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

Abandoned city - Ani in Turkey and Armenia
Ani, the ancient abandoned city.

What 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.

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.

click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article


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.

BTW, I would love to send you the next dispatch, posted from some-where random around this planet (and you'll soon find out why YOMADIC email followers are my favourite followers):

30 thoughts on “Visiting the Biggest Abandoned City You’ve Never Heard of – Ani

  1. Nice one Nate. Looks amazing. Your interaction with the locals gives all your writing a great perspective, not just your own. I am living vicariously through all your posts and blogs. Hope your doing well, what you are doing/ experiencing is amazing.

    1. Hey Jesse, nice to hear from you, especially when you’re throwing around such nice words. I’m doing well buddy, and one day, would love to have another drink with you over some good music. You’ve always been a good friend – and friends are the only thing that would drag me back “home”. Next year…

  2. Nate,

    So many things to say, hopefully it will sort it self out in the message.

    First, as a bunch of has said before your camera skills are becoming borderline master. All those days doing the hand modeling work has paid off.

    Second, for a moment therei thought i was looking at my one of my favorite places in Taos, NM. The Pilar Canyon recreation area west of Taos. The Oct. Light there feels/ look similar to the lost ciyt of Ani.

    Third, the sad part, with this blog open to many, it won’t be to long before some type of major tent pole feature is made there, or parts of the action take place there. From James Bond, Mission Impossible to some strange Star Wars action scene / Indiana Jones mystery.

    Which leads to possible involvement of you and feature / doc about your travels….

    Be well,


    p.s. I do not think Americans are as free to travel as you are. I would love to be proved wrong…

    1. Sorry for the missing words and typos, my head injury trauma shows up and even if i look over my work, i frequently do not see the missing words, phrases and typos.

      First sentence should have an “us” between bunch of – and – has ( which should be ” have “).

      Second should be the word “city” of Ani.

      I strive to be cogent, coherent, focused when i write. It mostly does not happen. It does not stop me from commenting though. Ha!

      Be well


    2. Hey Laurence… consider this a reply to both of your comments.

      First, no problem with the typos. I understood perfectly what you were saying.

      Thanks for the camera compliments. I really think it’s like anything – practice makes perfect, and I am shooting every day for a long time now. But it’s really great to be recognised as having improved!

      As for Taos – wow – I keep hearing about Taos lately. I think I’m going to have to visit in 2014 for sure. Too many coincidences

      Now, I wold love to be “discovered” by someone, and be involved in a larger project. At this point, I’m not sure what exactly – except that it would have to be something I could pour my heart and soul into. We’ll see what happens. I get offers here and there, but nothing I feel 100% comfortable with pursuing. I firmly believe that good things come to those who wait.,..

      Americans are similarly free to travel as Australians. There are problems for each of us, but really, we both have it pretty good. Iran for example is more difficult for Americans. Ukraine is more difficult for Australians. Overall, we both have one of the best passports that are available. Phillipa (being a New Zealander) seems to have it slightly better than both of us – the world (especially European nations) has a special case for New Zealanders – it boils down to “stay as long as you like” haha.

      Keep commenting, I really appreciate your inciteful and friendly words. Genuinely.

      One day we may bump into each other, and that would be great.

  3. What an amazing place. Thanks for sharing such awesome pictures and thoughtful words. I especially loved the pic of the stonework pillar.

  4. I managed to read the article by using “Hide my ass”. Sad state of affairs, it really is. Love the way you have portrayed Ani though. It is one of my favourite places in Turkey.

    1. Thanks Natalie, and thanks again for your assistance with Cappadocia (article soon). As I mentioned, I have no idea why Yomadic is inaccessible in Turkey – it really is, as you say, a sad state of affairs.

  5. Wonderful pictures, you took me miles and miles away in a second. Sorry that your site is banned in Turkey, Unfortunately I can see that happening, we don’t have the freedom of speech and press as much as we would like! Wish they mend the city and with it, the relation as well!

    1. Cheers ilke… freedom of speech is something that I believe is of utmost importance, to all people, in every country. Hopefully, one day Turkey will sort that issue out, as well as repairing relations with Armenia.

  6. Nate,

    I can see you working with Ridley Scott’s “Scott Free Productions” on docs, tv shows, maybe have you join the cinematography union as an onset photog. But that would probably interfere with world travel. Since you are under the auspices of the UK, i think creating a BBC workshop or travel logue show would do you well.

    Just thoughts Nate, i am jealous since the opportunities for this through the BBC could be amazing. I do not think we have anything like the BBC programs in the states. No PBS is not like the BBC.

    Be well


  7. Finally catching up with a few old reads in my inbox (I really need to start reading these as soon as they arrive!)

    What a wonderful read, and some truly beautiful photos. The one regret is that there is no photo of the Armenian gentleman you mention towards the end of the post.

    1. Hey! Nice to hear from you! If you read the story about the Armenian border – it’s the same guy. I just didn’t feel too comfortable including a photo, without asking his permission first. And thanks for the kind words mate.

  8. I just discovered this side of internet and I’m so happy :) Absolutely love your articles and the fact that I’m a history lover adds even more to it. Added this to my rss list. And btw how is it that your site is banned in Turkey if I can normally access it??

    1. Hi Neni – happy to have you around! I’m not sure about the Turkey thing – I’m still having to use VPN’s/Proxies to access my own site, and I just had someone else tweet me from within Turkey, saying they had such problems accessing it. I have noooo idea what is going on, hopefully the censors will come to their senses and leave me alone ;) Where are you located?

  9. I just stumbled upon this site and I really enjoy your articles! Thanks for posting. What camera do you use?

    1. Thanks Sarah. I have been using the Fuji X-Pro 1, with just a single 18mm lens, for every photo on this blog. It’s all I have carried with me for almost 600 days so far…

  10. Great blog post here. I have been to both Turkey and Armenia yet never heard of this place. We even visited the Turkey – Armenia border area at Khor Virap and were unaware of Ani’s existence.

    It reminds me a bit of Agdam in Nagorno Karabakh.

    Safe travels.


    1. Hey Jonny – I only heard about Ani not long before I visited. I made a loooong drive out of my way to get there!

      And I’m very jealous of your Nagorno Karabakh journey. I guess I’m going to have to make the long trek back to the Caucasus…

  11. Very nice article on Ani.

    Myself being Armenian never visited Ani will visit one day.

    We have been slaughtered by turks. We are one of the first races in the caucuse long before turkey even existed. However due to religion this is the result of not changing our beliefs for nobody.

  12. The plight of the Armenians over the centuries has been tragic seems like most of the times and wonderful at times. I’m second generation Armenian, Melikian/Merzoian and after my research I am very much proud to be an Armenian. I have been researching our Armenian history and today after almost 3,000 years we are still here. I stand for the Armenians. I live in Fresno
    California and I’m 79 years old , my grand parents, passed in the early 1960,s. I saw few pictures in the home relating to the old country. My grand father was a silver engraver for his father in Bitlis. for his father Haroutun. My grand mother escaped from and orphanage and immigrated from Marseille France, I believe she was a Mushetzi (sp), I can trace my heritage to great great grandfather Melik and that was 1800 the Turks destroyed all birth records before tht time.

  13. I have just completed my second novel titled “Beyond the Gates of Ani” and will travel to Turkey very soon to visited Ani and other sites in my story. My first attempt at writing a novel was publish by a small publisher and is called “Beyond the Bitter Sea” and is available on This time I will locate an agent to try and place the story with a larger publishing house in order to reach a larger audience. Both stories are historical fiction where the characters live with the events of the times.
    “Beyond the Gates of Ani” Opens with the fall of Ani to the Seljuk Turks and concludes with the First Crusade.
    A Question. 1. Can you enter any of the underground cave systems? 2. How long does it take to explore the entire city? Thanks for your great article and pictures.

  14. The city of Ani was lost due to a series of earthquakes. Not because the Turks lay a claim to it. Hence the mosque that’s still there to see. I think this article doesn’t need to jusify itself. It is pretty obvious that it was written from a point of view that favours the Armenian side of the story, which is probably the reason why your website is banned in Turkey.

    Ani is a marvelous sight to see but it is by no means an Armenian city, just like Cordoba isn’t a Moorish city or Istanbul a Greek one. Cities all over the world change hands and Ani was a Seljuk city for the last 300 years of its existence. It is in ruins now which the Armenians have no right of claim. Wishfully thinking that it will be one in the future is a clear sign of disrespect towards the integrity and history of Turkey and it’s borders.

    Love your writing style by the way.

    1. not really, the earthquake wasn’t the sole reason for their abandonment, the Mongols and seljuks were also at play here (and they were pretty violent) . Earthquakes always happen in Armenia. Ani is an Armenian city also a world city, if not then the same thing can be said about Turks and Azeris claiming Nogorno Karabagh (Artsakh) as theirs after the Armenians took control of it which is very Hypocritical if you ask me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *