Of all places that I visited in Turkey, perhaps I could have skipped Ankara. Although, within the context of my travel, it made sense to stop there. I was in Konya and from there I wanted to go back to Istanbul. One way to travel from Konya to Istanbul is by bus, via Ankara, and that’s what I did.
But, let me explain my earlier comment. Ankara is not a tourist destination the way Istanbul is. It came to prominence after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, when it became the capital city.
Prior to that, it was just an ordinary Ottoman city. It did not have the same importance as, for example, Bursa or Konya. Although you can find some Ottoman historical monuments in Ankara, you are certainly not going to see majestic imperial mosques.
Anyway, I think that most places deserve to be seen at least once in a life time, especially if we can visit them without any special effort. Plus, Ankara is the second biggest city in Turkey and the capital city, so the right ingredients were in place and that’s why I decided to go there. But, the mistake I made was that I visited Ankara in mid August. It was far too hot and difficult to stay outside during the day. Well, sometimes we just have to make the most out of what we have.
MY HOTEL IN ANKARA
I mentioned in one of my previous posts that when you move deeper into Turkey, you can stay in superior accommodation, at cheap prices. In Ankara, I stayed in a 5-star Bera Ankara Hotel. I also stayed in Hotel Bera in Konya, although that was a 4-star hotel. My hotel in Ankara was cheaper than hotels in which I stayed in Kusadasi and Antalya. Perhaps, it was the peak of a summer season and everyone went to seaside resorts.
I chose this particular hotel for two reasons – location and price. My choice was spot on. The hotel is very close to the centre of Ankara. I walked from the hotel and was in the centre within 10 minutes. You can also take metro, it’s one stop from the hotel to the heart of the city.
Otherwise, like every other 5-star hotel, Hotel Bera is a fabulous place. I don’t know how expensive it is in other seasons, so I am a bit reluctant to recommend it, especially to budget conscious travellers. But, you can always check on booking.com.
One final point about this hotel is that it is an Islamic hotel. I found that out during my stay, but that didn’t bother me. I assume that they have and follow certain rules. Anyway, it shouldn’t be an issue for 1 or 2 nights, especially if the price is right.
WHAT TO SEE IN ANKARA?
Of course, I read a bit about Ankara in order to find out what’s there to see. True, Ankara is not like Istanbul. But, Ankara was never an imperial city, while Istanbul was the capital city of two long lasting empires – first the Byzantine and then the Ottoman.
According to what I’ve read, the city started to expand and enlarge after it had become the capital of the new Turkish Republic.
And, that’s clearly visible. You will mainly see modern day constructions everywhere. In Istanbul, in Istiklal Street and the surrounding area, you can see many beautiful 19th century buildings. But, not in Ankara.
KIZILAY MEYDANI (SQUARE)
The main square, in the very heart of Ankara, is Kizilay Meydani. It is the main modern shopping area of Ankara, where you will find the ubiquitous Turkish chain shops.
It’s also an area where you will find numerous restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
The square itself is a busy intersection of Ataturk and Gazi Mustafa Kemal Boulevards.
Admittedly, the square is not very interesting, but the good thing is that you can stop and have a rest in the adjacent Güven Park. Otherwise, there was just a lot of traffic, so it wasn’t really the best place to stay for a longer period of time. Unless, of course you go there to do the shopping.
KOCATEPE MOSQUE (1987)
The Kocatepe Mosque is one of Ankara’s symbols. Being one of the biggest mosques in the world, it dominates the area where it’s constructed and it can be seen from many different parts of the city.
But, this is not a historical building. Its construction finished only 33 years ago, in 1987. While the mosque does not have any historical value, it surely holds the paramount religious position as a place that can accommodate 24000 worshippers. But, I am not impressed with such statistics. Every mosque that I visited, I did so because of its historical significance and artistic and architectural value.
Clearly, with its neo-Ottoman style, it resembles Ottoman era mosques built after the conquest of Istanbul. From that moment in 1453, Ottoman architects constructed mosques that looked like Hagia Sophia. Additionally, four minarets should indicate its imperial status, but that’s not the case. During Ottoman times, only mosques commissioned by sultans or other members of the Ottoman dynasty had two or more minarets. But, Turkey is a republic now.
This mosque follows the same pattern. In my opinion, it’s a beautiful and a very impressive construction.
Its sheer size, both outside and inside, is overwhelming. When I went to see this mosque, it was a quiet moment, outside of the prayer time. There were only several worshippers praying. I can only imagine what it looks like at busy times, when it’s full of people, considering the space inside of this mosque.
MALTEPE MOSQUE (1959)
The Maltepe Mosque is also one of Ankara’s most prominent mosques. But, the same as the Kocatepe Mosque, this is also a new mosque, built in 1959.
It is interesting that the prevailing architectural style for all new mosques that I’ve seen in Turkey is the neo-Ottoman style. The Haci Veyiszade Mosque in Konya, built in 1996, follows this same pattern.
Inside, the mosque fully replicates Ottoman era mosques and frankly speaking, if you didn’t know the construction date of this mosque, you would easily mistake it for an old Ottoman mosque. You can even see the inscriptions in Ottoman Turkish, which used the Arabic script. The modern Turkish language uses the Latin script, the same one that I use to write this post.
I wonder whether people that worked on these inscriptions knew what they mean? Perhaps, although I doubt that there are many people that can read and write Ottoman Turkish now.
ATATURK MAUSOLEUM (1953)
In my opinion, the most important thing that you can see in Ankara is the Ataturk Mausoleum. The mausoleum is dedicated to the Father of the Nation – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He was the leader of the Turkish War of Independence between 1919 and 1923 and the first president of the modern Turkish Republic.
The mausoleum opened in 1953. Apart from the Ataturk’s tomb in the Hall of Honours, you can also visit the Anitkabir Ataturk Museum. In Turkish, Anitkabir means memorial tomb.
The whole site is an impressive place, but when you go there make sure that you visit it correctly, from the front. Thus, you will get the best impression, the way it was intended by its design. Right at the beginning, you will encounter the Freedom Tower and the Male Statue Group, representing the Turkish soldier, next to him the Turkish intellectual young person and the Turkish peasant behind the two of them.
Directly opposite, you will see the Independence Tower and the Female Statue Group. Two front women hold a wreath, which represents abundant Turkey. The woman with a cup in her hand is asking the God for compassion. The third woman is crying. They all symbolise pride, solemnity and determination of Turkish women.
To reach the main area of the mausoleum, you have to pass the Road of Lions. There are 12 pairs of Hittite style lions on both sides of the road, representing Oghuz Turkic Tribes. Seated, they at the same time demonstrate power and peace.
Certainly, the Ceremonial Plaza and the Hall of Honours are the central and the most important features of the mausoleum.
Ataturk’s tomb is in the Hall of Honours, represented by a symbolic sarcophagus. His actual tomb is in a chamber beneath.
This place certainly has an immense importance for Turkish people. For visitors like me, it teaches us about more recent periods of the Turkish history. The change that happened in the country after the fall of the Ottoman Empire was nothing short of impressive. After centuries of rule by one family and in fact by one person with absolute power and after centuries of being the Islamic Caliphate, the modern secular state emerged. It was a historical event of magnanimous proportions that rarely happens in people’s lives!
You can also visit the Ataturk and the War on Independence museum. Additionally, they have exhibited Ataturk’s clothes and some personal items, such as the armoured Lincoln car in a photo below. Because of numerous assassination attempts on Ataturk, the Turkish government ordered this car for him in 1934. Ataturk used it as his official car until his death in 1938.
MUSEUM OF ANATOLIAN CIVILISATIONS
Of other museums in Ankara, perhaps the most important is the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. The museum itself is a historical Ottoman building. It houses a very rich collection of the Anatolian archaeology. I will write a bit more about this precious museum in one of my future posts.
The early medieval Ankara Castle is one more important historical site that you can visit in Ankara.
From the entrance, to reach the castle, you have to pass through a historic Ottoman area. Obviously, being also the prime touristic area, everything is well kept and that’s where you will predominantly see touristic shops and restaurants.
But, make sure that you visit the area immediately next to the castle, as that’s where you will find old Ottoman Ankara. That’s where typical bazaars are, the same as I saw in other Turkish cities. It’s an interesting and big area, so you need a lot of time to see everything. That’s also where you can see some more Ottoman historical structures.
Unfortunately, it was oppressively hot that day, the mid day temperature reached 38 degrees C. At one point, it became really impossible to stay outside, so I went back to my hotel. I waited until the evening when I went out again for dinner and for a walk in a centre.
WHERE TO EAT IN ANKARA?
From what I’ve seen, the centre of Ankara, which is the whole area around Kizilay Meydani, is where you should go to eat or to have a drink. There, restaurants, bars and coffee shops are lined one after the other. That whole area was very busy in the evening, which tells me that it’s where most people go in the evening.
That’s also where I went every evening. The only thing is, because there are so many restaurants, you don’t know which one to choose. Anyhow, they are all affordable so you have to try your luck. But, I believe that most of them are good, simply because the standard in Turkey is high and I don’t think that Turkish people would settle for anything less. Which is exactly the same as in all other places that I visited.
I am very glad that I visited the Turkish capital. It is not as impressive and full of history as Istanbul and some other cities, but it’s interesting.
Would I go back? Perhaps, if I again travel across Turkey and the road takes me to Ankara. But, next time I would choose a different, slightly cooler season, so that I can see the rest of the city.