When surrounded by impressive ruins of bygone eras, you can’t help but wonder who has stood there before you. Remarkable cities that have been reduced to remnants of the past still tell a memorable tale, as Intrepid traveller Cameron Rose discovered on his Istanbul to Tehran adventure…
“Our journey through Anatolia in Turkey was filled with many highlights. It felt so good to see places that are barely touched by tourism and western exposure. Inspiring landscapes, ancient buildings and ruins, pure Turkish hospitality and an abundance of Turkish tea drunk are the predominant images and thoughts that come to mind. But what made a special impression on me was the visit to Ani from Kars. For others Ishak Pasha’s Palace outside Dogubayazit was more imposing, but there I still had the overwhelming memory of Ani, with its beautiful buildings in a majestic setting close to the Armenian border.
Our guide, Jemel, collected us from our hotel in Kars and drove us the 44kms (27 miles) to the medieval city. Stopping only for photographs of Mt Ararat, which loomed majestically on the horizon and seemed to be tracking our progress to the mysterious city of Ani. We soon arrived at the double gate set in over a kilometre of city walls.
Entering through the Lion Gate, I was bowled over by the stunning view of the whole site, and was wondering if we would have time to see it all. Restrictions in place twenty-five years ago required the visitor to be guided by a soldier and forbad the use of camera or binoculars, the taking of notes and staring or pointing towards the border. Thankfully, today things are more relaxed and we could photograph freely inside the ruins and even the Armenian flags on the other side of no-man’s land.
What was once a thriving city is now an awe-inspiring ruin with eight churches, a convent and a mosque as well as a citadel within the sprawling walls. Images still with me are the Armosmenian inscriptions on towers and other buildings which lent the place such a ghostly feeling. As did the rich red poppies, which populate the long grass in Spring. As I sat pondering the nature of civilisations I was struck that although today Ani is a massive ghost town, these thousand year old buildings were once filled with city noise as over a million people went about their daily business. Times change, people move or migrate and empires crumble, but beautiful ruins remain to tell the tales of our past. Would one day Sydney, London or Istanbul be deserted?
Several groups occupied the city for nearly three hundred years from 953AD, giving rise to both churches and mosques. So much survives both in the buildings and decoration it is a pity (or perhaps a blessing?) that the place has not been occupied since the Mongol’s arrival in 1239 – when they threw out everyone else, but being nomads they had no use for city life and Ani became a ghost city. The early artists and artisans have left us beautiful structures and paintings, many of which are over eight hundred years old. How wonderful it must have looked to those who gazed upon them when new?
As the light of the late afternoon brought out the rich hues of brown in the stonework and the architecture, the keen photographer and artist I would like to be was enthralled. If you are lucky enough to be heading out along the road less travelled and visit Ani, my advice is don’t miss the delicate arches of the smaller structures, and the stronger ones in the large churches and in the city walls; look out for the small Zoroastrian Temple and the half cylinder tower. There are oil presses at ground level which can easily be missed. Above all: look up, look down, look around, so as not to miss anything in this overwhelming site. The exciting images you take away will be not just in your camera!”
Istanbul to Tehran – 18 days
Find out why this trip was one of National Geographic Traveler’s ’50 Tours of a Lifetime’ for 2009. Gain an insight into the complexities of eastern Turkish culture and discover the beauty of lands shrouded in mystery in western Iran.
* photo by Lyn Meredith – Intrepid Photography Competition