Visiting the Biggest Abandoned City You’ve Never Heard of – Ani

Abandoned city - Ani in Turkey and Armenia

hat is wrong with the human race? At its peak, Ani was one of the worlds great cities. Circa year 1000, we’re talking top ten – genuinely one of the greatest cities on the entire planet. In this part of the world, possibly only Constantinople (now Istanbul), and Baghdad could hold a candle to the opulence, magnificence, and architectural artistry of Ani. Rome? Sacked. London? Not even close. Amsterdam? Swamp. New York? Not yet invented. Ani, was the greatest city you’ve never heard of.  Citadel, former capital, and heart, of the great Armenian empire. These days, Ani is in Turkey. Ani, is an ex-city. Abandoned. Desolate, remote, and largely forgotten for over seven hundred years. But, not entirely forgotten. Especially, not by the Armenians. Oh, where do I start.

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Ani is deep in Eastern Turkey, thousands of kilometres from Istanbul. I’ve been travelling for almost five hundred days so far –  but travelling to Ani is a journey of a lifetime just by itself. Overland, it takes enough to get to know the people of Turkey. Warm, friendly, welcoming, and generous to a fault. Very similar, as it turns out – to the people of Armenia. This is one of the heart warming discoveries that can be made on any holiday (and yes, it’s a little weird calling a 476 day journey a holiday) – sometimes, the best traits of two ethnically diverse peoples with shared histories rub off on one another. Even so, they have a long history of not exactly being friendly neighbours. And that, is the understatement of the year.

abadoned city ani
Walking through the decaying city walls, and looking out onto the area that the city of Ani once filled, is an amazing feeling.
ani abandoned city
The abandoned city walls, and cathedral domes, in the city of Ani – known as the city of 1000 churches. Larissa and Phillipa, giving this scene some scale and context.
abandoned building in city of ani
Inside one of the abandoned buildings located within the city walls of Ani.
abandoned bridge in abandoned city Ani
Abandoned bridge sits on the border of Turkey and Armenia. Once, it formed part of the “Silk Road” – another reason for Ani’s success.
City walls Ani.
City walls, Ani. Long, enormous, and designed to keep armies out.
Another abandoned church,
Another abandoned church, that we had all to ourselves, in the abandoned city of Ani.
abandoned city urbex
Going, going… gone?
Mosque, Cathedral, Castle. All abandoned,
From left to right – Mosque, Cathedral, Castle. All abandoned, in the city of Ani.
restored city walls ani
Some efforts at restoration and preservation have occurred. But funds, and motivations, are low. Ani.
Inside one of the "restored" churches of Ani.
Inside one of the “restored” churches of Ani.
ani abandoned cathedral
It was difficult to capture the scale of this abandoned cathedral, with all other homes, buildings, and structures around now gone,offering no way to compare – it looks smaller than it is. Ani.
abandoned city of Ani - caves
Outside of the Ani city walls, across the river, hundreds of cave dwellings remain.
nancy road trip
“Nancy” had to wait all day outside the abandoned city of Ani. Have you read about the journey that this Renault has taken? Start here.


Located geographically right on the border of Turkey and Armenia, Ani decays next to an invisible line between two nations that for decades have given up on proper diplomatic relations. All land borders between the two, remain firmly closed. Currently, the ruined city of Ani lays on the Turkish side of the border. In the future, who knows. This land, historically, has a habit of moving invisible lines around.

From the abandoned city of Ani – in present day Turkey – I threw a rock across the barbed wire fence, and it landed in Armenia. In the weeks to come, I would travel from Turkey to the other side of Ani. However, in this present world of diplomatic games, it took me several days of travel – driving from Turkey, into Georgia, and then into Armenia – to make it to the other side of the fence. It was a nice drive to be sure. But, I couldn’t help but think that Armenians must be pretty pissed off having to go through this extended international journey, just to visit their historical capital.

For sure, Ani is also important to the history of Turkey – Ani includes the first Mosque built on the Anatolian plateau. At around 1000 years old, it’s still standing,  just down the street from a Cathedral. Indeed, a roster of armies and nations from the region have either ransacked, or layed claim to Ani, with the city changing hands many times throughout it’s long history. It’s a pearl, located in an area so strategic that sees modern day nations continuing to fidget and jockey for position in the area around Ani.

I met a friendly Armenian, firmly on the “other” side of Ani in a an Armenian town called Gyumri.

He was a strong man. A well travelled government official and martial arts devotee, with a heart of pure gold.

His face glowed when I mentioned that I had travelled to the historic city.

“It’s an Armenian city, you know.”

I told him I knew. I wanted to talk to him about all the things I had read about Armenia. But, there was a language barrier. We would need to stick to the basics.

We looked at each other, knowingly.

He rolled some fresh herbs into a piece of  Lavish bread, and offered one to each of my friends, and then to me.

We said cheers, and drank a shot of  Vodka.

I saw him talking to my female friend.

In this staunch Armenian land of both chivalry and machismo, I was about to find out that some things, don’t need a lot of words.

Some things, men don’t talk about to other men.

She leaned over and whispered to me, when he wasn’t looking.

“He said that whenever he visits Ani, he cries.”


PS, is banned in Turkey, for reasons that I cannot possibly fathom – even before writing this article.

PPS, the next article I am considering publishing – is a long one. It’s one of the most incredible stories I think you will read this year. Imagine if I decided to just email it out to my email followers, instead of publishing it here? That would mean, you might miss out. Unless you pop your email address in here to receive it straight to your inbox. I’ll never share your email address, and never spam you. Ever. I promise.

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