City Walls

City walls, Ani

Zaza Skhirtladze

The location of the city of Ani (the triangular plateau on the right bank of the River Akhurian) naturally determined the character of its defensive system: the city, built on the highland, is surrounded by steep cliffs on two sides that made some parts of its south-eastern and western areas unreachable and naturally protected. Ani was most vulnerable on its north and north-west sides, which necessitated a fortification system throughout its existence.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries, after becoming the capital of the Bagratid Armenian kingdom, Ani’s site extended by several dozens of hectares. As a result, reinforcement of the defensive system of the city became necessary. Therefore, during the reign of King Smbat (977-989) the city of Ani was enclosed by new strong and massive walls, fragmentary parts of which still remain and are rather impressive even today.

The double enclosure, which has a complicated layout, starts in the northern plain and stretches to the lowest rocky part of the city. The double walls of different heights are adjusted to the natural variations in ground levels. The walls of the enclosure were strengthened by massive semi-circular towers of various heights and diameters, and with several storeys, on the horizontal axis at certain intervals. These towers had both structural and military purposes, serving the function of contreforces during battles, along with domestic purposes during peacetime. The apertures of the gateways in the double walls of the enclosure between the first and the second walls were asymmetrically cut and never matched one another for military purposes.

Renovations and reinforcement of the enclosure and the towers allegedly became quite frequent over the following centuries as the towers became higher. The building layers revealed through archaeological excavations and cleaning works support this too.

The Kars Gate and the so-called Lion Gate are the most outstanding among the ten extant gateways (Igadzor, Arouts, Gailadzor, Dvini etc.) which comprise various shapes, sizes and artistic designs. It is considered that access to the city was mainly available through the Lion Gate, located on the north axis of the double enclosure, which was strengthened with the two relatively low towers of equal size. The old name of the gate is unknown. The now-common name of ‘Lion Gate’ was likely determined by the relief of a lion set in the inner wall at the entrance. The Kars Gate, which is located in the south of the enclosure, is best preserved. The entrance aperture with a slightly arrow-like cut is situated between round, relatively high, towers of different sizes. The Kars Gate is exceptional for the polychrome stone-work of the wall, among which the crosses made from black rocks are really noteworthy.

The walls of the city of Ani were built with yellowish basalt stones which were carefully cut; among the facing red and black stones also were used in some places. Apart from their building and constructional traits, the artistic value of the walls is evident, especially in the alternating stones of different colours laid horizontally and placed in a chequered pattern. The walls of the enclosure and the gateways were also decorated with cross-shaped geometric figures executed masterfully along with relief figures, parts of which still remain.

Ani and its defensive system were strongly damaged as a result of an earthquake of 1319. The reconstruction of the fragmentary enclosure, which still remains, and its gateways was organized by the Turkish Ministry of Culture between 1996-1997.

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