Photographing The Lost City of Ani, Eastern Turkey.
A lot has already been said across the interwebs, about this former town in Turkey. But not necessarily from a photography stand-point. And although I do think I missed the best of it by some three years, I thought it was more than worth a blog post. So here is my short photography guide to Ani, the abandoned city of a thousand and one churches.
The picturesque abandonment combines spectacular natural beauty with medieval Armenian architecture and although it has seen an influx in tourism since some huge travel bloggers visited in 2015 and 2016, the site is still quiet and large enough for you to photograph in quiet areas away from possible school trips (as we encountered) or other tourists. The area is completely closed off from the Armenian side, a situation that has not changed in years.
Ani was one of the most important Silk Road cities of the middle age and it was a place where architecture cultures meet, and this was very much on display even in this derelict state. The city once contained mosques, churches, palaces, mansions, Turkish Baths (Hammams) and fire temples, workshops and typical houses. Work is still being carried out to excavate and to uncover its secrets. During different periods of history, the city fell under different management but primarily this was Christian, Islamic or the Turkish governments.
Since 2017 the former city of Ani has been a site that has a paid entry system, currently it is 10 Lira for a ticket (about £1.40) and the site is open from 8am until 6pm (as of April 2019). However, with increased footfall (albeit small) came the increased risk of further building collapses, and because of this (disappointed as I was) a few of the ruins are now permanently surrounded by scaffold structures and cladding to protect them, which makes for some awful photography obviously, that is before you take into account the green fences and gates also surrounding them. Two of the “most photographed churches” are now in this state of repair – so we hunted some other unique spots and imagery and this blog contains my feedback and thoughts.
The day before we visited it was snowing heavily in nearby Kars (just 45 Kilometers away, a little West) so the ground was very damp and we were faced with moody skies, which I thought really worked for this afternoon shoot by the way!
We worked our way around the site in an anti-clockwise fashion, which although worked I regretted as time moved on, we only had 3.5hrs to explore the ruins as we had a taxi outside “on the clock” as well as the fact we arrived at 230pm and Ani closed at 6pm, we thought this was enough time but in reality 4 to 5 hours would be more beneficial as we reached one of the more interesting parts of the site (near the former silk road) last of all and we were in a rush somewhat to get our photos completed and to get out before closing time.
So here are my images and my thoughts in the order in which I photographed them, starting with The Church of Polatoglu/St. Girgor:
This is one of the better examples inside the gates of the former city, a smart little church perched right on the edge of a cliff. Inside there is detail (scribbled graffiti aside), especially if you point your camera to the sky and shoot the ceiling. Likely one of the best shots in Ani now, but I also produced another image as an angled shot, something that I rarely do but on this occasion it looked smart.
As you walk further around the site the next spot you can find which is well worth photographing is “The Maidens Castle”, which upon first look honestly looks like yet another church, you decide:
To reach a good view point to photograph this spot you need to head up and past the castle (The Inner Castle), something that I imagine a LOT of people fail to do. The Maidens Castle is honestly impossible to see until you reach the back of the mound and the Inner Castle. To reach here you must walk for fifteen minutes or so. But the view is honestly, well worth it.
If you then continue back around the path in the same anti-clockwise direction the next spot you get to will be the huge “Cathedral/Fethiye mosque”. These days it is one of the spots held together with scaffold, like a glue that holds it all in place – unfortunately, this is permanent now. However, you can still peak inside although it is huge and difficult to shoot (even with a tilt-shift lens) partly because it is so high but also because the left side of the building is filled with scaffold as well which limits your shooting position dramatically. However, I still liked my result:
Next up, there is a spot that I really did feel a tinge of regret over – “The Church of the Redeemer”. Three years ago, it sat solo and decaying and it made for a stunning photograph. These days it is held up by scaffold frames, panels and poles but also you can not step foot near it, there is a fence around it to house the old bricks that have fallen around it and weirdly, some cows. I have included a phone shot below so that you can see the current state of play.
However, we move on to the two remaining sites that are, in my opinion the finest of the ruins that still (just about) stand. First up, we have “The Gregorian Church of Tigran Honentz” inside here is still spectacular and well worth a look, however it was packed with a guided tour group on our visit for at least 30 minutes and as I mentioned earlier, we were tight for time. However, I grabbed an external which I also liked. Close to the edge right, well there is a better example of that to come!
Ok, so to wrap up we have the “Hripsime Monastery”, now this sits close to the edge of a cliff. It also resides beside a part of the former Silk Road, which I think also makes this building worth the visit after all, it is not every day you can walk on part of the Silk Road right? The Monastery is amazing, decaying, collapsing and on the verge of falling into the ravine forever – just the way I like it (although, hopefully it can also be saved).
Photography here would be better under better lighting conditions, especially with the valley beside it. If the opening times ever alter and you get the chance to take a shot under sunrise conditions, I would suggest opting for this. But for now, this is my example:
Finally, I have included a map of the site to help you get around and to position the images that I have taken. I found this online and it seems to be one of the better examples.
If you are ever in Eastern Turkey and in need of something to do, pop along to the Lost City of Ani – it could just make your weekend.
Thanks for reading - James.
I shot these images with the following gear: (please be aware that these are affiliate links , by using them, if you purchase equipment or goods it costs you nothing more but I do receive a little kick back which supports me and my work).
Two Lenses used for these images:
And my NEW gimbal: