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What to See in Ankara, Turkey

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Temple of Augustus
Temple of Augustus

Ankara is an ancient town; it has been inhabited by someone since about 3000 BC. The first to arrive, the Phrygians had a small settlement.  The capital of Phrygia was Gordion about 45 kilometers to the west.

It didn’t become a major city until the Celts conquered it in 278 BC.  The Galatians (a Celtic tribe) were very influential with the Phrygians and the language of the Celts (a sort of Welsh or Gaelic) hung around for centuries after the Celts had left the city.  The only monument that I know of that still exists from this time period is a tomb which, although found while constructing one of the buildings not far from our apartment, was moved to the outdoor museum of the Roman Baths.  The Galatians were the first to build a fortress where the Citadel stands today, but what we see was built during the Seljuk period with left over pieces from previous times.

After the Celts came the Romans, and they really made Ankara into a thriving city.  The Romans were around from 25 BC until 2 AD.  Population estimates for that period are all over the place, but conservative academics think that there were at least 100,000 people at the time.  Hidden away in the musty corners of Ankara, aournd the Ulus area, there is still quite a bit of Roman evidence to be found.

Columns located in the Roman Bath complex.
Columns located in the Roman Bath complex.

Overall the Roman sites in Ankara are not as impressive as other places in Turkey, but they are here.  We’ve visited the Roman Baths, the Roman Theatre, and the, very short, section of the Roman Road  which used to lead up to the Temple of Julian.

All of the sites are not far from the shopping in Ulus, so it is easy to spend a day in and around the area, and that’s without even visiting the wonderful museums there.

 

Ataturk’s Mausoleum

In the middle of Ankara, high on a hill, and very visible, is Ataturk’s Mausoleum.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic in 1923 is honored here.  The grounds are impeccably maintained and security is never lax at this oasis in the middle of the hot, dry city.

Not one day passes without thousands of visitors, as Ataturk is the most beloved man in Turkey’s history.  He is credited with educating the population, making primary school mandatory; as well as bringing Turkey’s agriculture into the 20th century, teaching the people how to feed themselves.

It is easy to spend a few hours here, as their is a museum of military history that chronicles the major battles that Ataturk fought in.  The displays are complete, well-built, and fascinating.

 

Pembe Köşk – Second President’s House

Pembe Köşk, the home of the second president, Ismet Inönü, was a great friend of Ataturk, who actually gave him his name.  He was named after the location of the last battle of the War of Independence.  He was president from 1938-1950.

We wandered through the bottom part of the house and listened to a history that amazed me since I could only imagine the people that guide was talking about.  For example, Jim and I were completely intrigued by a chess set that was given to Inönü by Stalin.  They were red and white pieces, with a very propagandist theme. The white pieces were Czarist with starving peasants in chains for pawns. The red pieces were, of course, the communists, the pawns here were happy workers wielding scythes and clutching bundles of wheat.

Pembe Köşk is only open twice a year, in April and October, but if you happen to be passing through during those times, I would certainly put it on my list.

Day Trips from Ankara

Gordion

Gordion is a sleepy little village that houses a citadel and tomb of an ancient Anatolian people, called the Phrygians.

Who were the Phrygians? I honestly thought I had never heard of them, but discovered that their most famous king was none other than King Midas. Delving in deeper, we found out that another famous thing happened at Gordion. It is where Alexander the Great severed the Gordion Knot and conquered the region.

Being so near, we took the first chance we could to go check out the site. It is not labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and after we arrived, we could see why. The citadel mound is just that, a mound. You can climb around it and look down, but there’s really not much there. The tomb is likewise pretty boring. You walk through a tunnel to a reconstructed wooden building that purportedly used to house the remains of King Midas. At some point all the real treasures had been removed to museums throughout the world.

The one redeeming grace is the small museum that serves to pass on a little Phrygian history and explains the story of King Midas and the downfall of the Phrygians via Alexander. There were a few drinking vessels, some cooking pots, and a few other such artifacts to look at; all together the museum, tomb and citadel mound take about 1 – 2 hours to fully explore.

After our visit to the Phrygians, we did meander through some of the local villages and were able to take some wonderful portraits of village women and children, so this for me really made the jaunt worthwhile.

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