The Ani Cathedral is the biggest building in Ani, which was the capital of medieval Armenia during the Bagratid era. It's located in eastern Turkey, near the border with Armenia. The building was completed at the beginning of the 11th century, according to the plan of the architect Trdat, and for almost half a century, it served as the residence of the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The cathedral is considered to be the largest and most impressive building in the city. It is a domed basilica with a rectangular plan, although it is currently missing the dome and most of the drum supporting it. The entire area of Ani, including the cathedral, was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016.
The construction of the cathedral commenced in the year 989. King Smbat II gave the architect named Trdat the task of designing a cathedral for the new capital of the Kingdom of Armenia. According to the inscription on the southern wall, construction was interrupted when Smbat II died in 989. Meanwhile, Trdat was employed to oversee the repair of the dome of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and it wasn't until 993 that he returned to Ani. The cathedral was further developed and completed by Queen Katranideh, the spouse of King Gagik I, the brother and successor of Smbat II. The cathedral was finished in either 1001 or 1010. The cathedral was the seat of the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, from its foundation until the mid-11th century.
In the 1140s and 1150s, inscriptions were carved on the cathedral's eastern and western walls informing the inhabitants of Ani about city projects. These included the renovation of the defensive walls, the installation of waterworks, and the easing of the tax burden on the inhabitants of the capital.
Ani surrendered to the Byzantine Empire in 1045 and was under its control until 1064, when the city was captured by the Seljuks under Alp Arslan. Consequently, the cathedral was turned into a mosque and called the Fethiye Mosque (i.e. the Mosque of Conquest). Around 1124, Georgian King David IV captured Ani, after which the cathedral returned to the Christians. Just two years later, in 1126, Ani came under the control of the Shaddadids (a Kurdish Sunni dynasty that ruled various parts of Armenia from 951 to 1199). In 1198, Ani was conquered by Georgian-Armenian princes, under whose control the cathedral prospered again. In 1213, the wealthy merchant Tigran Honents, who also sponsored the construction of the church of St. Gregory in Ani, restored the cathedral's stairs.
Ani's long decline began in 1239, when the Mongols sacked the city and massacred its population. Moreover, in 1319, Ani was hit by a devastating earthquake which caused the cathedral's conical roof to collapse. The drum reportedly collapsed during an earthquake in 1832 or 1840. The 1988 quake, whose epicenter was in the north of modern-day Armenia, severely damaged the cathedral and its treasures, especially its northwestern corner. The cathedral was also destroyed by treasure hunters and explosions in a nearby quarry. In 2018, conservation works on the building began.
The cathedral is widely considered a masterpiece of Armenian architecture. The Cathedral in Ani is a three-nave basilica based on a central plan with a dome. It was built of polished tuff, mainly yellow, but also black and red. There are entrance doors in the north, south and west walls; traditionally, they were intended for the patriarch, the king, and the people, respectively. In front of each entrance there was originally a vaulted porch, now mostly destroyed, probably with a canopy supported by freestanding pillars. The building's windows are narrow and long, with decorative frames.
The cathedral is approximately 34 meters long and 22 meters wide. Despite having a basilica plan, the design did not place much emphasis on length; the building has a proportionally short length in relation to its width and height. Originally, the cathedral was about 38 meters high and was the highest structure in the whole city.
The cathedral's interior is high and rather dark and it would be even darker if the central dome were still in place. Four massive pillars in the rectangular nave originally supported both the dome and the arches carrying the roof. The chapel in the apse, located higher than the floor in the rest of the temple, consists of ten semicircular niches containing seats. On both sides of the chapel, there are two-story rooms, with narrow stairs leading from the presbytery to the upper floors.