The ruins of Ani are a traveller’s dream – picture-perfect scenery, whacking great dollops of history, and almost nobody around to see it. While Turkey as a whole has been enjoying ever more popularity as a tourist destination, the number heading to its eastern reaches remains thrillingly low, lending an air of mystery to its attractions. Of these, none are more enchanting than the rosy-pink ruins of Ani, spectacularly located amidst a grassy expanse of undulating hillocks.
In 961, Ani became capital of a Bagratid Armenian kingdom that ruled over much of what is now southeastern Turkey. Though now firmly under Turkish rule, the ruins lie a stone’s throw from the modern-day border – macho types may find it impossible to resist sending a projectile over the stunning gorge that divides Turkey from Armenia. However, the two nations are still at loggerheads on certain issues, and Ani is patrolled by the Turkish jandarma; whole areas remain out of bounds despite the recent political thaw.
Considering the centuries of neglect, some of Ani’s buildings are in amazing condition, a testament to the masterful Armenian stoneworkers of the time, and the inherent qualities of duf. Still used extensively in Armenia today, this pinkish rock can assume near-transcendent hues of rose, tangerine and cinnamon during sunrise and sunset. Most visitors find themselves pointing their cameras at Prkitch, an eleventh-century church that’s mercifully a lot easier to photograph than it is to pronounce: known in English as the Church of the Redeemer, it was cleaved in two when struck by lightning in 1957, making it quite possibly the only church in the world that can be seen in cross-section with the naked eye.
Time has been kinder to Tigran Honents, a fresco-filled church just down the hill from Prkitch, and cathedral located just to the west – the latter is topped with a minaret that the brave may choose to ascend for an eagle-eye view of one of Turkey’s most unspoilt areas.
Ani is 45km from Kars, a town accessible by bus from many Turkish cities, as well as twice-weekly trains from Istanbul. The ruins are best visited by taxi – aim for three hours at the site plus two getting there and back, and bargain hard. After paying the small entry fee the ruins are yours, though the sun can be fierce, so bring water.