Blog Post

Our Recent Trip to Ani

The high plains between Kars and the Armenian frontier are becoming painted with a blanket of violet and red wild flowers. As we drive east we can see that the beekeepers are setting up their tents and apiaries for a summer of collecting honey for which Kars is known for throughout Türkiye. Here and there are small scars on the surface of the earth where clay, gravel, and volcanic ash are mined. Once an active volcanic region, the earth has yielded up building materials for medieval and contemporary builders: tuff stone, lime, and ash for pozzolanic mortar, clays, and obsidian used for aggregate. The region is also a burial ground where numerous battles have been fought over the ages by Armenians, Turcomen, Persians, Georgians, Seljuks, Ottomans, and Russians, to name a few. This is also a region which witnessed tragic events between Turks and Armenians during the Great World War that have also left open wounds. After about 40 kilometers we can make out the medieval walls of Ani, once known as the city of 1,001 churches. Almost completely abandoned by the nineteenth century, it now remains as a ghost. Beyond the walls can be seen, along with numerous other monuments, the Church of the Holy Redeemer and the Cathedral of Ani which are the focus of conservation works of Word Monuments Fund in partnership with the Turkish Ministry of Culture since 2009. At these two edifices the team will meet over the coming days to talk about next steps in our conservation works. Our mandate is to preserve each building as a ruin, and we have several technical challenges ahead of us. The Church of the Holy Redeemer, completed in 1035, has a complex geometry. It is cylindrical with a step-back upper story and is surmounted by a circular dome. It was constructed to hold a piece of the true cross and within were eight apses. After a lightning strike in the twentieth century the structure was split in half and the eastern half collapsed. What is left is a building that is now opened like an architectural section and the once inherently strong structure is now quite vulnerable. Ani Cathedral is an immense structure with nine bays and a central dome. The dome itself, as well as one of the bays, has collapsed. It was realized by the great Armenian Architect Trdat who left Ani before its completion for several years to aid in the reconstruction of the central dome of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople that had partially collapsed in the earthquake of 989. He returned and completed the Cathedral in 1001. Our work at the Church of the Holy Redeemer is ahead of that at the Cathedral and includes archaeological work and “cleaning” the site, emergency stabilization, measured diagnosis of building conditions, materials studies and structural health monitoring, sophisticated computer analyses to determine strengthening procedures, stone mason techniques, wall painting conservation, and eventually implementation of our recommendations. These are the topics of our discussions at each site and at the Ani Café & Restaurant outside the city walls. The team is multidisciplinary: architects, archaeologists, scholars, engineers, materials specialists, and stone masons. The team is also international with participants from the United States, Türkiye, Macedonia, Armenia, and Russia. The work ahead of us is our stock in trade and we are all excited to work together towards a common goal. But here is another excited aspect which is palliative: we hope that the project and our collaboration can help mend long-held animosities among stakeholders. WMF is grateful to the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and the US Embassy in Ankara for their support of WMF's program in Ani, carried out in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.