Balkan Travellers has a wonderful article on the ancient Armenian city of Ani, today in Turkish territory, attempting to explain in words a world that can only be experienced:

We pass by Ocakli, the last Turkish village before the border with Armenia. The mythical Armenian capital Ani, which at the end of the ninth century outshined Constantinople, Cairo, and Baghdad with its splendour, lies somewhere before us. Chronicles called it “City of 1,001 Churches” and a replica of Istanbul’s Saint Sophia used to stand in its centre.


ow only a few tumbledown churches, some sections of a castle and Marco Polo’s bridge remain from what used to be a magnificent city. In some places the double city wall rises and culminates in turrets of various shapes and heights, in others it goes down, sometimes completely disappearing in the tall grass.

We take a broad dusty road, which meanders between the ruins.

Armenian architecture is one of civilization’s greatest enigmas. It has its own unique appearance, but more importantly – it forms the basis of a popular European medieval phenomenon, known as Gothic style. According to Joseph Strzygowski, who wrote in the early twentieth century, Armenian engineers were the first to devise a way to put a round dome over a square space. They did this in two ways: either by transforming the square into a triangle or by building an octagonal structure to hold the dome. Their architectural genius resulted in stunningly beautiful buildings.