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The Ancient Ghost City of Ani

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Situated on the eastern border of Turkey, across the Akhurian River from Armenia, lies the empty, crumbling site of the once-great metropolis of Ani, known as "the city of a thousand and one churches." Founded more than 1,600 years ago, Ani was situated on several trade routes, and grew to become a walled city of more than 100,000 residents by the 11th century. In the centuries that followed, Ani and the surrounding region were conquered hundreds of times -- Byzantine emperors, Ottoman Turks, Armenians, nomadic Kurds, Georgians, and Russians claimed and reclaimed the area, repeatedly attacking and chasing out residents. By the 1300s, Ani was in steep decline, and it was completely abandoned by the 1700s. Rediscovered and romanticized in the 19th century, the city had a brief moment of fame, only to be closed off by World War I and the later events of the Armenian Genocide that left the region an empty, militarized no-man's land. The ruins crumbled at the hands of many: looters, vandals, Turks who tried to eliminate Armenian history from the area, clumsy archaeological digs, well-intentioned people who made poor attempts at restoration, and Mother Nature herself. Restrictions on travel to Ani have eased in the past decade, allowing the following photos to be taken. [27 photos]

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The Monastery of the Hripsimian Virgins, in the ruins of the city of Ani, Turkey, on April 19, 2011. The monastery is thought to have been built between 1000 and 1200 AD, near the height of Ani's importance and strength. The Akhurian River below acts as the modern border between Turkey and Armenia. (CC BY SA Georgios Giannopoulos)
The Monastery of the Hripsimian Virgins, in the ruins of the city of Ani, Turkey, on April 19, 2011. The monastery is thought to have been built between 1000 and 1200 AD, near the height of Ani's importance and strength. The Akhurian River below acts as the modern border between Turkey and Armenia. (CC BY SA Georgios Giannopoulos)
Ruins of the Mausoleum of the Child Princes in the Citadel in Ani, on April 19, 2011. Located in the Inner Fortress on Citadel Hill, this structure is thought to have been built around 1050 AD. (CC BY SA Georgios Giannopoulos) #
The ruin of the Church of Saint Gregory of Tigran Honents on the edge of the border with Armenia, in Ani, the now-uninhabited capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom in Kars at the Turkey-Armenia border. (AP Photo) #
Inside the Cathedral of Ani, on June 4, 2013. Construction of the structure began in 989, completed in either 1001 or 1010. Designed as a domed cruciform church, both the dome and the drum supporting it collapsed in an earthquake in 1319. Original here. (CC BY SA Flickr user MrHicks46) #
The Virgin's Castle, atop cliffs along the Akhurian River, photographed on June 4, 2013. Original here. (CC BY SA Flickr user MrHicks46) #
Ani, as viewed from across the border, in Armenia. Original here. (CC BY SA Panoramio user haigoes) #
The medieval walls of Ani, seen on July 30, 2008. Original here. (CC BY Marko Anastasov) #
The Ani Cathedral, in the Turkey-Armenia border province of Kars, Turkey. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici) #
Inscription on an exterior wall of the cathedral. Original here. (CC BY SA Scott Dexter) #
Damaged frescoes of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents, at the historical site of Ani in Kars province, on February 19, 2010. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #
The remains of the church of the Holy Redeemer, among the ruins of the historical city of Ani, on February 19, 2010. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #
Remains of an ancient bridge below Ani, photographed on June 19, 2011. Armenia is on the right, Turkey on the left. Original here. (CC BY SA Martin Lopatka) #
The Turkey-Armenia border, on June 19, 2011. Original here. (CC BY SA Martin Lopatka) #
Ani cathedral with Armenia's Little Ararat in the background. Original here. (CC BY Sara Yeomans) #
A Military warning sign with the Citadel behind, in Ani, on June 8, 2011. Original here. (CC BY SA Adam Jones) #
The ruined church of the Holy Redeemer, seen on February 19, 2010. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #
The Citadel (left) and Mosque of Minuchihir (right). The mosque is named after its presumed founder, the emir Minuchihr, who ruled Ani beginning in 1072. Original here. (CC BY Flickr users Jean & Nathalie) #
The Ani Cathedral, photographed on September 12, 2008. Turkey launched a project to conserve the ancient cathedral and a church in what is seen as a gesture of reconciliation toward neighboring Armenia. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici) #
Frescoes inside the Church of Saint Gregory of Tigran Honents, on June 4, 2013. Original here. (CC BY SA Flickr user MrHicks46) #
Showing the scale of some of the ruins, an interior shot of the Ani Cathedral, on June 24, 2012. Original here. (CC BY SA Scott Dexter) #
Damaged frescoes of the church of St Gregory of Tigran Honents in Ani, on February 19, 2010. (Reuters/Umit Bektas) #
Church of Saint Gregory of Tigran Honents, Ani, on June 19, 2011. Original here. (CC BY SA Martin Lopatka) #
The meager remains of King Gagik's church of St Gregory, a structure built between 1001 and 1005, but collapsing soon thereafter, photographed on June 24, 2012. Original here. (CC BY SA Scott Dexter) #
A gorge below Ani, showing numerous caves dug into cliffs, as well as fortifications. A modern border fence can be seen at bottom center, Armenia is on the left, Turkey, on the right, photographed on June 8, 2011. Original here. (CC BY SA Adam Jones) #
Careless restoration of the Merchant's Palace, adding mismatched modern materials to ancient ruins. Original here. (CC BY Flickr users Jean & Nathalie) #
An overview of Ani, on June 24, 2012. Original here. (CC BY SA Scott Dexter) #
The Virgin's Castle, visible at center, on cliffs above the Akhurian River, at the ancient city of Ani, on June 24, 2012. Original here. (CC BY SA Scott Dexter) #

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