Earth : Europe : Turkey : Eastern Anatolia : Ani
Ani is a former city in Eastern Anatolia, which not long ago served as the capital of the ancient Armenian empire. The city descended into ruins recently and rapidly—the city emptied during the region's mass killings of Armenians around World War I; the stone structures crumbled under the weight of ethnic cleansing and hatred, not time. Ani exudes the eerie ambiance of a ghost town surrounded by the remote landscape of the rolling Turkish steppe, the tension of the adjacent contested border, and the heavy weight of tragic history. If you can, visit in June, when the vast flat plains teem with wildflowers. It is a truly unique and must see destination for any traveler to the Turkish East.
At the moment there is no public transportation to Ani. As of June 2008 a major highway was under construction running past Ani towards the Armenian border, possibly in anticipation of the border opening, which could allow for new bus routes. However, it is easy to hire a taxi for the day, ask at your hotel in Kars and expect to pay around 100 Lira (four people) for a five hour trip, including two hours driving time. If you're not staying the night before in Kars, just look around downtown early in the morning for any backpacker or ask in hotel lobbies—virtually all travelers visiting Kars go to Ani, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding a ride. The rides often leave from the small parking lot with shuttle rides to/from the main bus station.
Ani covers a small area and is easily traversed on foot. However, access to certain areas is often restricted due to the proximity to the Armenian border and ongoing tensions between Turkey and Armenia. So make sure to ask your driver about current restrictions.
Pinkish stone ruins of Armenian cathedrals, churches, homes, fortresses, and palaces float eerily across the desolate grassy landscape. Most of the well preserved Armenian churches date from the late tenth century to early eleventh century. The most distinctive is perhaps the church of Christ the Redeemer, split perfectly in half by lightning, but still standing. Additionally there are smaller structures, which were once homes, the remains of the cities castle walls, and a fortress overlooking the ruins. Other sites include the (relatively hard to find) ruins of a Zoroastrian fire temple and a small Ottoman fort. From the area near the fort, look carefully across the ravine to see a collection of Karst caves that once served as home to troglodytic Anatolians.
If the fortress is open to tourists, it is worth scrambling up the rocky path for the excellent views over Ani, the river gorge, and the steppe rolling towards the mountains of Armenia.
Eat & Drink
There are no restaurants, so one is best off bringing some snacks and drinks. There is a teahouse in the small village outside Ani, but absolutely do not forget to bring bottled water on a trip to Ani. The climate is very arid and seeing all the sites here will take a good deal of time—you will get badly dehydrated if you don't bring some water along.
There are no accommodations in Ani, and there are only a smattering of homes surrounding it. The nearest major city is Kars, from which Ani is an easy day trip.