The Beautiful Ruins of an Ancient Armenian Ghost Town

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March 19 2014 11:05 AM

Ani, the Ancient Armenian Ghost Town

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On the Turkish-Armenian border, scattered in the plains among the wildflowers, are the crumbling remains of a once mighty city. In the 11th century, Ani was home to over 100,000 people. Situated on a number of trade routes, the city became the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia, an independent state established in 884.

Ani was attacked by the Byzantines during the empire's 1045 takeover of the Armenian Kingdom. Two decades later, Seljug Turkish invaders captured the city, murdered and enslaved its inhabitants, and sold the whole place to a Kurdish dynasty known as the Shaddadids.

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The attacks continued in the 13th century, when the Mongols made two attempts — one thwarted, one successful — to capture the city. An earthquake in 1319 caused significant damage to Ani's many 11th-century churches. The city stumbled onward, but was much smaller by the mid-17th century and completely abandoned by 1750.

Today Ani is a grand but ruined ghost town. Tensions between Turkey and Armenia have contributed to its neglect — it is an Armenian city but lies within Turkish borders, making conservation and restoration difficult. To visitors, Turkey omits all mentions of Armenia from descriptions of Ani's history and focuses on the city's Turkish and Muslim influences.

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