Ani Archaeological Site

Location: 44 km (27 mi) East of Kars, Kars province Map

Open: 9am- 5pm daily

Info: (0474) 212 6817


Ani is a ruined medieval Armenian city, located in modern-day Turkey, in the province of Kars, 48 km east of the capital Kars, and bordering the Akhurian River, which currently forms the Turkish-Armenian border.

Protected to the east by the river and by the Bostanlar valley to the west, the city occupied a strategic location. At the end of the 10th century, it became the capital of Bagratid Armenia, a kingdom that covered most of modern-day Armenia and Turkey. At its peak, it had just over 100,000 inhabitants, and rivaled in importance with Baghdad, Cairo or Constantinople. It was called "the city of 1001 churches" for its large number of religious buildings, all of which Constructions were among the most technically and artistically advanced structures of the time.

The Seljuks took it from the Byzantine Empire in 1064. After the Battle of Manzikert, in 1071, Turkish sovereignty was reinforced until the invasion by the Mongols in 1236. In 1319 it was devastated by an earthquake, after which it was destroyed. It was reduced to a town and little by little it was abandoned and largely forgotten in the 17th century.

In July 2016, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



The Armenian chroniclers Yeghishe and Ghazar Parpetsi were the first to mention the existence of Ani in the 5th century. They described it as a powerful fortress built on top of a hill, belonging to the Armenian Kamsarakan dynasty. The city took its name from the fortress city and pagan center of Ani-Kamakh, located in the Daranaghi region of Upper Armenia. It was previously known as Khnamk (Խնամք), but historians do not know why it was called that. Johann Heinrich Hübschmann, a German philologist who studied the Armenian language, suggests that the word could come from the Armenian verb "khnamel" (խնամել), meaning "to take care of."



The city is located on a triangular site, naturally defensive, protected on its eastern side by the ravine of the Akhurian River and on its western side by the Bostanlar or Tzaghkotzadzor valley. The Akhurian is a tributary of the Aras River and is part of the current border between Turkey and Armenia. The site is located at an elevation of around 1340 meters above sea level.



Capital of the kingdom of Bagratid Armenia

At the beginning of the 9th century, the former territories of the Kamsarakans in Arsharunik and Shirak (including Ani) were incorporated into the domains of the Bagratuni dynasty.

The Bagratuni dynasty established its first capital at Bagaran, about 40 km south of Ani, then at Shirakavan, about 25 km northeast of Ani, and finally at Kars, in 929. In 961, King Ashot III moved the capital from Kars to Ani. The city expanded rapidly during the reign of Sembat II Tierezakal. The cathedral, the work of architect Trdat, was built between 989 and 1001. In 992, the Armenian Catholic patriarchs moved their headquarters to Ani. At the beginning of the 11th century, Ani had more than 100,000 inhabitants and was known as "The City of Forty Gates" and "The City of a Thousand and One Churches." Ani also became the royal mausoleum of the Bagratids.

Ani reached the peak of her splendor during the long reign of Gagik I. After his death, his two sons fought over the succession. The eldest, Hovhannes Smbat, gained control of Ani and his younger brother, Ashot IV, controlled other parts of the Bagratid kingdom. Hovhannes Smbat, fearing that the Byzantine Empire would attack his already weakened kingdom, named Emperor Basil II as his heir.

Following the death of Hovhannes Smbat in 1041, Basil's successor, Michael IV, claimed sovereignty over Ani. But the new king of Ani, Gagik II, opposed the will of his predecessor and several Byzantine armies sent to conquer the city were repulsed. However, in 1045, after the capture of Ashot and at the instigation of pro-Byzantine partisans among its population, Ani surrendered. A Byzantine governor then settled in the city.


Cultural and economic center

Ani was not on previously important trade routes but, due to its size, power and wealth, it became an important center of trade. Its main partners were the Byzantine and Persian empires, the Arabs, and the smaller nations of southern Russia and Central Asia.


Tapering and abandonment

It was conquered in 1064 by the armies of the Seljuk Turks under the command of Alp Arslan, who after a 25-day siege captured the city and killed a large part of its population. According to the Arab historian Sibt Ibn al-Yawzi, the story from a witness it said like this:

The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, looted and burned, leaving everything in ruins and taking prisoner all those who were left alive... The corpses were so many that they blocked the streets; you can't go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter the city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street where I wouldn't have to walk over dead bodies, but that was impossible.

In 1072 the Seljuks sold Ani to the Sahaddadi Kurds, who generally followed a policy of conciliation with the city's mostly Armenian and Christian population and several of its members married the nobility of the Bagratuni dynasty. The Georgians captured the town of Ani five times between 1125 and 1209. It was sacked by the Mongols in 1239, when they killed much of its population. In 1319, an earthquake completely destroyed it, Tamerlane captured Ani in the 1380s and upon his death, the Kara Koyunlu regained control, but moved its capital to Yerevan, although a small population remained within its walls at least until mid-17th century, but the site was completely abandoned in the 18th century.


19th and 20th centuries

In the first half of the 19th century, European travelers discovered Ani for the rest of the world by publishing their descriptions in academic journals and travelogues. The private buildings were little more than a pile of stones, but large public buildings and the double wall had been preserved and were expected to present "many points of great architectural beauty". Photographer Ohannes Kurkdjian made stereoscopic images of Ani in the second half of the 19th century.

In 1878 under the Ottoman Empire, the Kars region—including Ani—was incorporated into the Transcaucasian region of the Russian Empire. The first archaeological excavations were carried out in Ani in 1892, sponsored by the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg under the supervision of the Russian archaeologist and orientalist Nikolai Marr. New excavations resumed in 1904 and continued annually until 1917, always under Marr's direction. Large sections of the city were excavated and numerous buildings were discovered. The findings were published in academic journals, guides to monuments and museums were written, and the entire site was examined for the first time. Emergency repairs were carried out on the buildings that were most at risk of collapse. A museum was created to house the tens of thousands of objects found during the excavation work. This museum is divided between two buildings: the Minuchihr mosque and another specially built stone one. Armenians from neighboring cities and towns also began to visit the city, and there was talk by Marr of creating a school for education. of local Armenian children and the construction of parks along with the planting of trees to beautify the place.​

During the latter stages of the First World War, in 1918, the armies of the Ottoman Empire were fighting through the territory of the newly declared Republic of Armenia, achieving the capture of Ani in April 1918. In this city attempts were made to evacuate the objects contained in the museum, when it was learned that the Turkish soldiers were near the town. Archaeologist and historian Ashkharbek Kalantar, who had participated in the campaigns with Marr, managed to remove nearly 6,000 portable artifacts. At the urging of Josep Orbeli, the saved items were consolidated into a museum collection, part of the Armenian History Museum in Everan. Everything that was left was later looted or destroyed. Following Turkey's eventual surrender After the war, Ani passed back to Armenian control, but an offensive against the resumption of the Republic of Armenia in 1920 led to a new capture of Ani by Turkey, the signing in 1921 of the Treaty of Kars formalized the incorporation of the territory containing Ani within the Republic of Turkey.​

In May 1921, Turkish government minister Rıza Nur ordered the commander of the Eastern Front, Kazım Karabekir, that the monuments of Ani should "be wiped from the face of the earth". This order was strongly criticized and was never carried out, but the clearing of all traces of Marr's excavations and the repair of buildings he carried out suggests that the order was partially carried out.


State of Ani in the 21st century

According to travel guide publishers Lonely Planet and Frommer, for trips to Turkey:

Official permission is no longer necessary to visit Ani. You just have to go to Ani and buy a ticket. If you don't have your own vehicle, haggle with a taxi or minibus driver in Kars for the round trip to Ani, perhaps sharing the cost with other travelers. If you have problems, the tourist office can help. You have to have a plan for at least half a day in Ani. It's not a bad idea to bring a picnic and a bottle of water.

According to The Economist, Armenians have accused the Turks of neglecting the place in a spirit of chauvinism. The Turks reply that Ani's remains have been blown up by a quarry on the Armenian side of the border.

Another commentator explained: Ani is now a ghost town, uninhabited for more than three centuries and abandoned within a decaying Turkish military zone, closing the border with the modern Republic of Armenia. Ani's recent history has been one of continuous and ever-increasing destruction. Negligence, earthquakes, cultural cleansing, vandalism, quarrying, amateur restorations and excavations, all of this and more have taken a toll on Ani's monuments.

The estimate of the Reference Points Foundation—a non-profit organization established for the protection of sacred places—,

This city needs to be protected regardless of the jurisdiction it is in. The earthquakes of 1319, 1832 and 1986, the practice of the army in that destination and the general neglect of everyone, have had devastating effects on the architecture of the city, the city of Ani is a sacred place that needs protection.

The Turkish authorities stated that they will do everything possible to conserve and develop the site, the Ministry of Culture has listed the city of Ani among the sites that need most urgent conservation. In the words of Mehmet Ufuk Erden, the local governor: "By restoring Ani, we will make a contribution to humanity... We will start with a church and a mosque, and over time we will include each and every one of its monuments." ».

In a 2010 report titled "Saving Our Heritage," the Global Heritage Fund identified Ani as one of twelve sites worldwide "on the brink" of irreparable loss and destruction, citing poor management and looting as primary causes. .

The World Monuments Fund places Ani on its 1996, 1998 and 2000 lists among the 100 most endangered sites. In May 2011, this foundation announced that it was beginning conservation work on the cathedral and the Church of the Holy Redeemer in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

In March 2015 it was reported that Turkey would designate Ani for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. The archaeological site of Ani was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 15, 2016. According to art historian Heghnar Zaitian Watenpaugh, the addition "would ensure significant benefits in protection, research expertise, and funding."



All of Ani's structures were built in the local volcanic basalt stone, a type of tuff stone. It's easy to carve and comes in a variety of vibrant colors, from creamy yellow, to rose-red, to jet black. The most important surviving monuments are the following.



Also known as Surp Asdvadzadzin (the church of the Holy Mother of God), its construction began in 989, under King Sembat II Tierezakal. Work stopped after his death, and was completed in 1001 or 1010 according to another reading of the building's inscription. The design of the cathedral was the work of Trdat, the most famous architect of medieval Armenia. The cathedral is a domed basilica—the dome collapsed in 1319 due to an earthquake. The interior contains several progressive features, such as the use of round arches and clustered pillars that give the appearance of Gothic architecture—a style that Ani Cathedral predates by several centuries.


Georgian Church

There is no inscription indicating the date of its construction, but there is an edict in Georgian dated 1218 from a sermon given by Grigor, archbishop of Ani, and by the emir-governor Vahram. The church was referred to as "Georgia." During this period the name Georgia did not only mean Georgian origin, but was also used to designate all the inhabitants of Ani who professed the Chalcedonian faith, mostly Armenians. The church had a large rectangular floor plan without a dome and with a gabled roof. The interior consisted of a single nave and the head with a semicircular apse. In the arches closest to the apse there are remains of sculptural reliefs representing the scenes of the Annunciation and Visitation.​


The Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents

This church, completed in 1215, is the best preserved monument in Ani. It was built during the government of the Zakarid princes and commissioned by the rich Armenian merchant Tigran Honents. Its floor plan is of the type called vaulted hall. In front of the entrance are the ruins of a narthex and a small chapel that belong to a slightly later period. The exterior of the church is spectacularly decorated. Stone carvings of real and imaginary animals fill the spandrels between the blind arches that run around the four sides of the church. The interior contains an important and unique series of frescoes depicting the cycles of two main themes. In the eastern third of the church the life of Saint Gregory the Illuminator is represented, in the middle third of the church the life of Christ. Such extensive fresco cycles are rare in Armenian architecture, believed to have been executed by Georgian artists, and the cycle also includes scenes from the life of Saint Nino, who converted to Christianity. Fragments of frescoes that are more Byzantine in style survive in the atrium and its chapel.


Church of the Redeemer

Also called the Church of the Savior, it was completed shortly after the year 1035. With a circular plan, it had a polygon design on the outside with 19 faces. Internally, it consisted of eight apses in addition to the central one, which was much larger, it was covered with a huge central dome sitting on a circular drum and had twelve narrow windows around it to obtain outside light. In the apses there are some fragments of frescoes about the life of Christ and the evangelists, probably made at the end of the 13th century. It was built by Prince Ablgharib Pahlavid to house a fragment of the True Cross. The church remained largely intact until 1957, when the entire eastern half collapsed during a storm, later suffering extensive damage during a 1988 earthquake.


Church of St. Gregory of Abughamrents

This small building probably dates from the late 10th century and was dedicated to Saint Gregory I the Illuminator, evangelizer of Armenia. It was built as a private chapel for the Pahlavuni family and in accordance with an inscription on the tympanum of the doorway for the salvation of the soul of his son Abougraments, after whom the building was named. His mausoleum, built in 1040 and now reduced to its foundations, was built on the north side of the church. The temple has a centralized hexagonal plan, with a dome on a drum, surrounded by six apses, where the rest of the wall paintings can still be seen. On the outside it has six niches alternating with six windows, with the entrance located to the southwest.


King Gagik Church of St. Gregory

Also known as the "Gagikashen", this church was built between 1001 and 1005, and was intended to be a recreation of the Zvartnots Cathedral in Vagharshapat. Nikolai Marr uncovered the foundations of the building during his excavations in 1905 and 1906. Among the objects found, a sculpture of King Gagik was found with the offering of the building in his hands. It had a height of 2.25 meters and was placed on the north façade inside a niche. This sculpture was lost during the First World War, and only a fragment of the upper part of King Gagik has been preserved and is in the Erzurum museum.

Before that, all that was visible at the site was a huge mound of earth. The designer of the church was the architect Trdat, the same one who built the cathedral of Ani. The church is known to have collapsed within a relatively short time after its construction and houses were subsequently built on top of its ruins, using some of the stones from the church. Trdat's design closely follows that of Zvartnotz in its size and plan, a core surrounded by a four-leaf clover with a circular ambulatory.


Church of the Holy Apostles

The date of its construction is not known, but the earliest dated inscription on its walls is from 1031. It was founded by the Pahlavuni family and used by the archbishops of Ani, many of them belonging to this dynasty. It has a plant of a type called "four-leaf clover." Only fragments of the church remain, a narthex with spectacular masonry, built on the south side of the church, is still partially intact, it is dated to the beginning of the 13th century, on the walls of the south porch there are numerous Armenian inscriptions, the first of the year 1215 and the last one in 1348, with decrees on political issues and taxes and commercial levies that demonstrate the economic importance of Ani at that time. There are remains of a large number of other rooms, chapels and sanctuaries that surrounded this church. Nikolai Marr excavated its foundations in 1909, but they are now mostly destroyed.


Manuchihr Mosque

The mosque is named after its presumed founder, Manuchihr, the first member of the Shaddadida dynasty—of Turkish origin and related to the Bagratuni dynasty—which ruled in Ani after 1072. The oldest surviving part of the mosque is its minaret still intact, an internal spiral staircase leads to the top. It has the Arabic word "Bismillah" ("In the name of God") in Kufic script on the upper part of its north face. The prayer hall, half of which survives, dates from a later period, 12th or 13th century, containing five large windows, one with an ogee arch and the other four with round arches, above them were others small rectangular openings. In 1906, the mosque was partially repaired in order to be used as a public museum containing objects found during Marr's excavations.



On a flat hilltop at the southern end of Ani, known as Midjnaberd ("inner fortress"), it has its own defensive walls dating back to the period when the Kamsarakan dynasty ruled at Ani (7th century). Nikolai Marr excavated the citadel hill in 1908 and 1909, where he discovered extensive ruins of the palace of the Bagratuni kings of Ani that occupied the highest part of the hill. Also visible within the citadel are the ruins of three churches and several unidentified buildings. One of the churches, the “palace church” is the oldest in Ani, dating back to the 6th or 7th century. Marr carried out emergency repairs on this church, but most of it has collapsed - probably during the 1966 earthquake.

A line of walls for the defense of Ani surrounded the entire city. The most powerful defensive walls were along the north side of the city, the only part that was not protected by rivers or ravines. In this place the city was protected by a double line of walls, the inner wall much higher and dotted with numerous large semicircular towers, closely spaced and mostly taller than the walls. Chroniclers of the time wrote that King Shembat (977-989) built these walls. Later rulers reinforced the walls by making them higher and thicker and by adding more towers. Armenian inscriptions from the 12th and 13th centuries state that private individuals paid for the construction of these new towers. In the northern part there were three walkways, known as the Lion Gate, the Kars Gate and the Dvin Gate - also known as the "Checkerboard" Gate due to a panel of red and black stone squares. about your entry—.​


Monastery of the Virgins

Inside the walled enclosure there are several remains of other buildings, including that of the ancient monastery of the Virgins, located on a rocky promontory next to the Akhurian River. It is dated between the 11th and 13th centuries. The interior consists of a circular plan with six small apses, above its central part rises a cylindrical drum with a dome whose most original characteristic is the shape of its roof made in the shape of a half-open umbrella, followed by a molding in the shape of zig-zag with carved stone decorations at the bottom. On the outside of the wall of the apse of the church there is a blind arch all around it, each arch has a different interlaced decoration.