Ani could be called idyllic, what with the wildflowers blooming recklessly across green fields, birds wheeling against a cloudless sky, and butterflies flitting across your path. But the ghostly ruins dotting the horizon know better. This was a place where civilisations clashed, where sackings by a succession of conquerors, earthquakes and neglect have reduced a one-time rival to Constantinople to an odd collection of crumbling yet grand buildings.
(For a quick primer for why an Armenian city is now part of Turkey, you might want to read this or this.)
For an entry fee of 5 lira (plus the 100 lira or so it costs to hire a taxi to get there from Kars), you get virtually all of Ani to yourself. A gorge forms a natural border dividing Armenia and Turkey but there are steely fences and watchtowers in case you forget. For about 3 hours, my sister and I braved the unrelenting sun, in mostly awed silence. The dilapidated state of the ruins doesn't diminish their majesty and often we were taken by surprise by how massive they are when we got close - from a distance they all seemed like dollhouses.
It's a lot of beauty to look at, and a lot to think about. A must-go if you ever find yourself in Turkey.
- If you are short of time, there are inexpensive flights to Kars (a convenient base for visiting Ani) from Turkey's major cities. Pegasus Air and Turkish Airlines have a good network of flights. I believe it takes around two hours.
- If you aren't worried about time, take the Dogu Express train, which departs from Istanbul and makes its slow trundling way across Turkey for...ages. We caught the train from Kayseri (in the Cappadocia region), and it took us some 18 hours. Parts of the ride are very scenic and you get a good sense of Turkey's varying geography. The two-person sleeping cabins are clean and very comfortable, pity the air-conditioning was not stronger, causing us to escape to the air-con dining car during the hottest times of the day. There a fridge stocked with some bottled water but I recommend bringing along your own food, snacks and at least 1-litre of your own water.
- There aren't many great hotels in Kars but one hotel you MUST stay away from is Otel Mirac, no matter what Lonely Planet says. Dirty, creepy and just...sad. We moved to Kent Ani on the second night - much better, if not the most economical option. It's worth haggling and double-checking the rate offered on booking.com as a gauge.
- Most hotels can help you hire a taxi or put you on a minibus to Ani. By car/taxi, it can cost as much as 80 lira per person if there isn't enough people to carpool with or as little as 30 lira.
P.S: More pictures from my trip here