Turkey 38: Ani

Well, I’d like to say things got easier once I got off the bus this morning, but the servis driver dropped me at a taxi stand, where the drivers gave me directions to the hotel, which was apparently within walking distance. However, their attempt at directing me involved a hand motion which looked like a fadeaway, so I wandered around lost for a while before finally getting to the Hotel Kent Ani. Checked in to a room with 3 beds (low season, I guess), showered, didn’t eat and went to meet my tour to Ani.

I should note that, at this point, aside from a free mini-cake on the horrible bus ride, I hadn’t eaten anything other than the Whopper combo the night before. I also ran out the door without my water.

So, hungry and probably a bit dehydrated, I soon found myself on the way to Ani.

Totally worth it.

Ani became the Armenian capital in 961 AD, being moved from Kars to take advantage of the natural defences. It lasted as the capital for about a 100 years and, at its peak, was home to about 100 000 citizen. Eventually, it fell to the Byzantines, then the Seljuks, then the Georgians, then the Mongols. Earthquakes also devastated the city and it fell into disuse after a while.

Once you get past the massive city walls, you’re greeted by brown rock ruins that seem to float in tall grass. There’s the half-destroyed (like, literally, half of the church has fallen down, half of it is standing) of the Church of the Redeemer, the centuries-old frescoes inside the Tigran Honentz, the Convent of the Virgins which occupies maybe the best natural location of the whole site, the gigantic cathedral and the first ever purpose-built mosque in Anatolia. Two castles rise up out of the valley, both off limits, but both beautiful and, I’ll be honest, I went up to see the one castle without knowing I couldn’t and got some amazing views of the whole city. There’s another church done up in a rotunda style and another one, beautifully preserved, right near the old Seljuk palace. We had three hours to walk to site and I think we could have used more.

The place deserved more visitors, but I’m glad they weren’t there. Wandering around in that kind of remoteness is an amazing experience.  Have to give a shout-out to Celil, as well.  He’s a local who, years ago, figured out that Ani should be seen and is the go-to guy in Kars for setting up trips to Ani.  Without him, I’d either be paying 100TL for a cab or scrambling to set something up with my hotel.  Click here if you want his email, in case you’re ever going to Ani.

After chugging a cherry juice at the restaurant near the site, we were back in Kars and I was in bed for a much needed nap. 30 minutes of horrible bus sleep will do that to you.

I did manage to get out in the evening and see some of the old Baltic style architecture, from when Russia was in charge of the region. One of the old orthodox churches had even been converted into a mosque. The whole area is begging for a redevelopment, as I could totally see it done up with boutique hotels and shops. I don’t know if it would be financially viable, as Kars is pretty much a frontier town, but the bones are there.

I fly to Istanbul tomorrow, so the morning might involve checking out the Kars castle and wandering around a bit before the airport shuttle. Overall, though, I’m glad that I made the effort to get out here. Apparently, there were lots of nice little stops on the way that I could have made, but then I would have missed Ani.

Don’t miss Ani.

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