A Brief Guide to Turkey’s Capital City, Ankara

To many who don’t know Turkey and some tourists as well, Istanbul remains the most important city in Turkey to visit. However, it is Ankara, Turkey’s capital city and the political centre of this modern Republic that also deserves some attention.

Located close It’s a city with machinations of a political capital – the city of bureaucrats & diplomats, embassies and the military. The population is mostly employed by the government, related institutions, universities, hospitals, embassies and Turkey’s most famous and top universities and schools.

Modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Ataturk, put Ankara on the map during WW1 and the Turkish War of Independence. A relatively small town during that time, it rose to prominence soon after the establishment of the Republic. It has a Roman citadel perched upon a hill and was known in the past for its Angora (Mohair), goat fleece fibre used in textiles. Turkey remains one of the top producers of mohair in the world and Angora goats are a Turkish domesticated breed of goats.

Today, the big metropolis’ draw is the mausoleum of Atatürk and a few other attractions. Among the modern institutions, the most popular remains the Anıtkabir, the resting place of the father of modern Turkey, Atatürk.

In the capital, you can see the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Ethnography Museum, and the Ankara Kalesi or Fort and its old city. These are the most popular sites in the city today. Of course, Ankara today is a very modern city! comes with all the amenities of modern city life such as green spaces and parks. It is also known for its shopping malls, museums, universities and theatres.

History

Evidence is uncertain as to the foundation of the city but it may go back to the Stone Age and later to the Phrygian Kingdom. Ankara’s history is long and in the Bronze Age, it had the Hatti civilization, later absorbed into the Hittite Empire. Excavations from the ancient city of Hattusa nearby, one of the oldest settlements in world history, are displayed at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. Alexander the Great is also believed to have conquered Ankara. Furthermore, it was also the capital city of an Anatolian Celtic tribe of Galatia.

Image by Konevi from Pixabay

Later on, the Roman Empire under Emperor Augustus captured Ankara and it soon came under attack from the Persians and the Arabs. In the late 1000s, Ankara fell to the Seljuk Turks but was again captured by the Crusader Raymond IV. Nonetheless, the city lost and gained control with new owners frequently, until the Seljuks established their own empire with Konya as their capital.

With this development, Ankara’s place in history declined for a few hundred years until the Ottomans started gaining power. By 1360, Ankara became part of the Ottoman empire. The Mongols under Timur attacked the place during his campaign in Anatolia and captured it. By the early 1400s, however, it was back under Ottoman rule. Ankara soon gained importance as a commercial centre as it was linked to the Silk Road to the east.

Under the Ottomans, Ankara was captured almost a century before Istanbul was in 1354. To learn more about the history of Istanbul, check out our article on the Brief History of Istanbul! It was Orhan, the second Ottoman Sultan who captured it and made it part of the Ottoman Empire initially.

Ankara after WW1

After the end of the Great War (WWI), Turkey’s nationalist leader and the founder of the Republic made it a centre of resistance and the resistance’s capital in 1919. Turkey’s Grand National Assembly was established in Ankara in 1920.

In 1923, it was declared the capital of Turkey. Soon after the leader’s industrialization attempts, Ankara started becoming an important commercial city with good connections to the other big cities of Turkey, Istanbul and Izmir. Today, there are still good modern transport links to Istanbul and Izmir. (train, bus and air).

Attractions and Sights

Today, this history is reflected in the city’s archaeological sites that span from the Hittites era to Ottoman empire. The city has a citadel, an Augusteum, Roman baths and numerous mosques.

Ankara boasts several interesting attractions and sights that few other cities in Turkey have. It’s role as a resistance capital in the Turkish War of Independence and its role as the first capital of a modern Republic reflect in the architecture and sights.

Citadel

Image by seçil çağlar from Pixabay

Ankara’s hilltop citadel is a focal point of the city and its archaeological importance is noticeable in the artifacts found in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and in some Roman ruins across the city.

The most touristic site in the capital, the old city and its surroundings are located in Altındağ. You can explore other things and places in the area as well. The citadel sits a top of a high mountain and it had a mosque before. The old city and its surrounding areas are worth exploring with narrow alleyways and seeing the local culture and life in this part of the city.

Historically, it is unknown who or when the citadel was first built. However, researchers point to the Hittite era but Romans, Byzantines, the Crusaders and the Seljuks at one point were in possession of the place. Later on, of course, the Ottomans took over. The citadel as it is today was first restored in 1832 by an Ottoman governor. As you roam the grounds, you can see different remnants from different eras in the castle walls as they were used to restore the castle.

Mausoleum of Atatürk

Photo by Ceyda from Pexels

 

Turkey’s founder, Atatürk, is laid to rest in the Anıtkabir. A very attractive place for all tourists, historians and even architects. It’s a beautiful sprawling mausoleum dedicated to showcasing Turkey’s road to a Republic and his prominent role. As the first and second president of the Republic, the mausoleum has a long walkway called the Lions Way. This is where Turkish soldiers march on important national holidays and commemorations.

Nearby, the Peace Park features a Turkish flag made entirely of flowers such as Turkey’s native flower – the tulip. A Ceremonial plaza, a hall of honour and the home of Ataturk’s tomb. You can get a guided tour here in numerous languages and dioramas that explain the struggle for independence that eventually led to the formation of the Republic of Turkey.

Museums

From the beautifully ornate Ziraat Bank Museum and the Rahmi M. Koç Museum, you find lots of musuems if you’re a history and art lover. For example, Ankara’s train station has an art deco style and the old streets highlight some of the capital’s worthiness in this regard.

First off, the Museum of Ancient Anatolian Civilizations displays artefacts from digs around the area, such as in the ancient Hittite city of Hattuşa or Gordion. It has artefacts from the Paleolithic era to the classical period and has an open garden where you can find more ruins. You can find information such as the history of Anatolia and its various civilizations through time. The museum is said to even have the skull of King Midas of Gordion, an ancient city (not far from Ankara) and of the Midas touch legend. It is a highly recommended museum if you’re an archaeology enthusiast and want to understand the important of the land.

Not far from this museum, you’ll find the Rahmi M. Koç museum. It showcases scientific artifacts and transportation gizmos, such as rare cars and medical tools. It’s an excellent automotiv focused museum with a  collection that contains hundreds of items. They include things such as miniatures to train models, full size boats and other vehicles. It’s also conveniently located near the Citadel!

The other famous museum you should visit is Turkey’s first parliament building: the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Cumhuriyet Müzesi.

The Turkish Grand National Assembly (original building). Photo by YEŞ from Pexels

The museum is housed in a well-preserved building full of history. This is the place where Atatürk presented the great speech “Nutuk”, otherwise called The Great Speech. It was delivered over 36 hours from 15 to 20 October 1927 and is an important moment in Turkish political history. It is a must see for someone who loves historical buildings. The museum houses some of Ataturk’s personal belongings and black and white photos from the early years of the Republic.

A newer, small and private museum, Erimtan Museum has at least 2000 archaeological artifacts, an exhibition hall and a cafe. The museum is housed in an dated building and is located across the Ankara citadel in the Ulus district and further up the way from the Anatolian Museum of Civilizations. The museum is full of small objects such as ancient jewelry, ceramics and coins from Anatolia and the area. You can take a coffee/tea break in the small cafe with a great view of Ankara.

In fact, three of the best museums are located within walking distance – Museum of Ancient Anatolian Civilizations, Rahmi M. Koç and Erimtan Museum! So if you’re in the area, don’t miss out and make it a day at the musuems in Ankara!

Green Spaces/Parks

Ankara boasts a fair number of green spaces in the form of parks commemorating different dates of the country’s existence. For instance, we’ve got the 50. Yıl Parkı created in celebration of the 50th year of the Republic.

Other popular places include the Gençlik and Kuğulu Park as well as Başkent Millet Bahçesi and the Botanical Park. These parks add nature’s touch to an otherwise concrete city and are located nearby each other. They feature walking and running paths lined with beautiful trees, ponds, benches & some playgrounds for the kids. As for Kuğulu Park, it features a Public pond populated with swans & ducks, hence the name (Kuğulu meaning Swan).

On the other hand, Gençlik Park is probably the most popular parks in Ankara. It has an Atatürk memorial, an artificial pond with light shows, an outdoor theater, a wedding salon and an amusement park.

Shopping

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Ankara is a haven for shoppers with plenty of modern malls stocking every brand imaginable. For shopaholics, Ankara boasts modern and glitzy malls with both international and domestic brands and some mouth-watering restaurants.

The modern Kızılay Square is the city’s main shopping destination. It is a lively area where you can take a break in the many cafes and restaurants. Some popular malls such as ANKAmall, Atakule and Kentpark and they’re all in the popular district of Çankaya. The malls also have amazing domestic and international shops and brands. Some have the best cinemas with gold class services that resemble first class air travel and has a phone  charger and storage, while you’re enjoying the movies.

Photo by Katra from Pexels

Beyond the City

Ankara can serve as a starting point for travels to other parts of Turkey, especially  in Central Anatolia. You can take a tour from Ankara to the Hittite capital of Hattuşa. For more information about this ancient town, check out our article on the Best Archaeological sites of Turkey! Furthermore, you can visit the historical towns of Amasya or Safranbolu or even Cappadocia.

Ankara is located in a very convenient geography that makes it easy for you to make a plan to other parts of Turkey. It has excellent transportation links, especially trains, buses and equipped with a modern airport. Of course, Ankara also has good hotels and restaurants such as the Ankara Hilton, the Radisson Blu and Divan Ankara.

For budget friendly options, you’ve got the Ramada and Best Western. Additionally, there are also local hotel options that you can choose from with a quick and thorough Google search.

As for restaurants, Ankara has a much better fare when compared to cities such as Izmir. Given that the city has a ton of bureaucrats and diplomats from around the world, international food is not lacking. Check out La Gioia or Mezzaluna for Italian or City Wok for Pan-Asian cuisine. But if you like Turkish food, don’t forget to check out Meşhur Tavacı Recep Usta or better yet, Turkey’s famous butcher-turned restaurateur’s place Nusr-et Steakhouse. 

If coffee is what you want, then read to Yeşilçam Turkuaz Bahçe, a unique cafe that features figures and elements from Turkish cinema also calledYeşilçam.