Archaeological Site of Ani was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Archaeological Site of Ani: II. Smbat City Walls © Fahriye Bayram

During the 40th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Istanbul, Turkey in July 2016, “Archaeological Site of Ani” in Turkey was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a relic historic city of the medieval period on one branch of the Silk Roads. Ani is a largely unexcavated medieval urban site located on a plateau at Turkey’s border with Armenia, which visually and physically integrates remarkably well-preserved monumental buildings, above numerous passages and caves that extent into the surrounding valleys. Ani has the rare advantage of conveying a sense of the medieval urban fabric peculiar to the north-eastern Anatolia and the Caucasians; thanks to the presence, at the site, of almost all the architectural types that emerged in the region in the course of the six centuries from 7th to 13th; and thanks also to their pristine preservation, without later settlement layers and building-scale modifications, despite devastation brought by waves of wars, earthquakes, and other calamities.

What makes Ani a unique example among similar sites throughout the world is its location and geo-cultural importance and its expression of cultural diversity and of creativity. The site was settled for more than 2500 years, between the Early Iron Age (1200-1100 BC) and the Ottoman rule (early 17th century). The gradual spread of the Kamsarakans (4th century) settlement in the Citadel towards the north in the Early Medieval period importantly documents an early transformation into an open trade city with legendary 40 gates. This is a very early example of the phenomenon in the region, and was made possible by the settlement’s location on interregional trade routes. Its eventual development into a prosperous multicultural trade city helped in Ani’s becoming a meeting place for Medieval Armenian, Georgian, Byzantine and diverse Islamic cultural traditions whose fusion produced unique architectural monuments in a continuously evolving urban landscape. Architectural design ideas, construction materials and techniques, and decoration details emerging from these cross-cultural interactions resulted in the creation a new architectural language peculiar to Ani, which later spread in the wider region of Anatolia and Caucasia.

This fusion was made possible by Ani’s location at one of the gates of Anatolia opening to the Silk Roads, which contributed to its rapid economic and cultural growth into a cosmopolitan trade and industrial production centre where diverse communities lived together. Monuments of various religions as well as public and domestic buildings are witnesses of this multiculturalism, with rare examples of Zoroastrian, Early Armenian and the earliest Islamic religious architecture in Anatolia. In this setting of diverse cultural traditions carried by its multi-ethnic population, fortifications and palaces, trade and production areas, monasteries and convents forming Ani’s urban landscape reveal the social and economic system that sustained this architectural and urban development especially in the 10th and 11th centuries, providing visual and physical integrity for the exceptionally well-preserved monuments that have won the name 1001 Churches for Ani. This development was made possible by the great prosperity Ani experienced as a capital of the Medieval Armenian principality of the Bagratids, after becoming the Katholikos centre in 992. As the first city conquered by the Turks in Anatolia in 1064, Ani also has the earliest examples of monumental Seljuk architecture in Anatolia, which display an early stage of experimentation on the basis of the unique architectural tradition pre-existing at the site, before its later spread to Anatolia after maturation.

In their statements supporting the inscription of Ani on the UNESCO World Heritage List, World Heritage Committee Member States highlighted the cosmopolitan setting of medieval Ani as a potential model for the improvement of the contemporary international relations in the region, starting from the involvement of the international community in the efforts to preserve this exceptional multi-cultural archaeological site.

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