A Poem for Ani
For a long time, Ani, known as “The City of One Thousand and One Churches,” was recognized for its immense splendor and magnificence. Its many religious buildings, palaces, and fortifications were among the most technically and artistically advanced structures. Today, even though there are only remnants of its former glory, Ani is one of the symbols of past Armenian greatness and a source of pride. The Turkish violence has physically disconnected Ani from Armenia, but the history is treasured and it has become a muse for many Armenian architects.
Today, Ani’s Cathedral has turned into a mosque. The Turkish claim the building to be the first mosque in Anatolia. However, history shows that Ani Cathedral was a church long before it became a mosque.
The Cathedral of Ani was the largest standing building in Ani, the capital of medieval Bagratid Armenia. Currently located in eastern Turkey, near Armenia's border, the cathedral was completed in the 11th century. It was designed by Trdat, completed by Queen Katranide, and served as the Catholicos seat for around half a century.
After gaining independence from the Arab rule, the Bagratid dynasty was formed in 885. King Ashot III made Ani the capital of their kingdom in 961. Since then, the city has prospered and became an urban center, with 100,000 residents. The kingdom decided to build a cathedral, and the construction began in 989. Trdat, the architect, was commissioned by Smbat II, the successor of Ashot III. The construction was temporarily halted after Smbat II passed away in 989. Later, Trdat went to Constantinople to rebuild the Hagia Sophia, which was collapsed because of an earthquake. He returned from Constantinople in 993.
Meanwhile, in the Bagratid Kingdom, the cathedral's construction was continued and finished by Queen Katranide, the wife of King Gagik I, Smbat’s successor. It was completed either in 1001 or 1010. A silver cross and a crystal chandelier were installed on the conical dome brought by King Smbat II from India.
Ani surrendered to the Byzantine Empire in 1045. It was held until 1064 when the Seljuks captured the city. Alp Arslan, the leader, and his soldiers started praying in the cathedral, eventually transforming it into a mosque. In 1124, a crescent was installed on the cathedral’s dome. Angered Armenians united and asked King David IV of Georgia to capture Ani. Eventually, the cathedral returned to its Christian usage. Unfortunately, only two years later, Ani came under the control of the Shaddadids. In 1198, Ani was taken by Georgian-Armenian Zakarid princes, and the cathedral prospered. In 1213, Tigran Honents renovated some parts of the cathedral.
Ani’s decline began in 1239 when the Mongols captured the city and massacred the Armenian population. In 1319, an earthquake struck Ani. The conical roof of the cathedral collapsed. By the 18th century, Ani was abandoned entirely. The drum of the cathedral collapsed in 1832 or 1840 because of an earthquake.
Along with the entire site of Ani, the cathedral was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2016.
Ardean’s “A Poem for Ani” scarf is dedicated to the cathedral. The initial design of the cathedral is depicted on the scarf.