It’s been said that history is written by the victors. But sometimes, history is rewritten (or at least given a few edits) by archaeologists, historians, and other researchers who unearth the secrets of lost cultures long after the victors have perished. Still, for all we’ve learned, many mysteries remain.
1. Underground Ani, Turkey
Although it was once the capital of the Kingdom of Armenia, the 5,000-year-old city of Ani now lies within the borders of Turkey. Once called the “City of 1,001 Churches” or the “City of Forty Gates,” the formerly powerful, prosperous, and regionally dominant Ani has been abandoned for over 300 years.
Its history had been a violent one, with the city-state having been conquered hundreds of times. At various points, Ani was ruled by the Armenians, the Byzantines, the Georgians, the Kurds, the Ottoman Turks, and the Russians.
Just after World War I, Turkish officials ordered the obliteration of Ani’s monuments, which were within Turkey’s borders by then. Although the official destruction wasn’t complete, looters and vandals added to the ruin of the neglected city.
It appeared to be a sad coda to the history of the city and its culture until researchers uncovered the secrets of “underground Ani” and announced them at the 2014 Kars Symposium at Kafkas University in Turkey. In his presentation, history researcher Sezai Yazici told of how George Ivanovic Gurdjieff and his friend Pogosyan were digging at a tunnel beneath the ruins of Ani in the 1880s when they realized the soil had changed. As they continued digging, they stumbled upon a famous Mesopotamian school that was used in the sixth and seventh centuries. They also found letters between monks that were written in an ancient Armenian language.
As confirmed by Italian excavators in 1915, underground Ani had a school, a monastery, rock houses, monk cells, water channels, meditation rooms, and more than 500 meters (1,600 ft) of complex tunnels. At least 823 structures and caves have been identified in underground Ani. Yazici wants this underground complex to be promoted to the outside world by Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry.