In parts of the globe—like the western United States, for example—there’s no shortage of mysterious ghost towns waiting to be explored. Yet each and every one of them is small potatoes next to a fascinating place nestled in the eastern portion of Turkey. Why’s that? Well, because this place is an entire ghost city.

Very near to the Turkish border sits the abandoned “ghost city” of Ani. In its time, the old civilization was once home to tens of thousands of people. Now, it’s little more than a slew of dilapidated buildings and crumbling churches. What could have happened to it? The truth might just amaze you…

Around the world, all sorts of towns have long been abandoned by their residents, leaving the decrepit structures of a once-thriving place in their wake. Yet few of these ghost towns can stack up to Ani—one of the world’s biggest ghost cities.

Located near the eastern border of Turkey, just across from Armenia’s Akhurian River, the city of Ani doesn’t look like much these days. Yet, founded in the fifth century, it was once a thriving medieval metropolis.

Often referred to as “the city of 1,001 churches,” Ani is now little more than a cluster of abandoned buildings. But what happened to the thousands of people who once called it home? And why did they decide to abandon it forever?

Regarded by historians as a powerful center of empires and kingdoms, it’s difficult to imagine a place that housed so many people would be totally abandoned without a good reason… right?

Situated on a number of trade routes, the city of Ani was the crown jewel and capital of the Kingdom of Armenia, an independent state established in 884 AD. Still, there was trouble ahead…

Over the years, the burgeoning city grew to an astounding 100,000 people, an especially impressive feat for the time period. While it appeared to be booming on the surface, the good times were somewhat short-lived…

Throughout its five-empire rule spanning three centuries, Ani experienced all sorts of devastation. From natural disasters to full-blown wars, there was pretty much nothing it hadn’t seen.

First, Ani was captured by Turkish invaders, who enslaved and murdered the residents. When they were finished, they sold the land and its buildings to the Shaddadids, a Kurdish dynasty. Yet, even this wasn’t what caused it to be abandoned.

During the 13th century, on two separate occasions—one of which was successful—Mongol invaders attempted to capture the city of Ani. Despite the resulting widespread bloodshed, the city still miraculously held strong.

It wasn’t until 1319 that Ani finally fell. During this time, the Cathedral of Ani—a beautiful building made of coral-colored bricks that was erected in 1001—was all but destroyed by an earthquake. The city was reduced to a small village of people.

By the 1700s, following the centuries of sporadic warfare and devastating natural disasters, the population of Ani began to rapidly decrease. These unforeseen circumstances caused many residents to head to safer pastures.

And so, over the next five decades—up until the mid-1750s—the people of Ani made their way to outlying areas. Many of them chose to live elsewhere in Turkey, while others relocated to nearby Armenia.

Just as quickly as they’d arrived to the once-prosperous city, Ani’s residents were gone, leaving a ghost city in its wake. Luckily, there were still pieces of it left for future generations to explore…

In the centuries since, both Armenia and Turkey have attempted to claim ownership of Ani. Since it’s situated in a sort of “no man’s land”—within the provincial territory of Turkey’s Kars, but very near the Armenian border—no one has ever truly been able to stake claim.

While Ani did become a popular regional tourist destination over the course of the 19th century, World War I and the Armenian genocide diminished its popularity. Yet, with its beautiful churches, mausoleums, and chapels, this ghost city has once again begun to draw interested visitors…

Among the beautiful ruins is the Menüçehr Mosque, one of the relatively “recent” structures—it was built roughly 1,000 years ago. Historians believe the structure stands as proof of the city’s multicultural backgrounds.

Likewise, the Church of the Redeemer—a structure made during the Armenian Bagratid Dynasty, which lasted from the 9th to the 11th centuries—is another of Ani’s many tourist draws. Unfortunately, of its 19 formerly magnificent archways, little remains.

One of the more recent discoveries in Ani came during the 1900s when a group of archaeologists unearthed an ancient mausoleum buried beneath a church. The 12-sided chapel housed the remains of Prince Gregory Pahavuni of the Bagratid Armenians.

Archeologists also discovered the Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents. It remains one of the most well-preserved structures in the city of Ani. Inside, the walls are lined with beautiful art depicting the life of Christ, as well as St. George the Illuminator.

These structures are proof that, despite its long history of destruction and devastation, the ghost city of Ani was once also the site of many multicultural backgrounds. For that reason, it will always hold significance in history.

Ani really had such a rich, albeit complicated, history. It’s a shame that such a beautiful place isn’t home to anyone, but at least people can visit it and appreciate its beauty all these centuries later!

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