Impressions of Ani

Ani Cathedral Note: Ani, “City of 1,000 Churches,” was the capital of the Bagratid Dynasty in Medieval Armenia, and it was home to over 100,000 inhabitants. The nearby city of Kars was part of the Republic of Armenia from mid-1919 through 1920.

Three of us began our day with an early morning walk in the old fortress town of Kars. These morning excursions had become almost ritual for several of us in the group; not a day passed without a surprise of some sort. As our walk through the streets of Kars was about to end, we witnessed an impressive parade commemorating an Iranian religious leader from several centuries past. This adventure prepared us for the coming events that day — visiting the fabled city of Ani.

After viewing the magnificent Church of the Holy Apostles, we left Kars, which was once part of the Bagratid Kingdom, and departed for Ani. It was a cloudy day; rain dampened the countryside. As we approached the walled city, the rain stopped. It was time to walk the steps of the Bagratid Kings, and of Marco Polo.

After passing through the main entrance, I stood in awe of this masterpiece of man and nature. I couldn’t wait for the others in our group to arrive, and started walking briskly toward the cathedral, twisting and turning to capture every possible angle. Inside, as I viewed the altar and gazed into the invisible dome, my imagination recalled images of the past, of kings and princes, of the church being alive with music and incense. The howling wind brought back the present, the cathedral standing alone, silent in time.

The sound of thunder was followed by a downpour, while walking towards the Church of the Holy Saviour. My walk became a frantic run, to avoid being drenched. While waiting under a crumbling archway of the church, I studied the terrain, wondering which path to take when the rain stopped. My next destination was the Church of the Abughamrents Family, the Church of the Holy Apostles, and the ruins of a mosque built in 1318. From inside the mosque, I took several pictures of the ravine below, the Akhurian River, and the Marco Polo Bridge.

St. Prgitch After walking the large expanse of the city several times, I realized I hadn’t found the Church of Tigran Honents. It had always been my favorite, along with the famous cathedral. Since it was located on a road leading down to the Akhurian River, it had escaped my earlier searches. It stood proudly as in all the photographs I had seen; now it was my turn to try and capture its beauty.

I walked around the area several times, crawling up rocky hills and then down a portion of the old Silk Road, down to the banks of the river. I wanted to see the church from every possible angle. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a few Kurdish boys appeared. They were trying to sell some old Byzantine coins, but with darkness approaching, there was no time — I motioned them to leave. Before dark, I photographed the frescoes in the interior, and the still-intact dome. Built in the 1200s, the church stood as if ready to face another 800 years.

Outside, looking down towards the river, I noticed several caves, possibly entrances to the underground city of Ani, which at one time had its own living quarters, churches, and burial places. After a few tentative steps, the sliding rocks and near darkness convinced me to postpone this venture. I started back to the entrance of the city and back to the bus.

With the sound of thunder and more rain beginning to fall, I started running, reaching the archway just before the next downpour.

The cloudburst passed. In the fading light, just before stepping back onto the bus, there was still time for one last picture of the city walls.

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