The strangest place of all to visit in Turkey may well be Ani near the Armenian border. This has stayed closed since the Armenian Incident of 1915. Setting the merits of that matter aside, this separated the Armenian people from their greatest medieval treasure. Ani Turkey is crumbling in the face of neglect for many years.
A Short History of Medieval Ani Turkey
In the years 961 and 1045, the city was the capital of the Bagratid Armenia kingdom that covered present-day Armenia and Eastern Turkey. Being at the intersection of many trade routes brought Ani much wealth. Some called it ‘the city of a thousand-and-one churches’. Certainly, the religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications count among the most beautifully engineered structures of that time.
In its heyday, Ani Turkey had approximately 100,000 residents. Then in 1236, the Mongols overcame the city and sacked it. An earthquake in 1319 more-or-less destroyed what the invaders left intact. The world moved on. By the 17th Century, the once mighty city had reduced to a forgotten village that nobody else visited, or wanted to know.
A Mighty Citadel Conquered and Abandoned
Ani Turkey commanded a strategic position protected by ravines and rivers on three sides accessible only across bridges. Its defenders spanned the fourth with a mighty citadel, and a double line of walls marked by closely spaced redoubts. Even these could not stand the invincible might and determination of the Mongol Empire. There would have been a great wailing as they led prisoners away into captivity.
Those who remained behind would have retreated into caves carved into nearby cliffs a half kilometre away. One of these contains an ancient church causing researchers to wonder whether they were not just urban sprawl in Ani’s heyday. There are tentative signs of hope the city may receive recognition as a Unesco World Heritage site. Some restoration began in 2011 aiming to keep the remaining walls from toppling over.