Explore North Central Anatolia
Those who have spent time in other Turkish cities may find ANKARA something of a culture shock. Atatürk declared it capital of the Turkish Republic in 1923, and it has spent the intervening years moving forward at a breakneck pace, performing an ever more accurate impression of a modern European city. This was, of course, Atatürk’s vision all along; before becoming capital Ankara (formerly known as Angora) was a small provincial city, almost lost in the midst of the steppelands and known chiefly for its production of angora, soft goat’s wool. This older city still exists in and around the citadel, which was the site of the original settlement, but has been surrounded and almost swamped by the “other” Ankara, a carefully planned attempt to create a seat of government worthy of a modern, Westernized state.
For visitors, Ankara is never going to be as attractive a destination as İstanbul, and the couple of excellent museums and handful of other sights that it can offer are unlikely to detain you for more than a day or two. Even so it’s worth the trip just to find somewhere as refreshingly forward-looking as Turkey’s administrative and diplomatic centre.
It was the Hittites who founded Ankara around 1200 BC, naming it Ankuwash. Under them the town prospered due to its position on the royal road running from Sardis to their capital at Hattuşa. The Hittites were succeeded by the Phrygians, who called the city Ankyra (and left a significant reminder of their presence in the shape of a huge necropolis uncovered near the train station in 1925), and they, in turn, by the Lydians and the Persians. Alexander the Great passed through on his way east, while in the third century BC invading Galatians (Gauls) held sway for a while, renaming the city Galatia.
By the beginning of the first century BC the Romans had made substantial inroads into Asia Minor. In 24 BC Ankara was officially absorbed into the empire under Augustus and renamed Sebaste (Greek for Augustus). The city thrived under the Romans, but the later Byzantine era ushered in a period of decline. Arabs, Persians, Crusaders and Mongols stormed the city en route to greater prizes, but only the Selçuks were to settle, taking control of the city in 1071. By 1361 Ankara had been incorporated into the burgeoning Ottoman state and went into something of a decline, with only its famous wool to prevent it from disappearing altogether.
After Atatürk’s final victory, Ankara was made the official capital of the Turkish Republic. However, at this time the city was little more than a backward provincial centre; Turkey’s vociferous pro-İstanbul lobby was dismayed by the choice of Ankara as capital and many foreign governments also baulked at the idea of establishing embassies here. Gradually, however, the lure of free land for the building of embassies lured in the diplomatic corps. People were drawn to Ankara from the Anatolian countryside in search of work and a higher standard of living, the city’s population soon swelled from 30,000 to around four million.Read More
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
Museum of Anatolian Civilizations
From İnönü Parkı, at the eastern end of Hisarparkı Caddesi, a sharp right turn leads to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi) an outstanding archeological collection documenting the peoples and cultures of Anatolia from the late Stone Age through to Classical times. When you see a replica artefact at an archeological site elsewhere in Turkey, you can bet the original is here. Housed in a restored fifteenth-century bedesten, this unmissable museum is, for most visitors, the high point of a visit to Ankara.
Its vast cache of artefacts is laid out in chronological order, clockwise from the entrance, with large stone reliefs dating from the Hittite and Phrygian periods in the central chamber. Most exhibits are clearly labelled in English and German. As you enter, you may be approached by an official guide offering to accompany you on your tour.
From the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age
The museum’s first four sections move visitors through Turkey-time from the Old Stone Age to 2000 BC. The Paleolithic section features an assortment of bone fragments and primitive stone tools and weapons from a cave site at Karain, 30km northwest of Antalya, while objects found at Çatal Höyük, a settlement of New Stone Age mud-brick houses 52km north of Konya, have yielded significant evidence about the Neolithic period (7000–5500 BC). The importance of agriculture in this era may account for the abundance of fertility goddess figures – represented by baked-clay female forms of ample proportions – that reappear in various forms throughout the museum.
Most of the objects in the Bronze Age section (3000–2000 BC) come from Alacahöyük; among the most striking exhibits are the pieces of gold jewellery unearthed in the royal tombs. There then follows a small Assyrian Trading Colony section (1950–1750 BC), with the most notable exhibits being well-preserved cuneiform tablets that rank among Anatolia’s earliest written records.
The Hittite sections
The Hittites (1700–700 BC) left behind spectacular sites at Boğazkale and nearby Yazılıkaya, east of Ankara. Most of the objects on display are from Boğazkale and Alacahöyük, with the most sophisticated example here being a vase with a relief depicting a lively wedding procession. Also included are a number of stelae carved with hieroglyphics that have proved a valuable source of information about the Old Hittite kingdom (1700–1450 BC).
There’s even more to see from the Hittite Empire (1450–1200 BC) itself – elaborate reliefs from Alacahöyük indicate the sophistication of Hittite culture during this time, and if you’re planning to visit Hattuşa, look out for the lion and sphinx figures from the city gates. The originals are here, replaced with replicas at the site itself.
Phrygian and Urartian sections
Most of the Phrygian objects (1200–700 BC) were recovered from the royal tumulus at Gordion, capital of Phrygian Anatolia after the fall of the Hittites. The timber-framed chamber at the heart of the tumulus has been re-created and objects from it are on display nearby. Most impressive are a wooden table of intricate design and skilfully wrought bronze vessels. Most of what is known about the Urartians derives from clay tablets listing military successes. On the evidence of those artefacts on display here their culture was less sophisticated than that of the Phrygians, though the large bronze cauldron resting on a tripod with cloven bronze feet is austerely beautiful.
Accommodation covers the full price and quality spectrum, and finding a room is rarely a problem, given the relative absence of tourists. Most of the cheaper hotels are in Ulus, though lone women may not feel so comfortable in the very cheapest places. A couple of hotels have opened up in and around the citadel, great places to soak up a quiet night-time atmosphere totally at odds with the rest of the city.
Moving down into Sıhhıye and Kızılay will take you up another notch or two, and then prices and standards steadily increase as you move further south and into Kavaklıdere, home to top-of-the-range places.
Ulus is your best bet for cheap eats, Kızılay has most of the mid-range places (particularly on and around Karanfil and Selanik sokaks), and the classier restaurants can be found in Kavaklıdere and Çankaya. The exceptions to this general rule are the restaurants that have opened up in restored Ottoman houses in the Hisar (citadel) over the last few years.
Drinking and nightlife
Drinking and nightlife
Cafés are strewn all over town, but for drinking you’ll have to head south from Ulus. The meyhanes in Kızılay make a good starting point, and although these are largely male-dominated haunts, female visitors shouldn’t attract too much unwelcome attention. For something more trendy head for the bars of Kavaklıdere.
Most cafés open during the day to offer food, tea and obligatory backgammon boards, some seguing into bars as the evening progresses. The clubbing scene is improving but don’t expect too much; there are some studenty late-night venues hidden away in the backstreets of the university district, Cebeci, but you really need to find a local to guide you to them.