Places to Visit in Ankara

The Heart of Anatolia since Antiquity

Ankara, the capital of Turkey, seems as a city developed after being declared the capital; however, it has a brilliant past where it had the honour of being the capital. Situated at the centre of Anatolia, it has always maintained its importance due to its strategic position.

Ankara is located at the intersection of trading routes traversing Anatolia from east to west and from north to south. Its trading role and strategic importance started at an early age, during the Age of Assyrian Trading Colonies. It was founded on one of the most important roads of antiquity, the Royal Road, leading from Sardis, the capital of Lydia, to the Susa City of Mesopotamia.

Ankara was an important settlement during the Phrygian, Galatian, Roman and Byzantine eras, and welcomed Alexander the Great as one of its most valued visitors who was on his way to conquer the world. Alexander the Great wintered in Ankara before he resolved the riddle of the Gordian Knot in the nearby city of Gordion, in the oft-told story about him, by cutting the knot with his sword.

During the Ottoman Era, Ankara became famous for its sof (silk like fabric woven with mohair yarn, the spun hair of the Angora goat) manufacture, and became one of the important trading cities of the Ottoman Empire on the Silk Road. During the decline of the Ottoman Empire, the city also experienced a recession period, however with the declaration of the Republic of Turkey it assumed a new aspect. It has rapidly developed as the capital and become the second largest metropolis of the contemporary Turkey.

Travel Back in Time at Ulus and its Environs

Ulus is the first settlement area of Ankara where you can explore the traces of different civilisations side by side. Phrygians found the anchor that lent its name to Ankara here, and it was the city centre decorated by monuments during the Roman Era. During the Ottoman Era, Ulus served as the heart of the commercial activities and housed key commercial buildings. The transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey was staged there. Therefore, those who wish to familiarise with Ankara must start their visit from Ulus.

Before starting your tour to learn the history of Ankara, you should first visit the Ankara Citadel which bears the marks of all civilisations that played a role in the past of Ankara. It has a dominating presence in the cityscape of Ankara, and is generally considered as the first stop of excursions. The Ankara Citadel was built on the highest hill set in the middle of Ankara plains, and used by every civilisation that reigned in the region. Its history is evident by the inscriptions on its walls. The citadel which is now a symbol of Ankara, and visible from almost every part of the city, was originally built in the 3rd century BC by Tectosages, who were one of the Galatian tribes arrived in the region. Romans who took over the city from Galatians, and respectively Byzantines, Seljuks, Crusaders, and Ottomans as the sovereigns of the citadel altered it as they saw fit, and the fortress took its present shape. Up to the recent times it had inner and outer defensive walls; however, the outer walls were not preserved well. The inner walls are still standing with all their might. In the citadel, the Ankara Houses, some of them dating back to the 17th century, and Alaaddin Mosque, the oldest religious building in Ankara still open to worship, can be visited. The panoramic vista over Ankara from top of the city walls is as breathtaking as it was to the sentries of the past.

The environs of the Ankara Citadel were also the centre of trading during the Ottoman Era. Therefore, many of the structures belonging to Ottoman Era in the environs of the citadel are commercial buildings. Today many of them have assumed new functions; however, they still serve the public.

Museum of Anatolian Civilisations is considered to be one of the most notable museums of the world. It is housed in two Ottoman Era structures refurbished for a new function: One of them is a 600 year-old caravanserai, the Kurşunlu Caravanserai, and the other is the Mahmut Paşa Bedesten (covered bazaar; the strong structure built for safekeeping of valuable commercial goods). As its name implies the Museum is full of precious artefacts found in four corners of Anatolia, and provides ample information regarding the history of Anatolia as the cradle of civilisations. In a sense it provides a short narrative about Anatolia.

There are other structures restored to a new function. A classical example of the Ottoman inner city caravanserais can be visited just below the Ankara Citadel. It is the Çengel Caravanserai commissioned in 1522, and today it serves as the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.

The museum is dedicated to the modern era, and its permanent exhibitions include artefacts related to the history of communication and transportation. The museum also provides galleries for visiting exhibitions and there is a cafeteria in the complex.

Near the Çengel Caravanserai, there is another caravanserai from the 18th century, the Pirinç Caravanserai which is providing space for antique dealers and shops selling handicrafts. In its central courtyard, there is a historical cafe which is quite handy after an exhausting visit to the Ankara Citadel to enjoy a hotplate baked flat pastry (gözleme) with a refreshing drink and exchanging opinions about the visit.The cells around the courtyard now serve as shops selling souvenirs.

The locality called Samanpazari (lit. hay market) is full of antique dealers and souvenir shops since it is the principal excursion destination of Ankara and has several caravanserais and museums. Some of those shops are old Ankara houses from the Ottoman Era restored to a new function. Some of them are serving as restaurants or cafes. With the citadel, caravanserais and old houses, Samanpazari deserves to be considered as an open-air museum and a place worth visiting while in Ankara.

The Citadel and its environs provide ample opportunities to look for the traces of the oldest settlements in Ankara. The excavations conducted in the region unearthed artefacts shedding light on the Roman Era and indicating that Ankara was an important settlement during this era. However, sharing the destiny of rapidly developing urban areas, those ruins have almost disappeared amidst the modern buildings. Nevertheless, the best option to see the ruins of Roman Era is walking down the steep bendy road from the Ankara Citadel towards Ulus. On the right under the walls of the Citadel you encounter the excavation site where the ruins are the first examples of the Roman Era.

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The ruins of Roman Baths on the Çankırı Street date back to the 3rd century. The area covered by the under floor heating system (hypocaust), furnaces, and service areas that were unearthed, is the proof of the monumental scale of the baths. In the courtyard of the baths a collection of Roman inscriptions are exhibited.

Those are the parts of Ankara, which had remained secret for ages, revealed after the excavations. However two most important monuments shedding light on the Roman Era are still intact. First of them is the Temple of Augustus, with the inscription on its walls recounting the deeds of the first Roman Emperor Augustus, providing an insight into the history of Rome. The Temple served as a church during the Byzantine Era. In the beginning of the 15th century the Hacı Bayram Mosque was built next to it. The mosque took its name from Hacı Bayram who played an important role in the history of Anatolia. His tomb is also next to the mosque. The sacred nature of the site has been upheld through the ages by many different religions.

Another important Roman monument is the Column of Julian, which is believed to be erected in 362 AD in memory of the Emperor Julian’s visit to Ankara. As it is situated next to the Governor’s Office in Ulus and it is very conspicuous it can be found quite easily.

Ulus is also important in regards to the history of Republic. Ankara started losing its importance towards the final years of Ottoman Empire, and following the debacles of the war years the revival started at this area where the new public buildings were erected. The building that stood witness to the first years of the Republic, and housed the Second Grand National Assembly of Turkey has been serving as the Republic Museum since 1981. The Museum displays personal belongings of Atatürk, documents and photographs belonging to the first period of the Republic. One of the attractive parts of the Museum is the section where the wax figures represent a session of the Assembly. Two blocks up is the building which housed the First Grand National Assembly of Turkey. It now serves as the Museum of Turkish War of Independence.

Another prime museum of Ankara is the Ethnography Museum which is frequented by the enthusiasts of the handicrafts and folklore of Anatolia. The Museum houses a rich collection of traditional Turkish arts, and in order to reach the Museum you should proceed from Ulus, where the history of Ankara is on display in concentrated abridgment, towards Sıhhiye.

The most important symbol of Ankara is the Anıtkabir, the Mausoleum of Atatürk. The eternal resting place of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, consists of the Museum of Atatürk which exhibits the personal belongings of Atatürk, the Peace Park which was planted with thousands of saplings brought from various countries, and the Monumental Block including the Lion Avenue, Ceremonial Square and the Mausoleum. The Mausoleum is the place to visit for those who would like to learn more about the foundation principles of the Republic of Turkey which are the guiding thoughts of Atatürk as one of the important world leaders.

Gordion: The Capital of Phrygia Visited by Alexander the Great

The most important settlement at the environs of Ankara is Gordion (Yassıhöyük), the capital of Phrygia, which was immortalised by the legend of the Gordian Knot and Alexander the Great. The excavations unearthed structures indicating that the city was inhabited during the periods of Hittite, Persian and Roman empires besides the Phrygians.

There are numerous tumuli in Gordion marking the graves of the notables of the city. The most important of them is the tumulus believed to be the grave of King Midas, which is the second largest tumulus found in Turkey. The findings of the excavation of the tumulus provided an insight to the arts and crafts of Phrygians, and they are on permanent display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. Some of the findings of the excavations can also be seen in the Museum of Gordion.

Shopping, Food and Drink Venues

The shopping centres, peppered almost every district of Ankara, bring together the branches of the most prominent brands. They also have cinemas, entertainment centres, and restaurants where everybody can enjoy spending some time, eat something, and do some shopping. The standard and quality of those venues are complied with the worldwide accepted benchmarks, and the awards they have received are the proof of that compliance.

The Atakule Tower, which has a ubiquitous position in the skyline of Ankara and can be seen from most of the vantage points, is the landmark of the pioneering shopping centres of Ankara. The 125 metre-tall tower has a revolving restaurant as well as an observation platform to enjoy the panoramic view of Ankara.

Another area identified with restaurants, patisseries and shops is centred on the Kuğulu Park along the Tunalı Hilmi Street which is one of the busiest roads of Ankara. Both pavements of the road are lined with food and drink venues as well as shops selling different items such as accessories, boutiques and jewellery.

Kızılay is another locality of Ankara famous for the shopping venues as well as restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy eating something and having a chat with your friends, however, it is also renowned to be one of the busiest and crowded parts of the city.

Those busy thoroughfares and shopping centres are full of boutiques that will supply most of the eminent brands of the world. However if you are looking for something different and authentic items that will remind you Ankara for years to come, then you have to visit the shops centred around the Ankara Citadel. They supply handcrafted items and souvenirs reflecting the traditional Turkish arts and crafts.

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