Historians have dubbed Ani “great” and “universal”. Ani has garnered these acclaims because of her magnificent structures, her palaces, her cathedrals and her bridges. Although in ruin, today, Ani still retains her splendor. The city lies on the right bank of the Akhurian River on an elevated plateau about 30 km southeast of Gyumri on the Turkish side of the Armenia-Turkey border. Destroyed cathedrals, churches, towers, city walls and remains of fortresses that were once marvelous examples of medieval Armenian architecture are plainly visible from left bank of the Akhurian.
In the 9th century, Ashot Bagratuni bought the Arsharunik and Shirak regions, along with the Fortress of Ani, from the Kamsarakan princes and annexed them to his territory. At the end of the century Ani had already become a burgeoning town. In 961, the Bagratunis moved their court from Kars to Ani and established her as their capital city.
The city was protected from attacking enemies and nomadic tribes by her two thick surrounding walls, which were named after the kings who built them, Ashotashen and Smbatashen. A relief carving of a puma, the city mascot, was placed above the main entrance to the city.
Ani had forty entrances that each had its own name including the Door of Kars, the Door of Dvin or Yerevan, The Great Door, The Door of Igadzor, The Gate of Shakhmatashat and The Gate of Gaïladzor.
Ani has lived many ups and downs. At her height, she has had a population of 100,000. From 989 to 1020, during the peaceful reign of King Gagik I, Ani grew and flourished even more. The glorious Main Cathedral, the Gagikashen and Abughamrents churches, palaces, inns and hostels were built during this period. The Armenian historian Kirakos of Gandzak called Ani “the city of one thousand and one churches.” The crown jewel of churches was the Main Cathedral. Its architect was the talented Trdat, who was famous even outside the borders of Armenia.
Ani’s cathedrals and palaces had elaborate entrances and their interior walls were always decorated with beautiful relief paintings. The relief paintings on the interior walls of the partially ruined St. Gregory’s Church are still visible today. The church was labeled Nakhshazart, meaning ornately decorated, because of its ornate relief carvings and paintings.
Nearly forty different types of art and handicraft, including architecture, metallurgy, rug weaving, silk manufacturing, pottery, fabric weaving, goldsmithing, etc, thrived in Ani. The city was also a major hub of the trade routes in the medieval world. Merchants from Ani did business with counterparts in Byzantium, Persia, Arabia, Southern Russia, Central Asia, China and India.
Apart from regular schools, Ani had a high level academy that taught medicine, physics, mathematics, philosophy and other subjects of higher learning. From the 10th-11th centuries Ani had a royal library.
Cave dwelling neighborhoods existed in Ani, which were often used as military barracks and arsenals. During enemy attacks on the city these cave apartments were used as secret hiding places for the population. During different periods, the Byzantines, the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols attacked Ani. In 1042, Vahan Pahlavuni, leader of the Armenian army defeated the Byzantines who were trying to sack Ani. After this victory 18-year-old Gagik was crowned king. However, during the 12th century the city was entangled in political turmoil and was finally destroyed during the Tamer lane’s conquests. By the 14th century, the city was so devastated by the frequent attacks of the Mongol and Turkish tribes that its population slowly abandoned Ani for Georgia, the Crimea, Poland and Constantinople.
Ani’s heroic story remains an inspiration to many Armenian writers, even to this day. Many books have been written about her.
Ani – the city of 1001 churches
Did you know that the city of Ani was named as the City of 1001 churches?
Ani was also one of the ancient capitals of Armenia from 961 to 1045. During the reign of the Bagratid Dynasty from the 9th to the 12th centuries, Ani was a thriving community and acquired fame as being a Christian metropolis in Asia abounding with prestigious monuments. As the capital of Christian Armenia, Ani was a flourishing artistic and religious center ruled by Christian kings. In fact, the city was gradually enriched with dozens of religious buildings such as churches, chapels, monasteries, along with royal palaces and mansions, baths, inns, bridges, aqueducts, and sewer systems. As the city grew, the planners were also building an underground Ani in case of a seige, and the remains of it bear witness to the existence of hundreds of houses, stores, food shops, tombs and monasteries, chapels, mills, stables, and reservoirs.
The city of Ani was considered an impregnable fortress due to its natural protective cliffs on three sides and strong massive walls on the fourth side. King Ashot I, first ruler of Ani fortified the city with added defensive structures which included a citadel and double line of ramparts. However, even with all these protective measures, because of Byzantine treachery, the city fell to the Seljik Turks in 1064, and in 1319, an earthquake completely destroyed the beautiful city.
The most flourishing period for the city Ani was the thirty-year period from 990 to 1020. It was during this period when Gagik I reigned, that the dynasty, the capital, the region and the Armenian renaissance in the arts and in politics was at its peak.
The capital’s economic, social and cultural boom went hand in hand with the expansion of architecture and building The Armenian art of building by experienced master builders using circular design, conical roof, clustered columns, ribbed vaults, and pointed arches produced some well known great cathedrals and churches of Mren, Mastara, Tekor, Ereruk, Garnahovit, Arudch and others.
From the architectural side, the “Ani school of architecture” had an influencing effect on the whole of Armenia.with regard to styles, designs and building typology of churches in the region. In fact the unique churches of Armenia may have held the seed of a great architectural style. Historians say that Armenian architecture had a great influence on the Balkan countries, and builders from Armenia may well have carried their new ideas as far as France and Italy.
The Cathedral, which was completed in 1010, was considered a marvel of architecture in the classic Romanesque design. The pointed arches and clustered piers of the cathedral were characteristic of western Gothic architecture. It is said that the design of this great cathedral occurred more than a century before the great European churches. It was also the opinion of many architects that the cathedral was the forerunner of the famous Gothic designs of Europe. Tiridates was the architect responsible for building the Ani cathedral.
Presently, the ruined city of Ani stands in a desolate part of northeastern Turkey not far from the Black Sea. Most of the churches in the city of Ani were destroyed by the 1319 earthquake, except the dome of the Ani Cathedral, which survived the earthquake and stood for another 500 years. It wasn’t until the earthquake of 1832 that proved to be the final deathblow to the dome.
In the nineteenth century the ancient ruins of Ani was used as the site of the annual spring reunion and pilgrimage point of the Armenians.
Religious and patriotic Armenians from all over the world, which numbered in the thousands, would camp together for weeks to rejoice in the glory of the past and share in their vision of the future. These reunions lasted well into 1910, until Turkey perpetrated the Genocide on the Armenian nation, and then Ani became silent. The irony is Turkey, who committed the dastardly act of Genocide, utilizes the world famous ruins of Ani as a tourist attraction, but states nothing of its past actions with regard to the Armenians.
Today, even though Ani stands in ruins, its past glory and splendor can still be seen even though the cathedral has crumbled to almost nothing. A chronicler left this description of Ani:
“Princes with joyous countenances sit upon princely thrones, they are clad in brilliant colors, like gardens in bloom… The sound of flutes and cymbals fills one’s heart with comfort and joy.”
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