East and west fuse together perfectly in Turkey's capital of Ankara, where shades of the mystical east and ancient civilisations lie partially hidden among office buildings, shopping malls, and government offices. The city is imbued with the spirit of modernity and youth: a student town filled with language schools, universities, and colleges. It also has a vast ex-pat community (most of it diplomatic), which adds to the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Situated on a rocky hill in the dry, barren region of Anatolia, this humming city can trace its history back to the bronze age, and has been a part of historic events through several great civilisations, including those of the Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Galatians, and Ottomans. Alexander the Great was one of the conquerors who stayed in the city for a while, and today's tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to unearthing the city's historic attractions.
With a population of well over four million, Ankara is a deserving capital city, aptly described as the 'anchor' of Turkey. While it is perhaps not always sought after by tourists it is certainly entertaining and hosts many business travellers and those seriously intrigued with ancient history. The old heart of the city, Ulus, is centred on an ancient citadel on a hilltop, where many historic buildings have been restored. Many of these buildings have been turned into restaurants served traditional Turkish cuisine. In this area there are several Roman archaeological sites, and narrow alleys shelter shops selling eastern delights like leather, carpets, copper, spices, and jewellery.
From the old city outwards, the buildings spread across various hills in carefully planned fashion. This planning was undertaken by European urban planners when revolutionary-turned-statesman, Mustafa Ataturk, set up provisional government in a small dusty town in 1920, just after the first World War. Ataturk is buried in a grand mausoleum called Anitkabir, in a green 'peace' park which is open to visitors.
A revered monument in the city accessed by a wide avenue lined with lion statues, Anitkabir is the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk. It draws Turks from all over the country who come to pay their respects to their hero. It is also a fascinating attraction for visitors to Ankara, its stark but imposing colonnaded aspect giving onto a courtyard which contains a museum. The ceiling of the main hall is decorated with beautiful gold leaf mosaics, and there are plenty of reliefs and statues to be admired.
The museum which charts the history of Asia Minor is housed in a lovely 15th-century restored building close to the centre of Ankara. Originally a market and caravanserai close to the centre of Ankara, it's the ideal place to visit for anyone intending to travel through Turkey and delve into the past. It is filled with fascinating collections of archaeological finds, from monolithic statues to delicate jewellery, including some from Catal Huyuk, believed to be the earliest known human social community in the world. From the Palaeolithic and Neolithic, and through all the great civilizations since, this museum is like a time machine for ancient history buffs.
The Roman Temple of Augustus was built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, and contains the best-preserved copy of Emperor Augustus' last will and testament, inscribed on the vestibule walls. After the death of Augustus in 14 AD, a copy of the text of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti was inscribed in Latin on both walls inside the pronaos, with a Greek translation on an exterior wall of the cella. The inscriptions are the primary surviving source of the text, since the original inscription on bronze pillars in front of the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome has long been lost, and two other surviving inscriptions of the text are incomplete. The temple itself is in ruins and not open to the public, but together with other Roman ruins in the vicinity (including the Roman baths and the column of Julian) it is an exciting port of call for classical history addicts.
When the founder of the Turkish Republic, Ataturk, died in 1938, he was buried in the courtyard of the building which now houses the Ethnographic Museum. Although he was moved to his final resting place at the imposing Mausoleum in Ankara, the museum is still well worth the visit. Guarded by an imposing bronze statue of the national hero astride his horse, inside is contained a vast collection of historical artefacts that include costumes, arts, and crafts.
Anyone with an interest in the natural world will enjoy Ankara's Natural History Museum, which contains some fascinating exhibits and dioramas detailing the (often extinct) wildlife of Anatolia, as well as a large collection of fossils and minerals. Most interesting are the fossilized footprints of humans who walked the Anatolian steppes 25,000 years ago, and the skeleton of a Maras elephant which lived in the area 193 million years ago.
In the far east of Turkey lies Mount Ararat, the twin peaks of this dormant volcano boast the highest summit in the country and legend has it that the remains of Noah's Ark lie on the snow-capped slopes. Many tours are available to climb or even ski Mount Ararat, with solo climbing without a guide and permit not permitted. The climb to the top is relatively easy and requires a basic level of fitness, but is suitable for non-professional climbers. For those not wishing to climb Mount Ararat, the local Kurdish villages situated on the foot of the mountain can be a great cultural experience while the nearby town of Dogubayazit provides stunning views of the mountain and is home to the second largest meteor crater in the world. Noah's Ark National Park at Mount Ararat is home to a museum dedicated to what is believed to be the fossilised remains of the ark.
Because of Ankara's elevation and inland location, the city has warm and dry summers, with cold and snowy winters. The rainy season is spring, especially May. Typical temperatures in summer range between 60°F (16°C) and 86°F (30°C) in summer, while the average temperatures winter range between 25°F (-4°C) and 44°F (7°C).
Ankara has a cheap and quick underground Metro, with two lines. One runs from Batikent in the north of the city to the central Kizilay area, and the second connects the Intercity Bus Station in the west through Kizilay to Dikimevi. Electronic tickets (sold in batches of five) can be bought at stations and used on the blue and red municipal buses as well. The Metro operates from 6am to midnight. Private buses are green or blue and passengers pay in cash when boarding. The favoured form of transport for visitors is the Dolmus minibus taxi system and taxis can be flagged in the street. Fares depend on the distance covered. There are also regular metered taxis available.
Fascinating archaeology abounds in Ankara, and one of the best ways to take it all in is to stroll around the old city. Here, travellers will also have the opportunity to see the hubbub of the local markets which sell expertly crafted goods like clothes, jewellery and carpets.
Aside from ancient ruins, Ankara is home to many museums: for a taste of Turkey's founding history, visit the Republic Museum; or get a taste for Turkey's cultural products at the State Art and Sculpture Museum. If being indoors looking at exhibits proves too taxing, visitors should wonder around the beautiful parks that Ankara has to offer. Kugulu Park is a perfect place to start and sighseers may catch a glimpse of renowned, graceful swans; alternatively, and the Genclik Park with its rowing pond and botanical garden are equally excelent.
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