Once a magnificent medieval city and home to 200,000 people, the ghost city of Ani is now completely abandoned and has stood empty for centuries

 
 
 
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Some call it the “City of 1001 Churches” and some know it as the “City of 40 Gates:” the now-abandoned medieval city stands on a lonely plateau in Armenia, 45km away from Kars, Turkey.

Founded more than 1,600 years ago, Ani stood on various trade routes and its many religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications were amongst the most technically and artistically advanced structures in the world. The blame for its ruin lies in the hands of many: vandals, looters, Turks, Mother Nature herself, poor restorations and inept archaeologists.

The walls of Ani showing a defensive tower. Source
The walls of Ani showing a defensive tower. Source

 

Ruins of the Mausoleum of the Child Princes in citadel. Source
Ruins of the Mausoleum of the Child Princes. Source
Saint Gregory of Tigran Honents, western side. Source
Saint Gregory of Tigran Honents, western side. Source

 

Damaged frescoes of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents. Source
Damaged frescoes of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents. Source

Long ago renowned for its splendor and magnificence, Ani was sacked by the Mongols in 1236 and devastated in a 1319 earthquake, after which it was reduced to a village and gradually abandoned and largely forgotten by the seventeenth century.

Rediscovered and romanticized in the 19th century, the city had a brief moment of fame, only to be closed off by World War I and the later events of the Armenian Genocide that left the region an empty, militarized no man’s land.

Once lodged as many as 200,000 people. Source
Once lodged as many as 200,000 people. Source

Ani is a widely recognized cultural, religious, and national heritage symbol for Armenians. According to Razmik Panossian, Ani is one of the most visible and ‘tangible’ symbols of past Armenian greatness and hence a source of pride. All the structures at Ani are constructed using the local volcanic basalt, a sort of tufa stone. It is easily carved and comes in a variety of vibrant colors, from creamy yellow to rose-red, to jet black.

Ruins of the Cathedral of Ani and the church of Redeemer. Source
Ruins of the Cathedral of Ani and the church of Redeemer. Source

 

Inside the Cathedral of Ani. Construction of the structure began in 989, completed in either 1001 or 1010. Source
Inside the Cathedral of Ani. Construction of the structure began in 989, completed in either 1001 or 1010. Source

 

The Church of the Redeemer (Surb Prkich). Source
The Church of the Redeemer (Surb Prkich). Source

 

Zoroastrian fire temple in Ani. Source
Zoroastrian fire temple in Ani. Source

 

The medieval walls of Ani. Source
The medieval walls of Ani. Source

The minaret Menüçehr Mosque, newer than many of the churches but still nearly a thousand years old, still stands as a testament to the city’s long history and diverse cultural influences. The city’s many enduring churches are particularly beautiful, even in their ruined states.

They stand as a testament to the city’s diverse cultural and long historical influences. Despite Ani’s past as a field of warfare, the ruins of the city also symbolize many eras through history where the city saw an extraordinary exchange of religions, cultures, and artistic themes.

The ruins of Manucehr Mosque, an 11th century mosque built among the ruins of Ani. Source
The ruins of Manucehr Mosque, an 11th-century mosque built among the ruins of Ani. Source

 

The meager remains of King Gagik's church of St Gregory, a structure built between 1001 and 1005. Source
The meager remains of King Gagik’s church of St Gregory, a structure built between 1001 and 1005. Source

 

A gorge below Ani, showing numerous caves dug into cliffs, as well as fortifications. Source
A gorge below Ani, showing numerous caves dug into cliffs, as well as fortifications. Source

 

Remains of an ancient bridge over Akhurian River, below Ani. Source
Remains of an ancient bridge over Akhurian River, below Ani. Source

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) placed Ani on its 1996, 1998, and 2000 Watch Lists of 100 Most Endangered Sites. In May 2011, WMF announced it was beginning conservation work on the cathedral and Church of the Holy Redeemer in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Culture.