x0x Ani: the forgotten city
- x0x Ani: the forgotten city
Nelleke M. v.d. Schoor-Basar
Ankara - Turkish Daily News
Since coming to Turkey many, many years ago, I have had the
opportunity to visit not only the usual touristic places but also
historic sites that are off the beaten path. The most recent such
excursion I made was to the ruins of Ani, an ancient city which was
established on the Silk Road.
All one can see today of what was once a great city are the remains of
churches, mosques and caravansaries, although one is still able to see
part of the Silk Road and the walls that protected the inhabitants of
Ani from the Mongols, the Georgians and the Turkish armies.
It took an earthquake, however, to bring the city to its knees.
Architectural remains include the remnants of the city's double wall;
an 11th century Byzantine cathedral; churches from the 11th, 12th and
13th centuries; and the Menucehr Mosque.
The remains of Ani are located in an area situated approximately 48
kilometers from Kars. While Europe was lost in the Dark Ages, Ani's
rulers knew that its fortune depended on their control of the
shortest, safest trade route to the East; its rulers understood the
relationship between political stability and economic prosperity.
The city was constructed on a triangular bluff that was about two
kilometers long and one kilometer wide and was defined on two sides by
deep gorges. Established in 350 to 300 B.C. along the Arpacay River
near the Turkish-Russian border and situated close to the currently
occupied village of Ocakli, it was a city of 100,000 inhabitants, and
at that time its only other rivals in terms of culture and elegance
were Constantinople, Cairo and Baghdad.
The city was founded by Karampart, who descended from the Kemserekanli
lineage of the Arsakli tribe. Ani, located on the ancient caravan road
and protected by its own castle, was one of the most significant trade
centers of the time. The most radiant period of the city was during
the late 10th and 11th centuries, when the Armenian Bagratids used it
as their capital. But it also served as the capital of the regional
Christian community and was the home of many churches and civilian
buildings. Ani was fabled as the city of 1,001 churches, a story that
lingers in spite of the earthquakes, fires and mass exodus of its
residents during the 14th century.
Visitors can still see some of the old structures, although many are
in ruins and beyond repair, having been left to the elements and the
ravages of time.
Owing to its geopolitical location, Ani was a very popular city with
invading armies and was therefore subjected to invasion and
destruction by many other civilizations, sharing a similar fate to
that of its neighbor, Kars. In 1064, Ani was conquered by Selcuk
Sultan Alparslan, after which it was renovated and given to the
Sedatogulari tribe, a people of Selcuk lineage. Under the rule of the
Sedatogulari, there was a flurry of construction and renovation
activities in the city. Many mosques, baths, palaces, residential
buildings and marketplaces, all unique examples of Selcuk
architecture, were built during this period, contributing to the
blossoming of Ani into one of the most beautiful cities in the East
and an important center of commerce and culture.
Due to fate's capricious influence on nature, an earthquake shook the
entire area in the 14th century, and much of the city was destroyed.
In the wake of this catastrophe, the route followed by the trade
caravans was diverted, and the city never again returned to its former
Excavation and inventory activities have been ongoing in the ruins of
Ani since 1890. During the course of these projects, many of the
structures that were almost completely destroyed have been saved, and
numerous artifacts have been unearthed. Although Ani is in great need
of restoration, it is one of Turkey's greatest tourism treasures and
is regularly frequented by touristic visitors, particularly during the
Organized tours are being arranged for the convenience of those
wishing to see Ani, and buses from Kars make two return trips each day
carrying visitors to and from Ani. Tickets for visiting the ruins can
be obtained from the Kars Museum. Since no tickets are available in
Ani itself, many visitors who drive to the area in their own vehicles
have to go back to Kars to buy the tickets, which is a great source of
discouragement. Other discouraging factors are a lack of toilet
facilities, guards and tourist guides, indicators of the current
status of the tourism industry in Turkey.
Walls and gates
The outer walls of the city were built by Sembat II between 987 and
997. In later years, in an effort to strengthen the walls around the
flat areas, the Seddats built a second row of walls for reinforcement,
decorating them with Selcuk motifs.
There are seven entry gates to the city, with the Acemoglu and Migmig
river gates opening to the east, toward the Arpacay River. The middle
one of the three gates that open toward the north is the most
frequently used gate and is called Ortakapi. The one on the right is
called Cifte Beden, and the one on the left is called Hidrellez. The
gate opening to the east is called Suyolu Kapisi (The Waterway Gate).
At the top right corner of the Ortakapi is the carving of a lion,
which is the symbol of the Seddats. Beside the lion figure is an
inscription executed at the command of Sultan Menucehr.
Kecel Church (Saint Patrick's Church)
The church was constructed from 1034-1036 by the grandson of Gregor
and the son of Abugremrizents Daklavi and was renovated by a priest
known as Tridat in 1173. In 1291, a bell tower was annexed to the
building, and in 1342 the dome was repaired. At the present time,
roughly half of the church stands destroyed as a result of being hit
Sirli Church (Saint Gregor's Church)
This church was constructed by Tigron at the request of the minorities
who were under the protection of the Seddanli kingdom. The church has
been almost totally destroyed, but the engravings on the interior of
its tomb are quite remarkable.
Abughamrent Gregor Church
This edifice was constructed by Gagik II, the Ani king, in the year
998 on behalf of Gregor.
The Church with Doves (The Young Girls' Church)
This church, which is assumed to have been built in either the 12th or
13th centuries, is located outside the walls of the city and is
situated on top of the rocks by the Arpacay River. It has a circular
foundation; a cylindrical, grooved tower and is equipped with a
pointed roof. A stepping wall enclosing the main building, which is
surrounded by the ruins of small annexes that could have been service
facilities, suggests that this building was constructed to be used as
Of this structure built in 922 only a single wall remains, decorated
with crude images of people.
Virgin Mary Cathedral (Fethiye Mosque)
Construction of this cathedral was begun in central Ani in 1010 during
the tenure of Sembat II and was completed by Gagik I. This magnificent
building was built in basilica style, with a cylindrical body and a
conical roof. It was used as a mosque following the conquest of Ani in
1064 by Alparslan. The building sustained extensive damage during an
earthquake in 1319 and was restored by the architect Tridat. This
church is one of the best preserved structures that exists in Ani.
The Senate Building
This edifice with its round pillars was constructed in 1001 during the
tenure of Agik I but is currently in great need of repair.
The Selcuk Palace
This three-storey structure, which is assumed to have been built in
the 11th century, represents one of the unique examples of
Turkish-Islamic monuments. The front part of the building is decorated
with mosaics, and with its pointed archway it bears the same
characteristics as the Hidrellez Gate. The building has a spiral
staircase and is decorated with geometric figures. It is a large
complex that includes many rooms, a gallery, storage areas and a
The Caravan Palace (The Arak'eltos Church)
This building was built as a patriarchate in 1031. Its architectural
design resembles a four-leaf clover with a cylindrical tower in the
middle and a pointed roof. Following the conquest of Ani in 1064, the
edifice was transformed into a caravan palace by the Selcuks, who
built an annex to the structure with two sections having a crossing
archway. The ceiling of the building is embellished with colored
stones. A building with a conical roof was added to the central part
of the complex, but this structure is also in a state of disrepair,
with many of its sections having been totally destroyed.
This mosque was constructed by Ebu-Suca Menucehr of the Seddatogullari
lineage in 1072 and attracts significant attention for being the first
mosque that the Selcuks built in Anatolia. With its ceilings decorated
with colored stone mosaics arranged in geometric figures, it is one of
the great examples of Selcuk architecture that can be found in
Anatolia. Its minaret has 99 steps; however, the conical hat no longer
exists. The word "Allah," spelled out with colored stones under the
balcony, is still legible. The mosque's area for worship was destroyed
by the Russians, and a stone wall was erected between the pillars.
Ebul Muammeral Mosque and Boz (gray) Minaret
This mosque, located in the center of Ani, was constructed by the last
Seddanli sultan, Sahan Sah. The collapsed ruins of its minaret can
still be seen beside the building proper.
The Selcuk Bath
This building, which is the larger one of the two baths that can be
found in Ani, is located directly behind the cathedral. The building
was built in the 12th century and was discovered during a partial
excavation conducted in 1965. Currently, only the washing area is
Although Ani is off the beaten path, it is a must-see for those who
are interested in the history of Anatolia. In addition to being the
site of Anatolia's first mosque, Tourism Minister Ahmet Tan has said
that Turkey's year 2000 celebration will begin in this historic
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