Early Travellers to Ani

"...the entire country having the appearance of a vast wilderness, desolate and solitary, with here and there a ruin standing naked and isolated, as if to remind the traveller that this waste had once been fertile, populous, and inhabited by a highly civilised nation."
- The traveller John Ussher

At the start of the 19th century most of Armenia was an unknown region, mostly unmapped and virtually unexplored. Travel conditions were extremely difficult - it was an unsettled land, filled with Kurdish bandits and almost without roads. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the number of European travellers to Armenia gradually increased as the century progressed.

Many of these journeys took place at the end of autumn or during the winter months. The reason is explained by the traveller Richard Wilbraham:

"During the winter it is much safer to travel among the Koords than during the summer; for when the plains no longer afford pasture for their flocks they retire to their villages, leaving behind them the lawless, predatory habits in some degree inseparable from a nomade life."

The ruins of Ani are mentioned in some detail in the writings of the following travellers - click onto their name to download their account.

The publication of books in Armenian such as "Journey into Greater Armenia" by Sargis Dgaleantz in 1842, and "Description of Greater Armenia" by L. Alishan, in 1855, led to the rediscovery of Ani by Armenians - many of whom now lived outside the territory of historic Armenia.

In 1839 the Frenchman Charles Texier visited Ani, and in 1842 he published his "Description de l'Armenie" containing ten large engravings of Ani that awakened Western interest in Armenian architecture. The book "Les Ruines d'Ani" by Marie-Felicite Brosset, published in St. Petersburg in 1860, also contained many engravings of Ani that were based on drawings done by previous travellers.

Ani Under Russian Rule

The most significant event to effect Ani during the 19th century happened in the year 1878. Following Russia's successful war against Turkey the previous year, the Kars region was incorporated into the Russian empire. Under Russian rule the Kurds were pacified (or migrated into Turkish territory to continue their lifestyle of robbery and murder), new roads were constructed, towns expanded, and the region gradually became safe for civilised life. There was also a substantial influx of Armenian settlers into what was an almost empty land, recreating a native population that had an interest in the ruins at Ani and their preservation.

Those Armenians probably did not look upon Ani in quite the same way as Europeans would look at a romantic ruin enveloped in vegetation. Most of Armenia was a desolated land filled with the ruins of abandoned settlements, and Ani was seen as the most dramatic example of that destruction - a symbol of Armenia's lost glory and an inspiration for what could be attained in the future. By the end of the 19th century Ani for Armenians had became more than a place - it had became an ideal. Novels, plays, and even operas were written using Ani as inspiration. Many buildings put up in the Russian controlled parts of Armenia during this period have architectural motifs derived from buildings in Ani. The cathedral was a particular source of inspiration and new churches based on its design were built in the towns of Kars and Alexandropol (now called Gyumri).

  • G. I. Gurdjieff, the philosopher and mystic, also found inspiration amid the ruins of Ani.

  • The most important description of Ani at the end of the 19th century was written by the British traveller H. F. B. Lynch in his book "Armenia: Travels and Studies", published in 1901.

Archaeological Excavations at Ani

The years 1892 and 1893 marked the start of proper archaeological excavations at Ani. The city walls of King Ashot were uncovered. Nearby, the foundations of a church containing frescoes were revealed, and there were excavations around the Church of the Redeemer. These works were sponsored by the St. Petersburg Academy of Scientists and were supervised by the Russian archaeologist and orientalist Nikolai Marr (1864-1934).

After a break, Marr's excavations at Ani resumed in 1904 and they continued yearly until 1917. Large sectors of the city were excavated, the whole site was surveyed. Two museums were established to house many of the finds, one was inside the Mosque of Minuchir. Click here to view a page about Nikolai Marr and his excavations at Ani. The numerous examples of Armenian and Russian graffiti that are still visible on the walls of many churches testify to a growing number of visitors to Ani.

The Return of the Turks

During the First World War, massacres and deportations within the Turkish controlled parts of Armenia resulted in the near total destruction of the Armenian population there. The collapse of the Imperial Russian army after the 1917 revolution enabled Turkey to cut a swathe of destruction across the newly declared Republic of Armenia, capturing Kars in April 1918 and eventually reaching Baku on the Caspian sea.

At Ani, attempts were made to evacuate the most valuable exhibits from the two museums before the Turkish army arrived. The archaeologist Ashkharbek Kalantar is said to have organised the evacuation of about 6000 items. This apparently large number included small items like coins - bulky, heavy items, such as the statue of King Gagik, had to be left behind. Everything that was left behind (including the excavation archives, surveys, reports, and photographs) was later either looted or destroyed. See the page about Nikolai Marr for more information on this period.

Defeat on other fronts caused Turkey to surrender and withdraw to the pre-war borders. They left a devastated land behind them. In 1920 Turkey renewed its offensive. The Armenian army - over extended, under equipped, badly trained, and with poor moral - could not stop this new invasion. Kars again fell to the Turks (October 1920), so did Alexandropol.

In November 1920 the Bolsheviks invaded the remaining territory of the Armenian republic. With Armenia now under Soviet 'protection' the Turks ceased their advance and even withdrew from some captured territory, including Alexandropol.

The Bolsheviks wanted good relations with Kemalist Turkey, and in 1921 they signed the "Treaty of Kars" that officially ceded the towns of Kars, Sarikamish, Igdir, Kagizman, Ardahan, Artvin, and Oltu to Turkey. What was left of the Armenian population in these areas was forced to leave, and all the still active medieval Armenian churches and monasteries (including Horomos and Khtzkonk) were abandoned. The Akhurian or Arpa river became the new border between Turkey and Soviet Armenia. Ani was left stranded on the Turkish side of that new border, within an increasingly tense region that was soon forbidden to foreign travellers.

One of the last visitors to Ani during this era was the writer Konstantin Paustovsky in the year 1923.

...forward to "Ani: Recent History".

...back to the previous history page, "A Brief History of Ani".

1.   An engraving from 1842 by Charles Texier depicting the walls of Ani - click for a larger picture

2.   An engraving by Charles Texier showing the walls beside the Lion Gate - click for a larger picture

3.   The cathedral, an engraving by Charles Texier

4.   An engraving by Charles Texier showing the narthex of the church of Tigran Honents

5.   An engraving by Charles Texier of
the chapel in the Monastery of the Virgins

6.   The Surp Amenaprkich church in Alexandropol (Gyumri) was inspired by Ani's cathedral

7.   A book about Ani, in Armenian,
published in Constantinople in 1910

8.   Some of the excavators of Ani photographed in 1913 - at the bottom left is Nikolai Marr, next to him
is his wife, then the photographer Aram Vruyr, at the top left is the archaeologist Ashkharabek Kalantar

9.   Nikolai Marr and (on his right) the architect Toros Toramanian receiving visitors to the Ani excavations

10.   A scene from the excavations

11.   13th century wooden lecterns (reading desks) found in Ani, and rescued from the museum in 1918

12.   Armenian stamps from 1922 showing scenes from Ani - by this time Ani was in Turkish territory