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When planning your next trip, why not be unfashionable and start with a few days in old Ankara before carrying on north, south, east or west. You will not be disappointed.
Tourists love Turkey but virtually none come to Ankara. They assume it is an artificial city, chosen as capital simply for its location and built virtually from scratch. It is indeed a new city, chosen by Atatürk for its central position and given fine, if somewhat Teutonic, government buildings during the 1920s and ’30s. Since then it has suffered urban sprawl, with a current population of four million. But there is nothing new or artificial about old Ankara. This is no Turkish Brasilia.
Twice capital in antiquity – known as Ancyra under the Romans, as Angora in Ottoman times – Ankara is a neglected modern capital, still ignored by those who, when it comes to history, are in the habit of skipping adroitly from the Hittites to the New Republic. But at last a long-postponed miracle is occurring. A plethora of recent discoveries in Ulus – old Ankara – have awakened a thirst to pull together the missing threads. The Museum of Anatolian Civilisations is no longer the sole attraction: changes in and around the ancient Citadel are now complemented by boutique hotels, one of them of outstanding quality. When planning your next trip to Turkey, why not be unfashionable and start with a few days in old Ankara before carrying on north, south, east or west? You will not be disappointed.
Roman Ancyra and Ottoman Angora
Nature has given Ankara a magnificent site from which to prosper and command. Built round an extinct volcano, the city dominates a gorge through which the Ankara river, a tributary of the Sakarya, once flowed.
From the north, Byzantine walls dominate a township of dilapidated pink brick houses and red-roofed shacks clinging in painterly disorder to the rocky escarpments rising from the valley floor. From the west, knowing eyes can pick out the line of the third-century walls built to defend Ancyra, Roman capital of the province of Galatia, spreading out across a flattening hill. From the south, the medieval Muslim, Christian and Jewish quarters of Ottoman Angora and the foundations of its 17th-century walls must be imagined beneath modern Ulus. Likewise the dam that once controlled the flash flooding of the now piped river has made way for an east–west thoroughfare through the gorge.
Some 3,000 years ago Ankara was a flourishing Phrygian city, which submitted to Alexander the Great before an army of nomadic Gauls appeared around 278bc. These Celtic conquerors had lost their warlike vigour and adopted softer Anatolian ways by the time they were absorbed into the Roman empire, with Ancyra as the capital of the province of Galatia. Ancyra prospered under the early Byzantine emperors, but the great Anatolian crossroads came successively under Arab, then Seljuk, then Mongol control, before the Ottoman ascendancy after 1414. Repeated assault and reconstruction brought change again and again to its ramparts and towers.
Each regime left its mark. And each was accompanied by destruction. The town in Anatolia that Atatürk chose as his capital in 1923 was a primitive place. An early New Republican on his first visit to the new capital in 1924 describes his arrival in Angora as “through the swamp” (mosquito-infested and malarial, thanks to the confluence of the two Ankara rivers), then through “the site of the fire” (which in 1917 destroyed half the old city), reaching “a village of adobe huts and mud-brick houses, crooked streets either paved or of rough cobblestones”.
Other than the Roman Temple of Augustus and the 15th-century Hacı Bayram Mosque standing on the Phrygian acropolis, the fourth-century so-called Julian Column below them, the remains of the third-century Caracalla Baths overlooking the plain – thought to have been destroyed during the Persian occupation some five centuries later – and parts of the Roman theatre recently discovered below the Citadel’s outer walls, few pre-20th-century monuments have survived on this combustible hillside regularly devastated by fire. All that is left of the 19th-century mills and tanneries are a few Ottoman buildings that have escaped the mayoral bulldozer.
When Amsterdam’s renovated Rijksmuseum reopens in 2013, the public will be able to visit the Turkish Cabinet of Cornelis Calkoen, the Dutch republic’s ambassador to Istanbul from 1727 to 1744. For more than a century now the museum has been the keeper of his collection of paintings.
‘Never swim before the first watermelon rind falls into the water,’ goes an old Istanbul saying. By the time they ripen, the sea will have reached just the right temperature for swimming.
She was born to be a New York society beauty, but the late Josephine Powell’s chosen world was that of the Anatolian Nomad. Five years after her death, her archive of photographs recording old Anatolia in all its glory will see the light of day in Istanbul
As Turkey and the Netherlands celebrate
400 years of fruitful trade with a series of spectacular exhibitions in both countries, Philip Mansel, author of a new history of the Levant, reflects on the curious role of the Dutch at the Sublime Porte
Not far from the World Heritage city of Safranbolu lies the quiet village of Yörük Köyü, once famed for its valiant cavalry. Berrin Torolsan continues her series on Anatolia’s country houses with a visit to the Sipahioğlu Konak, a beautifully built mansion of satisfying simplicity and unassuming flair.
Over the past decade Turkey’s wine industry has come of age. It is now more than ready to join the grown-ups of the wine-producing world. Kevin Gould and the Cornucopia team pick the best of a sparkling bunch. Photographs by Berrin Torolsan.
Cornucopia’s self-guided wine tours
The First Balkan War, a hundred years ago, is an obscure affair, overshadowed by the First World War that followed. But it ended the Ottoman Empire in Europe and came close to ending Turkey itself. It left almost half a million refugees and three times as many dead. David Barchard tells the story of a catastrophic conflict
With a taste for adventure Indiana Jones would appreciate, the Dutch architectural historian Machiel Kiel has risked life and limb in his mission to expose the annihilation of Ottoman monuments in the Balkans. The art historian Holta Vrioni pays tribute to his work and exploits
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