My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Pilgrimage to Turkey: Ani the "City of 1001 Churches" ...

Ani from the outside
This one-time wealthy and powerful Armenian capital city and trading hub has suffered a terrible, violent and bloody history with dreadful massacres of its overwhelmingly Christian citizens. 
It was attacked and sacked respectively by both Byzantine and Seljuk Turkish armies and later suffered terribly at the hands of the Mongols in 1236 from which time it started its gradual decline. The site had been entirely abandoned by the middle of the 18th century. (As with all this area, the history is complex and much more can be found on the internet - see also my own historical summary of the region posted a couple of days ago) 
Over the years earthquakes, (in 1319, 1832, and 1988), vandalism, neglect, earthquakes, amateurish restorations and excavations have all taken their toll on this amazing site of Ani. The Turks blame the Armenians for damaging some of the monuments by quarry blasting across on the other side of the gorge. The quarry is clearly visible. The Armenians accuse the Turks of neglect and there is talk of deliberate “cultural cleansing”. Until quite recently tourists needed to obtain special permission to visit from the tourist office in Kars and photography was strictly not allowed. 
In about 2004 these restrictions were relaxed, and it would also seem that Turkey is now committed to trying to conserve and develop this site. 

The Church of the Holy Redeemer being restored
There was evidence of current conservation at the time of our visit, apparently being undertaken by the World MonumentsFund in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Culture. 

This is the Church of the Holy Redeemer. It was completed around 1035 and has a unique design: 19-sided externally, 8-apsed internally, with a huge central dome set upon a tall drum. Sadly in 1955 the whole Eastern side collapsed in a storm.

I really hope and pray that this important heritage can be preserved sympathetically for future generations as a reminder of such an important historical past.There is no shortage of information available about the site, in guide books, websites and web reviews from the many travellers who are drawn to this important place. Most stress that it takes 4 or 5 hours to do it justice, (I would say longer is needed) and advise carrying a picnic and a water bottle. For us it was cold, but at least sunny, and when we visited a perfectly adequate restaurant near the site was open for lunch time refreshment.

remains of an oil press at Ani
During the morning we wondered all over the ruins, visiting not only the said church of St Gregory, but also exploring the massive cathedral (or church of the Holy Mother of God, started in 989 but not finished for another 12 or so years), the mosque of Minuchir and the Citadel, the highest point, from where we had a panoramic view of the whole area. I was personally fascinated by the ruins of the houses, with fireplaces, niches for ornaments perhaps, evidence of a chapel perhaps and signs of an underfloor heating system.

Inside the massive cathedral, or Church of the Holy Mother of God
evidence of a chapel among the dwellings?

ruins of dwellings Ani

remnants of bridge in arpa cayi gorge
There is a map of the site at Wiki which shows just how many churches there are at this important ancient stronghold of Armenian Christianity. Clearly very much more needs to be done to discover, chart, research and conserve this wonderful place.
I have a few more stories of Ani to come, before we make our way south via Mt. Ararat and Lake Van on our way to the Tur Abdin region and the Syriac Orthodox monasteries ....

No comments:

Post a Comment