The empire the world forgot #Beekhaybee

The empire the world forgot
Ruled by a dizzying array of kingdoms and
empires over the centuries, the former
regional power of Ani is now an eerie,
abandoned city of ghosts.

Ruled by a dizzying array of kingdoms and
empires over the centuries, the former
regional power of Ani is now an eerie,
abandoned city of ghosts.

An abandoned city of ghosts
Ruled by a dizzying array of kingdoms and
empires over the centuries – from the
Byzantines to the Ottomans – the city of Ani
once housed many thousands of people,
becoming a cultural hub and regional power
under the medieval Bagratid Armenian
dynasty. Today, it’s an eerie, abandoned city
of ghosts that stands alone on a plateau in the
remote highlands of northeast Turkey, 45km
away from the Turkish border city of Kars. As
you walk among the many ruins, left to
deteriorate for over 90 years, the only sound is
the wind howling through a ravine that marks
the border between Turkey and Armenia.
The toll of many rulers
Visitors who pass through Ani’s city walls are
greeted with a panoramic view of ruins that
span three centuries and five empires –
including the Bagratid Armenians, Byzantines,
Seljuk Turks, Georgians and Ottomans. The Ani
plateau was ceded to Russia once the Ottoman
Empire was defeated in the 1877-78 Russo-
Turkish War. After the outbreak of World War
I, the Ottomans fought to take back northeast
Anatolia, and although they recaptured Ani
and the surrounding area, the region was given
to the newly formed Republic of Armenia. The
site changed hands for the last time after the
nascent Turkish Republic captured it during the
1920 eastern offensive in the Turkish War of
A hotly contested territory
The ruins of an ancient bridge over the
Akhurian River, which winds its way at the
bottom of the ravine to create a natural
border, are fitting given the vexed state of
Turkish-Armenian relations. The two countries
have long disagreed over the mass killings of
Armenians that took place under the Ottoman
Empire during World War I, and Turkey
officially closed its land border with Armenia in
1993 in response to a territorial conflict
between Armenia and Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan.
A bid to save the ruins
Although the focus on Turkish-Armenian
tension preoccupies most discussion of Ani,
there’s an ongoing effort by archaeologists and
activists to save the ruins, which have been
abandoned in favour of more accessible and
less historically contested sites from classical
antiquity. Historians have long argued for Ani’s
importance as a forgotten medieval nexus, and
as a result, Ani is now on a tentative list for
recognition as a Unesco World Heritage Site .
With some luck and careful restoration work,
which has begun in 2011, they may be able to
forestall the hands of time.
‘The City of 1,001 Churches’
At its height during the 11th Century, scholars
estimate that Ani’s population reached as high
as 100,000 people. Artistic renderings based
on the site’s archaeological findings show a
bustling medieval centre crowded with myriad
homes, artisanal workshops and impressive
churches scattered throughout.
Known as “The City of 1,001 Churches”, Ani’s
Armenian rulers and city merchants funded an
extraordinary number of places of worship, all
designed by the greatest architectural and
artistic minds in their milieu. Although the
nickname was hyperbole, archaeologists have
discovered evidence of at least 40 churches,
chapels and mausoleums to date.
An imposing cathedral
A rust-coloured brick redoubt, the Cathedral of
Ani looms over the now-abandoned city.
Although its dome collapsed in an earthquake
in 1319 – and, centuries later, another
earthquake destroyed its northwest corner – it
is still imposing in scale. It was completed in
1001 under the reign of Armenian King Gagik I,
when the wealth and population of Ani was at
its peak. Trdat, the renowned Armenian
architect who designed it, also served the
Byzantines by helping them repair the dome of
the Hagia Sophia .
Half of a church
Only one half of the Church of the Redeemer
remains – a monument to both the artistic
prowess of the Armenian Bagratid Dynasty and
the inevitability of time. Propped up by
extensive scaffolding now, the church was an
impressive architectural feat when it was built.
It featured 19 archways and a dome, all made
from local reddish-brown volcanic basalt.
The church also housed a fragment of the True
Cross, upon which Jesus was crucified. The
church’s patron, Prince Ablgharib Pahlavid,
reportedly obtained the relic during a visit to
the Byzantine court at Constantinople.
A church fit for a prince
Built sometime in the late 10th Century, the
Church of St Gregory of the Abughamrentsis a
stoic-looking, 12-sided chapel that has a dome
carved with blind arcades: arches that are
purely for embellishment instead of leading to
a portal. In the early 1900s, a mausoleum was
discovered buried under the church’s north
side, likely containing the remains of the
church’s patron, Prince Grigor Pahlavuni of the
Bagratid Armenians, and his kin.
Unfortunately, like many of the sites at Ani,
the prince’s sepulchre was looted in the 1990s.
The remnants of an underground city
Opposite the Church of St Gregory of the
Abughamrentsare a series of caves dug out of
the rock, which some historians speculate may
predate Ani. The caves are sometimes
described as Ani’s “underground city” and
signs point to their use as tombs and
churches. In the early 20th Century, some of
these caves were still used as dwellings.
A church that keeps watch
The Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents
stands vigilant over the ravine that separates
Turkey and Armenia. Commissioned by a
wealthy merchant and built in 1215, it was
when the then-controlling Kingdom
of Georgia granted Ani as a fiefdom to a
bloodline of Armenian rulers, the Zakarians.
During the winter, the lonely church makes for
a striking sight against the endless, snow-
covered Armenian steppe in the distance.
Frescoes cover the walls
The Church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents is
one of Ani’s best preserved buildings, adorned
with remnants of paintings depicting scenes
from the life of Christ and St Gregory the
Illuminator. Detailed fresco cycles did not
ordinarily appear in Armenian art of the era,
leading scholars to believe the artists were
most likely Georgian.
An Islamic minaret still stands
The Seljuk Empire – a Turkish state in Anatolia
that drove out the Byzantines and eventually
gave way to the Ottoman Empire – controlled
the greater area of what is today northeast
Turkey and Armenia beginning in the
mid-1000s. However, in 1072, the Seljuks
granted control of Ani to an Islamic dynasty of
Kurdish origin, the Shaddadids. The
Shaddadids, in turn, left their mark on Ani
with buildings like the mosque of Manuchihr,
which is perched precariously on the edge of
the cliff. Its minaret is still standing from when
the mosque was constructed in the late 1000s;
the rest of the mosque is most likely an
addition from the 12th or 13th Centuries.
Origins up for debate
The original purpose of the mosque of
Manuchihr is debated on both the Turkish and
Armenian sides. Some contend that the
building once served as a palace for the
Armenian Bagratid dynasty and was only later
converted into a mosque. Others argue that
the structure was built as a mosque from the
ground up, and thus was the first Turkish
mosque in Anatolia. From 1906 to 1918, the
mosque served as a museum of findings from
Ani’s excavation by the Russian archaeologist
Nicholas Marr. Regardless of the building’s
origins, the mosque’s four elegant windows
display spectacular views of the river and the
other side of the gorge.
Once formidable city walls
Ani’s city walls may seem ready to crumble,
but when they were constructed in the 10th
Century, they made for a formidable defence.
The Bagratid family of kings built them in order
to fortify their new capital and, over the
centuries, they protected the city’s occupants
against siege after siege by various armies.
These ramparts, along with Ani’s inhabitants,
witnessed bloody conflicts between the
Bagratids and the Byzantines, and the
Byzantines and the Seljuks.
Despite Ani’s history as a field of warfare, the
ruins also represent many periods throughout
history where the city saw a remarkable
interchange of cultures, religions and artistic