Though the vagaries of time have been particularly brutal to Ani, there still remain some of the detail that must have contributed to the fame of the city. The local rock, from which all the structures were built, is volcanic and so intricate designs were carved with relative ease in the soft material (as are the graffiti scrawling of less skilled artisans).
The local stone also provided a wide-pallet of colour from which to carve the building blocks...
Without being an expert in such things, I suspect that the light, airy volcanic rock is what also allowed these early architects to build such impossibly large arches and domes...
Whether or not that is (was) the case, the site is dotted with surreal doorways and archways that once led somewhere but now, merely frame the landscape.
Aside from the abutments and arches, the domes and details, there is another aspect of the site that makes it such a rewarding place to visit; the landscape. There is good reason that the Ani founders chose this particular site for their city; the natural features of the land, the river gorges and hills, the cliffs and open land, made for an easily defended site. The huge northern wall, that greets you on the approach, is the only remaining section of the constructed fortifications at the ancient site. On all other sides, however, the site is still protected by steep-sided gorges.
The river Akhurian cuts through the sites best natural defence. In the bottom left corner of the picture, you can see the top of a rickety ladder that leads down, via a narrow path, to the river valley and to other lesser structures. In times of trouble, these structures would most likely have been abandoned as residents made for the main citadel and the protection it afforded.
To the west of the site, and outside of what would have been the walled part of the ancient city, is the extensive and numerous "cave city", carved into the soft volcanic rocks of the the hills. Today the caves are used by local farmers for storage and penning, and some were inhabited by people up to the early part of the 20th century. Past excavations have, however, hinted at a more fundamental role of this network of subterranean dwellings.
With some caves suggesting inhabitation and others clearly designed to serve as places or worship, it is likely that this area served as an overflow for the city of Ani. As it's reputation, as a hub for trade and worship, increased throughout the region, more and more people would have flocked to it, eventually necessitating expansion into the surrounding area; a 12th century urban sprawl, if you will.
All-in-all, the historic site of Ani is at once a fascinating and desolate place. In a country where internationally acclaimed tourist sites abound (Cappadocia, Istanbul, the Turquoise coast), Ani is, as far as I can tell, very much slipping under the radar. This is a shame, as it really can keep people (even little ones) engrossed in its' environs and deserves more attention. Of course, it maybe that the sites charms will be lost under a deluge of sneakered tourist feet (as I said before, we shared the site with only a smattering of fellow travellers) but, I fear that without suitable attention, the pressure to keep the place alive will be lost.
Even the more modern structures (this one is just outside the northern wall) are somehow compelling, offering their own stories of more prosperous times; albeit far more recent.
And, even as you are driving away from the site, back to the far more modern (though equally lost-in-time) streets of Kars, the landscape offers-up a few parting shots; strange and obscure structures that seem to whisper "don't forget us".
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