If you find yourself in Eastern Turkey, a visit to Ani is a must. It’s a natural focus for the Sarıkamiş routes and can be visited easily from Kars. In spring, the stone-walled fields in countryside around are covered with yellow purple and blue rectangles of wild flowers.
The city was founded as the capital of the Bagratuni kingdom – the family was partly Armenian, partly Georgian and at various times ruled over both kingdoms. It fell to the Selçuk Turks in 1072, and was abandoned in the 16th or 17th C.
The ruins of Ani are perched on an isolated and dramatic plateau west and above the Araks river, the boundary between Turkey and Armenia. The river winds deep in a gorge and its bridge was carried much of the traffic on the silk road. A tributary valley to the west cuts Ani off from much of the plateau beyond. The remaining side of the triangle is defended by magnificent stone walls with circular towers.
Once reputed to have had 1001 churches, the area inside the walls is now mainly rubble, but several churches, a palace and a mosque have been restored or protected in recent years and the site now attracts many visitors. The castle on the highpoint at the end of the ruins of Ani, which until recently was out of bounds, is now open. When you climb to the summit, a church on a rock almost encircled by the river between Turkey and Armenia lies before you. The church itself is within Turkey, but the background is Armenia.
On a precipice above the river is a square building with minaret, reputed to be the oldest mosque in Turkey. Incorporating beautiful ceilings made from alternate red and black volcanic rock, it was built in 1064 by Alp Arslan, the first Turkish Selçuk Sultan. From the windows are views over the Arpa river and the bridge which carried the silk road into Asia Minor.
We can also recommend staying in the Laşet pension/restaurant. This ‘village’ of wooden bungalows lies just below the forst on the slopes of the Çam Geçit (Pine Pass) on the road between Ardahan and Şavşat. It overlooks a traditional farming village; the food is great, the rooms comfortable. The owner, Mete, runs a trout farm where he regularly sees wild bears – visitors can watch them visiting at night to gorge themselves on fish scraps.