CHAPTER XIII(Pages 240 to 246)
We left Kars the next day (16th October) for the ruins of the ancient Armenian capital of Ani, and riding for five hours over some well-cultivated corn country, arrived at the village of Hadji Veli, which was to be our halting-place for the night. The chief of the district, Meddit Bey, who, in addition to being an official, was also an hereditary landed proprietor and noble - a very rare personage in Turkey, where no hereditary institutions exist - hearing of our intended visit, sent out his brother to meet us at a mile from the village; and on our arrival we met with a warm reception from himself. He had just built a large addition to his house, a guest room, at one end of which blazed an enormous fire of dried cow-dung, the only fuel in these woodless regions. This is collected in summer, and made into cakes, which are plastered on the walls of the houses, and thus dried in the sun; after which they are piled up in conical stacks for the winter consumption. Into this room we were led by our host, and when we had seated ourselves on divans, coffee and pipes were brought.
After a short time, the Armenian archimandrite of the district entered. He had come to spend some time with the Bey, with whom he seemed to be on the very best terms - a friendship rarely seen to exist between a Mohammedan and a Christian priest. We found him an educated and well-informed man, who had travelled a great deal in Europe and Asia, had resided for a little time both in London and Paris, and was well versed in the ancient history of his own country, whose decline and present state he deplored, but whose restoration under the auspices of Russia, we could see, although politeness prevented his saying as much before his host, he, as well as most other Armenians, firmly believed in.
Soon after we sat down, seven in number, cross-legged, round a circular tray, elevated about a foot from the ground, and a regular Turkish dinner was brought in in successive courses by a number of servants. First appeared a large bowl of soup, into which every one dipped the wooden spoon which was handed to him, and thus helped himself out of the common mess until the whole was consumed. Then followed a number of dishes, one of which, forcemeat rolled up in vine leaves, and dipped in grease over which sour milk was poured, seemed an especial favourite. The whole feast concluded with an enormous pilau of rice, two feet high, and the same in diameter, into which the nimble fingers of the party soon made deep inroads. After dinner came pipes and coffee; and we had the usual conversation on politics. Surprise was expressed that England could go to war with such an empire as China so soon after the Russian campaign, and various wild surmises were hazarded as to the motives for doing so, as they never could have imagined that that country could think it worth while to enter into such a contest for the purpose of opening up a trade. At last this discussion came to an end, and we all spent the night on the divans which ran round the room. The fire was kept up and burnt brightly, the climate having become, now that we were on such an elevation, very cold after the sun had gone down.
The next morning we bade adieu to our host, who was a regular Turkish country squire, maintaining an establishment of no less than forty servants and hangers-on of all descriptions, and rode on towards Ani, intending to sleep at the monastery of Khoshavank, near the ruins. The huge volcanic mass of Mount Alaghoz rose in front of us, its desolate and barren slopes covered with enormous beds of black scoriae and ashes. Although for a long time extinct, the lava stream yet remains quite distinct, and its course could be plainly traced from the spot where it had issued out of the volcano, spreading over the surrounding country; the surface continuing perfectly devoid of any kind of vegetation, and preserving the same appearance as when it first cooled. Far away in the distance to the south-east was to be seen the snow-capped summit of Ararat, the base of which was still concealed by the intervening mountains, over the tops of which the peak was visible, sharp and well defined, against the blue sky.
We rode for some hours over the same kind of country as the day before, witnessing on the way a mode of agriculture probably the most astoundingly laborious ever practiced. To a wooden plough of no great size were attached sixteen oxen, which were driven by five men, two more keeping the plough, which was of wood, and of the rudest manufacture, in its place. Perhaps a similar expenditure of labour for a like result has not been often beheld. After some time we came in sight of some distant towers and cupolas, which we found on a nearer approach to belong to twelve or fourteen churches, standing among a mass of ruins on a promontory encompassed on three sides by deep ravines, and on the fourth defended by a massive wall, built of alternate layers of black and red stone, of which the towers we had seen formed part. Through the ravine which encircles the town on the west and south sides flows the Ani Kai, or river of Ani; while through that on the east runs the Arpatchai. Although the other buildings of the town had disappeared, the churches seemed still quite perfect, and the wall appeared in complete repair. The ground in the vicinity had become more rugged and uneven, the Arpatchai, which we had crossed at Gumri as a brook, had increased in size to a considerable stream, and ran through the ravine a sluggish and turgid river, at a depth of some hundred feet below, and was crossed under the town by the ruins of what had been a handsome bridge.
Making a long circuit, we entered the deserted city by the centre gate, there being three great entrances in the double walls, which were built of large blocks of hewn stone. Over the outer gate was an Armenian inscription, over the inner a leopard was sculptured in bold relief; while near it, on the towers, were carved crosses, ornamented with decorations and tracery of a very delicate nature. We found the ground in the interior covered with fragments of sculptured stones, broken columns, capitals, and carvings. Clambering over the masses of ruins we entered a few of the churches, three or four of which seemed, with the exception that their doors had been carried away, quite as perfect as when just out of the hands of the builder. One of them in particular, which stood just above the bridge that spanned the abyss below, was in complete preservation, the fresco paintings on the interior of the dome retaining their bright colour and lines uninjured by time, the subjects being Christ riding into Jerusalem, the Virgin at the Sepulchre, etc. These churches stand solitary among the ruins, in which, save a few pigeons, no living creatures seemed to exist. In the centre of the city were two lofty octagon towers, on which were small turrets; and not far from them was an isolated steep rock, near the edge of the precipice. This was also covered with scattered fragments of what had once been buildings - the citadel of the fortress city.
The walls of the palace yet remain, and are of great extent and solidity. The masonry is perfect, the huge stones are squared and put together with the greatest care, and the whole is covered with the most elaborate carvings, decorations, and mosaics, all of exceedingly delicate workmanship. There were also two mosques; one built on the edge of the precipice, the interior of the dome of which was covered with perfectly preserved arabesques, resembling in character and finish of design those of the Alhambra. In fact, everything in this deserted capital seemed to have been spared by time, but so marred by the hand of man that it now appeared a complete wilderness. All through the decorations the shape of the cross is discernible under many forms, and over the doors of the churches there are long inscriptions in ancient Armenian. The streets, as well as they could be traced through the masses of debris, seemed to have been narrow, and no traces exist of what may be called private houses beyond some fragments of walls. Caves and chambers, which were inhabited by the poorer classes when the city was at its zenith, were excavated in the precipice overhanging the stream; and in many places, where the natural defences were not considered sufficiently strong, walls and towers had been erected as an additional security. The situation of the city, with the deep ravine running round two sides, bears some resemblance to that of Constantine in Algeria; but the extent of ground contained within the circuit of the wall and surrounding chasm is much greater. The churches seemed of the same style as the rest of the ecclesiastical buildings to be seen in the country, and were apparently of the date of the twelfth century.
The city of Ani, the last capital of Armenia as a kingdom, was much injured by an earthquake in the early part of the fourteenth century, and a short time afterwards was captured and utterly destroyed by Tamerlane, who carried off and dispersed the few inhabitants that escaped a general massacre. Since then it has been uninhabited. Its majestic walls and towers now stand in the midst of a desert, where a few miserable mud huts are still occupied by the descendants of its ancient masters. Its massive churches, which have defied both the earthquake and the spoilers, now devoid of worshippers, are tenanted only by flocks of doves, an unbroken silence reigning over the wide scene of desolation and solitude.
As there was no place nearer to the ruins than the monastery of Khoshavank where we could pass the night, we rode on thither, a distance of half a dozen miles, passing on our route the remains of a number of round buildings at some distance from the walls. Two small churches yet remained entire, having the usual conical-shaped spire peculiar to the ancient Armenian sacred architecture. We also saw, a short distance before arriving at the monastery, an octagon watch-tower, similar to those within the walls of Ani.
We found the convent in a very ruinous condition, the church alone, which was large and handsomely decorated, remaining perfect. The cells for the monks, the refectory, the synod-room, and various other apartments were all roofless, or nearly so, and the carved stones which formed the ceilings strewed the floors. What remained of the roof of the synod-room was carved in the Moresque style with the finest tracery work, the edges of which seemed as fresh and as clearly defined as if recently finished. Only one priest remained in the monastery to officiate for the few inhabitants of the wretched village adjoining its walls, who seemed poverty-stricken and miserable.
In one of the huts we put up for the night and tasted for the first time a pilau made of millet-seed instead of rice or flour, resembling much in appearance and taste the kous-koussou of Algeria. A few books and manuscripts yet remained in the library, some of the latter illuminated in a very peculiar manner with figures of animals, birds, etc. Next day we bade adieu to the poor priest, the solitary inhabitant of the ruined walls and empty apartments, and passing by two churches similar in architecture to that at Khoshavank, but smaller, and which the priest told us had been built by one of the Tiridates, kings of Armenia, and his queen - the smaller of the two by the latter - soon reached the Russian frontier, close to which was another church in a ruinous condition.