Sunday, 17 November 2013

Ankara - Turkey's capital city

From the air Ankara doesn't look appealing.  This ancient Anatolian city, now home to 4 and a half
million people, is set in a parched and dusty landscape and scarred by rows and rows of identical apartment blocks.  My guide book tells me that it was previously known as Angora and is famous for Angora goats, cats and rabbits and for pear, honey and muscat grape production. It also tells me that this city, dating back to the Hittite period, around 1200BC, was chosen by  Ataturk, as the capital after the War of Independence, and that it  is a lively, intellectual, cosmopolitan city with a strong student culture.  Ok, I thought, I'll reserve my judgement until I've had a proper look at it but, unfortunately, once on the ground my opinion didn't change.  It still looked unappealing.  My diary notes that I found it congested and ugly.  I later realised this was a bit harsh, Ankara contains wonderful treasures well worth visiting the city to see.

But before viewing the attractions we needed to eat. I love going to local restaurants overseas, the type of place that local families frequent, and this is what we did the night we arrived.  It was interesting in that the restaurant seemed to have a segregation code - men downstairs, women and families upstairs. Our meals were huge, tasty and very cheap and the proprietor made a big fuss of us bringing complimentary pickles and other dishes.

Ankara Kalesi, The Citadel
By morning we were wondering if anybody ever sleeps in Ankara. Traffic and shouted conversations
from the street below kept us awake all night and then, at 5.15am, the Mullah from the nearby mosque made his call to prayer.  There was no need for a wake up call, we were already up,  breakfasted and off  up the hill to the old part of Ankara, Ankara Kalesi, the Citadel.  Still lived in and operating as a self contained village and boasting some lovely Ottoman architecture the walled citadel was founded by the Galatians, completed by the Romans and extended by the Byzantine Emperor, Michael II in the 9th century.  It is a charming part of the city with wide views, thick walls and quaint winding streets which we enjoyed strolling, greeting  locals along the way, before stopping to make purchases at the Citadel nut and spice market.

Left:  Lovely Ottoman buildings inside the Citadel

Right: Residents of the Citadel live a very traditional lifestyle
Garden at Museum of Anatolian Civilisations
The nearby Museum of Anatolian Civilisations is a stunner. Located inside a 15th century marketplace with wonderful domed ceilings it displays artifacts from Anatolian  civilisations through the ages, right back to Palaeolithic times.  I stood entranced before display cases of jewellery and household utensils dating back to the very earliest period of settlement and marvelled at glass objects still intact after 2000 years, and at how sophisticated household items were and  how little the design of these objects has changed over the centuries.  We were very  lucky, the museum was quiet and we could take our time.  If you are in Ankara, this is a "must do".

Genclik Caddesi, Ataturk's mausoleum
Another absolute "must do" is Genclik Caddesi, Ataturk's Mausoleum and Museum.  In keeping
with the reverence and high esteem Ataturk is held in by the Turkish people this is monumental in every sense of the word.  Sited in a vast square surrounded by colonnades the entry itself is impressive. The walkway in is 260 metres long and is lined with statues of lions, the Hittite symbol of power and strength.   Ataturk's tomb is encased in a 40 tonne slab of marble sited with a view overlooking his beloved city in a mausoleum which is colossal, austere and peaceful. 

Beneath the mausoleum is a museum chronicling the War of Independence.  I found it engrossing and learnt a lot as my school days knowledge of Turkish history was sketchy, to say the least.

Upstairs is an exhibition displaying Ataturk memorabilia including photos, clothes, his personal extensive library, including books he wrote, and even a reconstruction of his home office. The whole complex is a pilgrimage site for Turkish people and deserves a visit of at least a couple of hours.  Hint:  Go early, as we did,  to avoid the crowds and school groups.

So, to sum up, modern Ankara is not the prettiest of cities  but well worth a visit for its rich history, its significance as a symbol of Turkey's independence and the special treasures housed in its museums.  As the saying goes "Don't judge a book by its cover".