Ani, often referred to as the “City of 1001 Churches,” was once a flourishing medieval metropolis on the eastern borders of the Byzantine Empire, in present-day Turkey. Today, it is an archaeological site, well known for its impressive ruins, which include ancient Armenian architectural masterpieces. Yet, there is another layer to Ani that continues to spark intrigue: the extensive underground city, parts of which were already confirmed as early as 1915 by Italian archaeologists.
These researchers found an intricate network of structures beneath the surface that includes a school, a monastery, stone houses, monastic cells, and meditation halls. Even more impressive is an elaborate system of water channels and over 500 meters of branching tunnels. These discoveries revealed a whole new facet of Ani’s past, hinting at the city’s remarkable urban planning and civil engineering capabilities.
The exploration of this subterranean city is still ongoing. As of this stage, archaeologists have identified at least 823 individual structures and caves within underground Ani. These subterranean structures not only underscore the scale and sophistication of Ani at its zenith but also present a trove of opportunities for understanding the city’s unique cultural, historical, and architectural heritage.
Nevertheless, much of the underground city remains unexplored, and further archaeological investigations are needed to fully comprehend the extent and purpose of these structures. Given Ani’s strategic location at the crossroads of diverse cultures and civilizations, the continuing study of its aboveground and underground structures promises to shed more light on this once-great city’s history and its role in the region.