Structure: Marr-Orbeli site 9.
Other designations: The Baron's Palace; Sultan's Serai; "Selçuklu Sarayi";
"Palace of the Pahlavuni"; "The Castle".


This is a large structure at the extreme north-western corner of Ani.

It probably dates from the late 12th or the 13th century, and may have been the residence of a wealthy merchant, or a prince, or the bishop of Ani. It has been proposed that it was the palace of the merchant Tigran Honents, since his supposed tomb is hollowed out of the cliff in the valley opposite the palace. Another theory is that it was a military structure - perhaps a barracks - connected to the outer defences of the city. There are no surviving inscriptions to help establish its function or identify who the real owner was.

Design Analysis

On the city side the surviving structure is two storeys high. From the entrance, one enters a rectangular room, then into a large courtyard (probably originally roofed over) surrounded by rooms, probably reception rooms and private apartments.

Post-holes set into the walls reveal that much of the upper stories were wooden. The palace walls that overlooked the Tsaghkotsadzor / Alaca Çay valley also formed part of the city walls.

The ground level steps down sharply at the rear, allowing for an extensive basement level. This is roofed with stone vaults and is a labyrinth of rooms and narrow corridors - narrow, tall, and mostly unlit. The whole basement was probably intended only for storage, supporting the theory that this was a merchant's house.

The plan and section of the palace used in this page are adapted from Professor Beyhan Karamağaralı's published survey drawings.

The Palace Gateway

The imposing, sumptuously decorated, gateway in the eastern facade is the most remarkable part of this building.

It is divided into two sections and set between completely plain walls. The lower section comprises an arched entrance inserted into an richly inlaid panel where eight pointed stars of pink stone alternate with crosses of grey stone. Both stars and crosses are incised with intricate decorations.

Most of these stone inlays have vanished - H. F. B. Lynch, writing at the end of the 19th century, tells of how patriotic Armenians, erroneously assuming that this was the palace of the Bagratid's, would prise them off and take them away as souvenirs. Several of them fell off during the 1989 earthquake, and were later stolen.

The upper level of the gateway facade is plainer. A large rectangular opening is set into an inlaid panel of light and dark stone lozenges. This opening, perhaps a ceremonial window, is framed within an ogee arch (a motif found in Moslem art). The tympanum under this arch has an inlay of hexagonal polychrome stone.

The 1999 "Restoration"

The southern walls of the palace had mostly fallen by the end of the 19th century, revealing the vaults of the basement. In the early 1990s these were partly rebuilt in a badly executed "restoration" that destroyed much of the original fabric and used stone that was entirely different in size, colour and quality from the original.

However bad that work was, it was as nothing compared to the hideously ugly "restoration" started in 1999. Following faithfully in the tradition of Turkish restorations at Ani and elsewhere, there is now far more new masonry in the Palace than original masonry! The new stonework does not match the old in either colour or finish, and there is no archaeological evidence to show that the rebuilt walls originally looked like this.

The work continued into the following year, with the rebuilding of the entrance gateway. This involved the removal of all the remaining stars and crosses inlays and their replacement by crude, undecorated copies. See 'The Rape of Ani' for a more detailed account of the destruction. All this work goes completely against against the established techniques of modern archaeological conservation practiced elsewhere in the world.

1.   The entrance to the palace, seen from the east
- click for a larger photo

2.   A 19th century photograph of the palace

3.   View from the north-east - click for a larger photo

4.   The same view after the recent "restoration"

5.   The palace from the west - click for a larger photo

6.   19th century photo showing the basement vaults

7.   The gateway - click for a larger photo

8.   Polychrome stone inlay - click for a larger photo

9.   The entrance facade during the "restoration"

10.   It was an almost total rebuilding

11.   Try to spot any original stonework here!

The Cave Church

Structure: Marr-Orbeli site 11.
Other designations: The Rock-Cut Church; Kaya Kilisesi.

Close to the Merchant's Palace is an underground church carved out of the solid rock.

Unfortunately much of it collapsed during the 1989 earthquake. Its interior details mimic the architecture of a stone-built church.

12.   Architectural details inside the cave-church
- click for a larger photo