church. The dome already came down 14th c. after an earthquake. (Virtual Ani)
I am back later in evening.
Church of St. Gregory of the Abughamrents.
Maybe the most beautiful, a small tower on the edge of a valley, its conical roof has a steep pitch, gives however a spacious feeling inside. (Virtual Ani)
Again I come back later in evening.
Finally Ani's city walls and towers. Some is rebuilt/destroyed.
So I return to Kars, when it starts raining, feel the need for a drink.
Tonight, the 10th of October gives some hope. There is some signing of agreement between Armenia and Turkey here in Kars towards normalising relations which means opening borders, police has cordoned it all off, while I am headed for the bars. Ultra nationalists protest in Yerevan, nothing here in Kars. The door is a bit open, now it needs ratification in parliament. There is hope.