Dreaming of Ani

The Monastery of the Virgins, one of the thousand-and-one churches of Ani, overlooks the Akhurian River and today’s Republic of Armenia. Photo © 2020 Matthew Karanian, reprinted with permission from "The Armenian Highland" book

BY MATTHEW KARANIAN

Editor’s Note: Adapted from “The Armenian Highland,” the world’s first historical guide to the ancient Armenian homeland, by Matthew Karanian (Stone Garden Press, 2019). Available from booksellers and online.

I dreamt of Ani last night.

I was walking along a street in Yerevan when I stopped a child and asked her for directions. “Vonce guhnam Ani?” – “How do you get to Ani?”

She stretched her arm northward. “It’s that way,” she said, responding in English to a question I had put to her in Armenian.

The girl’s response sent me walking on a journey of one hundred miles. When I stopped, I was on the bank of the Akhurian River, in the shadow of the ancient Armenian capital.

If I had been awake, this hike might have taken a couple of days. But I was dreaming. The hike took just a moment.

I waded waist deep through the shallow waters of the river and when I had reached the other side I looked up and saw Ani’s thousand-and-one churches sprawled out before me. I climbed the stairs that had been carved into the steep hillside, past the Monastery of the Virgins, through a stone archway.

Dozens of donkeys and horses and people and priests jostled me as I made my way through the city. Merchants called out to me from both sides of the road and offered spools of silk and jars of spice.

I exchanged a coin for a cup of sev soorj, thick Armenian coffee, as the crowd parted and went silent. A procession of Armenian clergy passed, their black robes adorned only with the volcanic dust that coated the city.

I struggled to hear the hymn that they were singing—nay—whispering. And as I did, they disappeared into the Cathedral of Ani.

I stood alone on the path. I drank my soorj. I walked back to the river.

On a sandy outcrop nearby, a group of women washed clothes and laughed. I took a photograph. And then another. But the women didn’t appear in my pictures.

All I captured was the empty river and the silent cliffs.

I splashed about. The sun went behind a hill. Ani returned to its slumber.

And while Ani slept, I waded to the other side of the river and I walked back to Yerevan, Armenia’s other capital.

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