I came across this article in the BBC Travel. It’s about the medieval city of Ani on the modern day boarder of Turkey and Armenia. A prosperous city in the near east located along a convergence of trading routes, Ani was ruled by more than a few regimes before eventually being abandoned. Only majestic ruins hinting at the city’s former glory remain.
While the article itself does have an interactive timeline, we find ourselves with more questions than answers. Coming across articles like these always raises questions that are incredibly fun to explore. What was the daily life like for the people of Ani? Earning the nickname “City of 1,001 Churches”, religion must have played a big role in the lives of people. What were the festivals like? What were the markets like? What kind of food did they eat? If they were located along a trade route with the east, surely they might have enjoyed food with delectable spices and flavors. What would life have been like in the citadel? How about when it was under siege?
Living in a major city in the present, for those of us that do, we have a pretty good idea of what each neighborhood or area is going to offer us. For example, if I have an engagement in Queens, NY, I’d have a decent idea of what to expect if I lived in NYC. We also have a good idea of what daily life is like for most areas. In America, you can travel to any city and experience it’s business district during the noon hour on a weekday and see a hustle and bustle of suits, business lunches, individuals making phone calls, and crowded restaurants. Any business district of any medium sized city and larger will have a similar scene. In once city alone an entire documentary can be made about life on a single day as it varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, area to area. A snapshot if you will. And that snapshot is subject to change with each passing year…5 years…each decade.
Think about your city. What was it like in the 1980’s? Memories are unreliable; go look at some pictures. What buildings have come and which buildings have gone? Now let’s extrapolate that across 400 years. Ani was inhabited for around 400 years according to the article. Granted, things have begun to change incredibly rapidly over the last 115 years compared to the slower changes preceding the industrial revolution, but during it’s lifetime, Ani experienced many changes of ownership. So what was that like for people? Did their day to day experiences change a lot or a little? What were their chores like? What was it like to live in the city as it was slowly abandoned and left to crumble? And was that a fast or a gradual transition?
Of Pompeii we have a snapshot of that life. We have a frozen moment of time to shed insight on Roman daily life and culture. There’s no such snapshot of Ani. But we are still blessed with magnificent ruins that dot the landscape. A testament to the different rulers of the city and the incredible architectural feats of their builders. The mystery of this city beckons us to explore its ruins and uncover its secrets. The good news is that they are applying for Unesco World Heritage status which would help bolster efforts to preserve the remaining ruins and discover what secrets the city can answer through archeology.
What questions do you find yourself asking about Ani? Are they similar or different from questions you ask yourself when learning about other lost cities and ruins? If you could travel back in time to an ancient city – any ancient city – which one would you choose? If you could visit the present day ruins of an ancient city, which one would you pick? What’s stopping you from taking a trip there this year or next? What do you think will become of our cities in 200 years?