The Ruins of Ani – The City of 1001 Churches

The ruins of Ani are the remains of a medieval Armenian kingdom. They are a collection of stunning churches and beautiful mosques spread over a large area on the border with Armenia. They are also in my opinion, one of the most underrated historical sites in Turkey.

ruins of Ani

Ruins of Ani – North east of Turkey on the border with Armenia

In its prime, the city of Ani housed more than 100,000 people who lived within the city walls for protection.

The advancement and excellence of its architects, traders, scholars, and general population led to the construction of magnificent buildings and a nickname…

“The city of 1001 churches”

Ani

Located on the ancient silk trading route, Ani was a rival for the cities of Constantinople and Cairo. Its success made it a target for the Byzantine Empire and they surrendered control to them in 1045.

This was the beginning of their downfall and ultimate destruction.

Ani ruins

Over hundreds of years, there were many rulers including the Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and Ottoman Empire. By the 18th century, the area had been completely abandoned and left in ruins.

At that time, the rulers were the Ottoman Empire and like so many other historical sites, they made no effort to preserve them for future generations.

Entrance to Ani

Locals often took wood and stones from the ancient churches and mosques so they could construct new houses in nearby villages.

Eventually excavations started in 1893 when the area was under Russian rule but the First World War and Turkish war of independence meant the ruins of Ani were no longer a priority.

Ani - kars

In recent years, excavations have resumed but not enough has been done. The WMF has placed the ruins of Ani on their list of endangered sites and in May 2011 agreed to work with the Turkish government to restore the churches and mosques before it becomes impossible to save them.

City walls of ani

My visit to the ruins of Ani

It was a short half hour drive from the city center of Kars to the ruins. I was desperate to get there early to avoid the crowds. I did not want the commotion. I did not want to shuffle behind people or stand in a long queue to gain entrance

I had read on the Internet that in the past, police permission was needed to gain entrance to the ancient city and photography was forbidden. Luckily, for me, times have moved on and it was just a case of buying a ticket and taking as many photographs as I wanted.

Kars and the ani ruins

The city itself amazed me but something else shocked me.

Our small tour group of three people and a guide were the only people there. We pulled into the car park and the first thing I noticed was the allocated slots for tour buses were all empty.

We made our way to the ticket booth and there were no queues. The ticket seller told us that people do not come to the ruins of Ani. The north east of Turkey is not a tourism hotspot and people dribble through rather than arrive on large tour buses.

Ani ruins in Turkey

 This city was one of the best historic sites I have seen in Turkey and yet two words describe it perfectly

“Ghost town”

Ani ruins near Kars

Note: I have so many photographs of Ani that I want to show you. In fact there are more than 50, which would make this an extremely long article. For that reason, I have broken it up into four parts so keep checking back for the next update on the ruins of Ani.

Readers question : Do you agree that the ruins of Ani are certainly a site worth seeing?

Ani city walls

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Hi. I'm Natalie, a freelance travel blogger and writer specializing in the country of Turkey. I love hot summer days, historical sites and coffee.

37 Responses

  1. It’s sad really Richard. So many people don’t even know the place exists

  2. I was just writing up my own article about my trip here earlier in the year, and I can definitely say that it was worth visiting! It’s one of the most important sights in Turkey and yet it was empty!!!!! It’s almost unbelievable really!

  3. Roman
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    Hi, just back from this area.
    I went Ani for a few hours, hundreds photos was taken
    I love this place, and this is not only because Ani city ruins. I hope next time I will go Armenia side, shame the border is closed

  4. Nat
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    Wow – think you will see a lot of changes since 1975 Tom – I have seen a lot in the last ten years. Don’t worry too much about the western side. Apart from the historical ruins, most are typically tourist destinations

  5. Tom
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    When I come to Turkey this July I plan on spending 5 or 6 days in the area of Dogubeyazit and Kars, and Ani is definitely on my list of places to see. I guess it is easy to find a ride from Kars and I hear Celil is a good guy to connect with in Kars to get there. Really, it is this section of Turkey that first interested me in coming, and then I read about Mardin, Hasankeyf, Amasya and a few other places. I wanted to visit western Turkey but with only 29 days I must limit it to these few areas and hope for a return trip some time in the future. I did spend time in Istanbul in 1975.

  6. Definitely an original landmark to see Alexandra

  7. Wow! Ani is like nothing I saw in Turkey! Once again you have shown me another reason to go back to Turkey!

  8. Exactly Turtle, I am currently in the south east and just amazed by the amount that I did not know about the country and sites to see in this area

  9. Turtle
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    It looks beautiful! I love how Turkey seems to have so many of this ‘hidden’ treasures. You could spend months trying to see it all and there would still be more to discover!!

  10. Hope you do return some day Ali – Still lots more for you to explore

  11. Ali
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    Definitely looks like an interesting place. I’ve always heard eastern Turkey has far less tourism. I’d love to see that part of the country at some point, and I definitely love ruins!

  12. Nat
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    Jennifer – I think the same about the people in the east and the west. People told me not to go to Kars either. Said I would never come back. I ended up tagging onto the end of a big tour of the north east region but spent two days in Kars on my own and was perfectly fine. As a female in that area, just know that you can not do the same as you would do on the western coast of Turkey, and you will be fine.

  13. Jennifer Roche
    |

    I Tried to visit this may but was put off by the high cost of joining a tour there, approx €700. I wanted to go it alone but any Turkish person I spoke to advised against it, saying it would be a dangerous trip for a woman alone. I find this hard to believe. I think the people of the west distrust the people of the east. I’m sure its political but I don’t want to get into that. Can you shed some light on whether it is safe for lone travel as I hope to return to Turkey in 2013

  14. The place is quite powerful in aura Lillie

  15. What powerful, haunting photos!

  16. You’re welcome Phil and Di – glad you liked the story

  17. It is not your history knowledge that is lacking NT

    This place is not often promoted as a site to see in Turkey. Excavations have also been haphazard. It has been severely neglected and that is why you have not heard of it

  18. crazy that this city rivaled Cairo and Constantinople at one point, yet I had never heard of it. I seriously need to brush up on my history! Gorgeous photos, as always

    – Maria Alexandra

  19. phil + Di marina gateway
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    once again im stunned fantastic pic’s thanks for donig your blog Natalie i love reading it

  20. Did you write a post about it Aaron? I had a look on your blog to find one so I could link to it in the article but can not find one.

  21. Are you planning for next year already? You are organised. I am meant to be setting off in a couple of weeks and still have no idea of where to go.

  22. Don’t postphone Alan – I would love to read your post about it. I too, heard about the flowers. Apparently I went at the wrong time of year.

  23. I fear the same as well Jack – There is not much tourism in that area so they probably don’t see money in the ticket sales, the like of what they get back from Ephesus. I was also tempted to start discussing the Armenian issue and then changed my article as did not want the focus of the post to be political.

  24. I’m SO glad I made it Ani during my time in Turkey! It was by far the highlight of my time in Turkey! So eerie and unique!

  25. Great pics Natalie. We’ll make it there one day, soon. Actually, not sure of our travel plans for next year, yet. Will wait and see how the world pans out and that could determine our direction. 😉
    Julia

  26. Alan
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    Drat and double drat! Best be postponing my post about the place 🙂 It’s a great place Natalie, and I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts. When J and I were there the whole area was awash with flowers that added to the experience.

  27. I wish we’d seen the ruins when we had the chance. It’s a shame that the Turkish authorities don’t see their preservation as a priority. With so many ancient sites and limited funds, I fear Ani will simply deteriorate. And, there is the Armenian connection – a difficult subject in Turkey.

  28. It is hard not to enjoy these ones Audrey – ending up taking so many pioctures

  29. Looking forward to reading your posts about your visit Micki – Turkey is great and you will love it

  30. Well i have never been to Israel VT but I think Turkey has awesome historical ruins

  31. Where abouts are you now TF?

  32. Glad you liked Lisa – it is a bit too far east for mainstream tourism but it is worth making the trip

  33. These ruins are beautiful! Looks like the kind of place I would enjoy. 😉

  34. Micki
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    Thanks so much for this, Natalie!

    We’re planning a visit to Turkey this winter, and I’d never heard of the Ruins of Ani before. They definitely look like they’re a worth a visit, and I love the fact that they’re quiet.

  35. Nice place, but Israel has better as I think.

  36. Looks like an amazing place. I am fairly close to Turkey I need to spend some time there.

  37. I totally agree with you, Natalie! Definitely a site worth seeing!

    This looks fantastic and I wish I’d known about it when I was in Turkey (although I wasn’t quite that far east). Looks beautiful and fascinating. I actually got some goosebumps looking at the photos, by the way. I can imagine what it felt there.

    When I return to Turkey, I’m definitely checking this out. Glad you shared these photos!