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Exploring Ani Ruins, East Turkey

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The Ani ruins lie in the Kars Province, southwest of the city of Kars in a village called Ocaklı.

As with most drives we did around this area, the route from Iğdır towards Kars and Ocaklı is virtually traffic free.

The roads stretch for miles until they disappear over the horizon.

And, as we told you in our driving tips for east Turkey, they’re full of potholes. When you turn off the main road to head towards Ocaklı, your giant slalom skills will improve immensely.

But, as there’s very rarely any oncoming traffic, this is more of a fun activity rather than an annoying hindrance. And you can keep a decent speed up.

Ani Ruins, Kars
The imposing entrance to the ruins of Ani

A drive through the tiny village, parking the cars on a clearing (occupied only by a man watching over his three horses) and here we are.

The ancient walls of the Ani citadel just there, right in front of us. No approach road.

No real car park. No coaches. No queues of tourists…

Just us and a guy on the gate checking our Müzekart.

It’s the story of our East Turkey experience really – wild, lonely, vast, beautiful. Here we are in a ruined city which was once a major part of the Silk Route.

Indeed, Ani rivalled ancient Constantinople and Baghdad in size and importance at one time. And there’s only us here…

Ani Ruins, Kars
A spectacular setting for the Church of St. Gregory The Illuminator

And just like Ishak Paşa Sarayı, this is another ambition realised for us. We’ve seen so many photos and posters of east Turkey’s historic Armenian architecture over the years.

We’ve said over those years we’d love to get there one day. But there was never a definite plan.

We knew these structures were somewhere near Kars – and that was where our knowledge ended.

What we didn’t expect was the fabulous, lonely setting. Before our visit, we didn’t know that this was once a thriving city, abandoned centuries before.

Once again, we’re tiny people in a huge expanse of grassy highlands. We’re not exploring a ‘site’ as such.

It’s a feeling similar to walking around the ruins of Kayaköy in winter.

Although it’s abandoned, it almost feels like you’re intruding. Amongst the wows at the scenery, the architecture, the frescoes; there’s also a feeling of melancholy.

Kars, Armenian Border
The Turkish Armenian border

“Look at this place,” says one of our party, sadly. “Not a soul here and most people probably don’t even know it’s here”.

He says this in the context of awareness about the area rather than creating a tourist attraction.

It does feel like a secret place as we clamber up and down hills following the ravine which marks part of the border between Armenia and Turkey.

Ani Cathedral, Kars
A detail from Ani Cathedral

This place, Fethiye Camii (Church of the Holy Mother of God – Ani Cathedral) was begun in the year 910.

Along with the rest of the ruins, it’s not in the best of states. With earthquakes, sackings, abandonment, harsh weather conditions and neglect, it’s testament to those builders that anything is left standing at all.

And there’s modern day graffiti telling us who loves who and the date they loved each other.

Both close up and from a distance, standing all alone, nestled in a dip between two hillocks, the cathedral commands your attention.

Can’t help but compare the distant scene to a Bronte-esque image. Almost Wuthering Heights.

Scenery, Kars
The scenery at Ani reminded us of Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia

We spent some time at Ani ruins.

There’s quite a bit of ground to cover between each structure, but it’s no chore walking between them.

The scenery is spectacular; caves buried in the cliff faces lining the gorge, shepherds and their herds just tiny dots by the winding river below.

Exhilarating to be in so much open space – especially while exploring ruins that, in other places in Turkey, could be packed full of people doing the same as us.

Citadel, Ani Ruins, Kars
Walking back towards the defensive walls of the citadel

Eventually, after around three hours or so, it’s time to move on. We need to press on to Kars to eat some food before heading back to Patnos.

We’re all quite sad to leave. Because, quite honestly, it’s been a privilege to be able to see all this.

How much we’ve seen on our East Turkey road trip…and what a grand finale Ani has been!

We wander back through the gate of the city walls and back into the village and daily life of Ocaklı.

It’s assumed food in Kars will be the end of our adventure.

However, what we don’t have any idea of, as we walk back to the cars, is our adventure is not over just yet.

The Ani Ruins – Useful Information

  • We were driving but it’s possible to get to the Ani ruins as part of a trip from the city of Kars. If you want relative solitude (we bumped into a smattering of other people the further we wandered) and to explore and take all in your own time, we’d recommend getting a car.
  • Entry to Ani ruins is free with a Müze Kart – but if you haven’t got one, it’s 180 TL as of February 2024. The Turkish Museums website should have the latest price.
  • Give yourself 2-3 hours to take in all of the ruins of Ani – comfortable clothing and shoes and a picnic and you could spend a full day here.
  • The history of Ani is centuries old. Rather than take away from that history by summarising in this post, read more about the Ani ruins on Wikipedia (this is one of the more comprehensive pages on Wikipedia and has more sources in the footnotes).
  • And finally, it’s not often we go out on a limb like this but we will say, we can’t recommend Ani highly enough.
  • Update – The Ani ruins have finally been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey. Great news!

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budget jan

Friday 25th of April 2014

It is lovely to see Ani when the country was so green. It was a soft brown when we visited. Lovely photos that make me feel very nostalgic.

Turkey's For Life

Friday 25th of April 2014

It was lovely because it was our friend's first year in the east and it was the first time she'd seen green, too Jan. She said everything was brown, then white, and now the green was coming through. :)


Thursday 24th of April 2014

Wow, Ani sounds wonderful. Would really like to do a road trip in Eastern Turkey.

Turkey's For Life

Friday 25th of April 2014

Ani was just fab Sophie, one of our favourite places we saw on our trip. You'd love an East Turkey road trip! :)

Ozlem's Turkish Table

Sunday 20th of April 2014

Beautiful post; Ani is in my bucket list, such a spectacular sight! Beautiful photos and great info, many thanks!

Turkey's For Life

Monday 21st of April 2014

Yeah, everyone who visits the east should try and get to Ani. Hope you get to see it soon. :)


Sunday 20th of April 2014

Gosh, guys- this might be my favorite post of yours yet, but maybe it's just cause I'm feeling sappy cause of my birthday. It reminds me of road trips we used to take through the deep south, on one of which I for the one and only time and totally inadvertently I SWEAR, officer! broke 120 MPH, but replace the broad rolling feel with the moors or whatever, and the crumbling plantations with much older, and much more cool stuff. Thanks for sharing!

Turkey's For Life

Monday 21st of April 2014

Well, high praise indeed, coming from you. Thanks. :) Hope you had a fab birthday and hope you get to hit the road again soon.

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