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Scarcely a half dozen churches remain of the medieval Armenian capital of Ani, all in various states of disrepair, but, even so, the sprawling site is breathtaking—crumbling majesty amid stark, sweeping countryside, tiny Kurdish settlements, and fields of wildflowers. There is a haunted, yet strangely meditative, feeling at the site, with an open-air museum holding what are considered some of the finest examples of religious architecture of its period.
The city was built on an easily fortified triangular promontory bounded on two sides by steep river gorges; the third side is closed by the mighty walls, which stretch for more than 8,200 feet and are 32 feet tall, raised in AD 972 by the Armenian king.
Enter through the Aslan Kapısı (Lion's Gate), one of three principal portals. Take the path on the left to the Church of the Redeemer. This circular church was built in 1035 but hit by lightning in the 1950s, slicing it neatly in half, leaving a surrealistic representation
of an Armenian church with the rubble of its former half in the foreground. Next to it is the bezirhane, a former oil press. Beside the walls is the best preserved of three churches in Ani dedicated to St. Gregory, the Armenian prince who converted his people to Christianity. Built in 1215 by a wealthy Armenian merchant, it is the most impressive ruin in Ani, not least because it's at the foot of a ravine with a view over the Arpaçay River. Inside, note the remarkable cycle of murals depicting the lives of Christ and St. Gregory. If you follow the path into the gorge, you will come to the striking Kusanatz (Convent of the Three Virgins), on a rocky outcrop.
At the center of the site is the former cathedral, built in 1001 by the architect Trdat. Already staggering in size, it was once topped by a large dome that fell in an earthquake in 1319. During periods of Muslim rule the structure served as the Fethiye (Victory) mosque. A short distance away is the Menüçehir Cami, which clings to the heights overlooking the Arpaçay River and was originally an Armenian building, perhaps a palace; the minaret, added in 1072, is thought to be the first Turkish building within the country's modern borders.
Return to the walls along the excavated main street, past the shattered ruins of another minaret. Soon you will reach the Church of the Holy Apostles. The church itself is in ruins, but its large narthex, erroneously called a Seljuk kervansary, is well preserved with impressive stonework. From here head west toward the second gorge, and find a path backtracking to another small but well-preserved picturesque church dedicated to St. Gregory. Continue back beside the gorge to the walls from where there are sweeping views out over the rock-cut village which dates back thousands of years. You will then pass the foundations of the massive round Church of King Gagik, another of Trdat's designs. Now just parts of the outer wall and a mess of columns remain. After this, the over-restored Seljuk Palace is an imposing reminder of when the city was conquered by the Seljuks in 1064.
Ocakli, Kars, Turkey
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