The Ancient Ruins of Ani
Imagine this: a land of vibrant green plains with a picture-perfect cornflower blue sky. The countryside appears deserted, except for the occasional cow. On the horizon, incongruously, loom the giant crumbling carcasses of old Armenian-style churches, or slices of octagonal stone minarets. It’s quiet; it’s a screensaver that’s been interrupted by the remains of something long lost.
This eerie, abandoned land is called Ani, and it’s the reason I went to Eastern Turkey.
Ani was the ancient capital of Armenia, back when this slice of land was on that side of the border; now the old buildings stand like punctuation marks of worlds gone by. Armenia is visible across the river that serves as the (currently closed) land border; various military personnel and viewing stations can be spotted if you veer too close to the edge. It’s hard to avoid, as some of the churches hang tantalizingly over the river itself.
I encountered Ani originally in pictures, which were as lush and green as the image I described above, but when I arrived summer had taken its arid toll and the land was yellow brown. Actually it made the scene more bizarre: the ruins seemed to be growing out of the ground itself.
Ani is a half-day trip from Kars, and many entrepreneurial drivers exist to ferry you from the city to the ruins. It’s still a fairly untouristed spot; for a long time the site was completely closed to the public, and when it was partially opened in the ’90’s, visitors weren’t allowed to take photographs. Now you are mostly free to roam and snap, though my driver did tell us not to go to certain sites that were too close to the border… advice which I (anxiously) ignored.
The land itself is full of illusions. It appears as flat as a prairie plain, but I quickly lost sight of the folks who had come over in the same cab, and buildings seemed to rise out of the flatness like mirages. The undulation of the ground is barely perceptible.
There’s something majestic and mournful about this quiet abandoned city that time has left behind. Even under the hot midday sun, I could hear whispering ghosts of fallen empires, and standing on the cusp of a land border that remains defiantly closed lent the whole place a tinge of the forbidden, of the transgressive.
Ani is magical. It’s an isolated wonder worth uncovering, a monument to the past and reminder that all things must pass… or perhaps time will just leave us behind, sitting on the Armenian border, in quiet eternal contemplation.
It takes about an hour to get from Kars to Ani and cost me 40tl (about $20) for a shared cab. Celil,, my driver, tries to fill up the car and was a very knowledgeable man– you can him at +90 532 226 39 66.