Accessibility links

Turkey Turns Medieval Armenian Capital Into A Tourist Attraction

Before 1989, the medieval ruins of Ani were in a no-go zone on the border between NATO-member Turkey and what was then the Soviet Union. Until a few years ago, it was still difficult to visit, requiring a number of permits. But the local authorities in the nearby city of Kars realized the tourism potential, lifted restrictions, built roads and a visitor center, and reconstructed some of the site. These photos shows Ani during three periods: in 2003, when the visitor restrictions were still in place; in 2007, when restrictions were lifted but few tourists came; and in September 2014, when crowds of international tourists vied for better photo opportunities. (Text and photos by Anthony Georgieff)

Ani was a major town until the 14th century, with up to 100,000 people living there. The Baghratid dynasty of Armenia established its capital in Ani in 961. Various armies fought over it. But what Byzantines, Seljuks, Mongols, Georgians, and many others failed to accomplish, nature did. The city was almost totally destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1319 and was never fully rebuilt. This is Ani in 2014.  
1

Ani was a major town until the 14th century, with up to 100,000 people living there. The Baghratid dynasty of Armenia established its capital in Ani in 961. Various armies fought over it. But what Byzantines, Seljuks, Mongols, Georgians, and many others failed to accomplish, nature did. The city was almost totally destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1319 and was never fully rebuilt. This is Ani in 2014.  

It's all a matter of perspective. From a distance, most of the 10th to 12th century churches of Ani appear like matchboxes. Only as you come up to them do you realize that their dimensions are enormous. The dome of the Church of the Redeemer (Prkitch) is 25 meters high. The church, erected in 1035, was cut in half by the 1319 earthquake. Most of what remained collapsed during a storm in the 1950s. This photo is from 2007.
2

It's all a matter of perspective. From a distance, most of the 10th to 12th century churches of Ani appear like matchboxes. Only as you come up to them do you realize that their dimensions are enormous. The dome of the Church of the Redeemer (Prkitch) is 25 meters high. The church, erected in 1035, was cut in half by the 1319 earthquake. Most of what remained collapsed during a storm in the 1950s. This photo is from 2007.

The Church of the Redeemer in 2014.
3

The Church of the Redeemer in 2014.

The St. Gregory the Illuminator Church (Tigran Honents) is one of the best preserved structures. This was the church in 2003.
4

The St. Gregory the Illuminator Church (Tigran Honents) is one of the best preserved structures. This was the church in 2003.

The St. Gregory Church in 2014.
5

The St. Gregory Church in 2014.

Most of the walls of the buildings in Ani are covered in 18th and early 19th century graffiti.
6

Most of the walls of the buildings in Ani are covered in 18th and early 19th century graffiti.

Ani's city walls can still be seen from miles around. Photo taken in 2014.
7

Ani's city walls can still be seen from miles around. Photo taken in 2014.

The main entrance into Ani is through the Lion's Gate, named for the relief on its walls.
8

The main entrance into Ani is through the Lion's Gate, named for the relief on its walls.

The Cathedral of Ani as it stood in 2003. Some theories suggest a direct link between Armenian ecclesiastical architecture between the 9th and 11th centuries and Gothicism in Western Europe.
9

The Cathedral of Ani as it stood in 2003. Some theories suggest a direct link between Armenian ecclesiastical architecture between the 9th and 11th centuries and Gothicism in Western Europe.

The Cathedral of Ani in 2014. Though the cathedral looks like a doll's house from the outside, the dimensions inside are awe-inspiring.
10

The Cathedral of Ani in 2014. Though the cathedral looks like a doll's house from the outside, the dimensions inside are awe-inspiring.

In the left window is the Ani Cathedral and the Church of the Redeemer. To the right, across the Arpa Cay River, is Armenia. Photo taken in 2003.  
11

In the left window is the Ani Cathedral and the Church of the Redeemer. To the right, across the Arpa Cay River, is Armenia. Photo taken in 2003.  

Armenia is to the left of the river. Turkey is to the right. In the promontory in the middle is a monastery that was originally accessed through a tunnel carved into the rock. Photo taken in 2007.
12

Armenia is to the left of the river. Turkey is to the right. In the promontory in the middle is a monastery that was originally accessed through a tunnel carved into the rock. Photo taken in 2007.

Ani changed hands several times during the 19th and 20th centuries. Once part of the Ottoman Empire, it was taken by the Russians during the 1877-1878 Russo-Ottoman war. In 1918, Turkey regained Ani as a result of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that ended World War I for Bolshevik Russia. At present, the border checkpoints between Armenia and Turkey are closed. The Armenian side of the border is guarded by Russian soldiers. Photo taken in 2007.
13

Ani changed hands several times during the 19th and 20th centuries. Once part of the Ottoman Empire, it was taken by the Russians during the 1877-1878 Russo-Ottoman war. In 1918, Turkey regained Ani as a result of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty that ended World War I for Bolshevik Russia. At present, the border checkpoints between Armenia and Turkey are closed. The Armenian side of the border is guarded by Russian soldiers. Photo taken in 2007.

Armenians can only glimpse at Ani from two viewpoints. One is official, pictured here in 2014, but it does not provide a good view as it is too far away on the Armenian bank of the river. The other is "unofficial." Visiting requires a negotiations with the Russian soldiers stationed directly opposite Ani.
14

Armenians can only glimpse at Ani from two viewpoints. One is official, pictured here in 2014, but it does not provide a good view as it is too far away on the Armenian bank of the river. The other is "unofficial." Visiting requires a negotiations with the Russian soldiers stationed directly opposite Ani.

Did Marco Polo go across this bridge? Originally, the Silk Road bypassed Ani, but as the city's importance grew, merchants changed its course in order to make a stop at Ani. This bridge has stood ruined and abandoned since the great earthquake of 1319. Photo taken in 2003.
15

Did Marco Polo go across this bridge? Originally, the Silk Road bypassed Ani, but as the city's importance grew, merchants changed its course in order to make a stop at Ani. This bridge has stood ruined and abandoned since the great earthquake of 1319. Photo taken in 2003.

A reminder of the the days when Ani was a Turkish military zone. Visits were restricted and no photography was allowed.
16

A reminder of the the days when Ani was a Turkish military zone. Visits were restricted and no photography was allowed.

XS
SM
MD
LG