ANI THE WORLD HERITAGE SITE OFFERS ITS MYSTERIES
Ani is the most important site of cultural heritage in the Eastern Anatolian Region in Turkey. Situated within a very special topography with ideal condi- tions in terms of settlement and security due to the deep valleys to the east and west of the city, it has been an area inhabited since prehistoric times. Having been described as the “Pompeii of Armenia” by historian, writer and dip- lomat Luigi Villari at the start of the 20th century, this site was included by unanimous vote in the UNESCO World Heritage List, as a historically sacred place, located on the Silk Road extending from China to Europe, entrusted to our care. This decision was made during the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee, which met in Istanbul in 2016, taking into account its “exceptional universal value”.
As one of the commercial and cultural towns situat- ed along the Silk Road, Ani is a point of convergence for Armenian, Georgian and wide-ranging Seljuk cultural tra- ditions, which are reflected in the architectural designs, materials and decorative details of the monuments found within. It is an uncommon example of artistic, architectur- al and cultural development in the Middle Ages, with its impressive fortress walls, and its mostly standing reli- gious and residential structures. The town owes its integ- rity to the walls surrounding it. The remains of multicul- tural life are clearly visible in Ani, in the use of architectur- al techniques and styles belonging to different civiliza- tions. In line with this, new styles coming into existence as a result of interactions between cultures have ended up creating nothing short of a new architectural language de- veloped in what we may describe as ‘the Ani architectural school’. The creation of this new language, reflected in the design, decoration and workmanship of the Ani monu- ments, has impacted a broad region ranging from Anato- lia to the Caucasus. As in all other cities carrying similar historical significance, the Medieval city plan and archi- tectural heritage of Ani too is not restricted only to the above-ground monuments that immediately meet the eye. There is more to it that a regular visitor, lacking adequate information and directions cannot easily perceive while touring around, and this is the invisible “underground city”, home to the hidden treasures of the town.
In the Ani Village nearby there are caves, store rooms and tombs hewn out of rock, belonging to prehistoric times. These are a continuation of rock paintings and many similar artefacts or monuments spread across a very wide area all along the Arpaçay (Arpaçay1). Along with the slopes of the archaeological region, there are highly important chiseled structures on the western banks of the Arpaçay and Bostanlar Stream. An important portion of these are the many and diverse kinds of underground structures ranging from chapels, the seclusion rooms of monks, and tombs to storage spaces, living spaces, work- shops, stables and pigeon lofts all carved into soft rock.
1t.n. The term “chai” is used here to describe a body of water, such as a creek, river, etc.
These cave-structures constituting the most significant and valuable elements of the natural environment, have, in fact, formed an entirely other, invisible, second city un- derneath the above-ground Medieval town. In many cases, the city above and that below would communicate via nar- row passageways. Other than this, access to these under- ground structures was possible by passing beneath the city walls on the banks of rivers encircling the city. Viewed from the plateau, where the historic city is located and where many monks’ seclusion chambers have been carved into caves, Ani provides a magnificent view.
All of these impressive underground structures situ- ated within the boundaries of a First Degree Archaeologi- cal Site, which is the most protected area in the country today, are no doubt among the main elements creating the “exceptional universal value” of the region. It is also be- yond doubt that these structures require more research, better protection, and greater emphasis on their excep- tional cultural value for them to be appreciated by wider audiences and receive more visitors in the future.
The following recommendations (Istanbul, 2016) by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to the Govern- ment with regards to what should be prioritized are note- worthy: “.To increase efforts to research and document the urban development, architectural structures, un- derground areas and landscape in the Ani archaeologi- cal region and surrounding buffer zone in order to in- clude these in the management and preservation strat- egies and plans of the region.”
This must indeed be the utmost priority in the up- coming couple of years. I strongly believe that this book, “The Mysterious Face of Ani”, comprised of invaluable texts and photographs, prepared by Vedat AKÇAYÖZ, Pres- ident of the Kars Association of Culture and Arts and member of the Historic City of Ani Advisory Board, shall serve exactly this purpose. This book is the product of pas- sion and resolve regarding work that has lovingly been carried out on the field for many long years in order to re- veal the mysterious beauties of the region. After old his- torical records kept by archaeologists N. Marr and D. A. Kipshidze at the outset of 20th century, and field examina- tion documents put together by a team comprised of R. Bixio, V. Caloi, V. Castellani and M. Traverso in 2004, this is the very first time that the magnificent and hidden world of Ani is laid out with photographs in such detail and clarity.
“The Mysterious Face of Ani” an “New Discoveries in Ani” therefore makes a new and wholistic contribution to the civilizational history of eastern Anatolia.
UNESCO / ICOMOS Expert