Antique Ankara

Ankara has a tender spot in my heart.   Having lived in Turkey’s capital in my elementary school days way back in the late 70s, I have been back every year for the last ten years to meet my childhood friend for a long weekend in August.  We reminisce about the good old times, laugh a lot, gossip a little, shop some and make sure to observe our ritual of spending at least half a day “re-exploring” the winding lanes of Ankara Citadel.   It is our ceremonial procession to commemorate “the” annual reunion.

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We try to invade as many of the stores as possible, especially those selling knick-knacks, art galleries, the copper quarter and of course the antiques stores, patting all the “treasures” with the “do not touch” sign, and ending the day with a meal at “Emin Usta”, in my opinion the best “no frills” restaurant serving delicious lamb chops and meatballs at an extremely reasonable price.

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Ankara Citadel area was once upon a time “the” original town, with foundations apparently dating way back to Hittite times about 3000 years ago.  Located atop a hill in the old city, the area inside contains many fine examples of traditional architecture. The walk from the city centre up to the castle on the rough cobbled stone streets is fairly steep but incredibly enriching and dynamic with a lot of small shops on both side of all lanes, giving a good pulse of the city.  Of course the atmosphere as well as the view of the city at the top of the castle is simply beyond words.

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Ankara Kalesi (Ankara Citadel), the symbol of the town towers on a 978 meter high hill.  It is said to have been built as a garrison during the Hittites era which has been hosted myriad civilizations since. It was apparently during the Galatians period (280-64 BC) that the castle was enlarged and city walls added and brought to a position completely overlooking the town.

The citadel has two sections: inner castle and outer castle. Although the outer castle had once upon a time twenty observation towers, only a few have reached today. Most of the structures within the inner castle are in good condition after many restorations, carrying forward the characteristics of traditional Turkish architecture.

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I am sure a few of the remaining old Ankara houses in the oldest residential area known as Eski (Old) Ankara within the inner castle walls will attract visitors’ attention.  Although most have undergone heavy refurbishments and converted to restaurants and shops, there are still some wooden and mud brick houses where families continue their existence and traditional master Turkish craftsmen continue their work.

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The castle as well as the surrounding area has undergone a major renovation in recent years to embellish its run-down appearance. Even though some think the restorations led the citadel to lose part of its charm driven by its once-upon-a-time ramshackle character, I believe it is now much safer, cleaner, more picturesque and harmonious, a real delight to explore.

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A stroll down the rough cobblestone streets in the Citadel leads to the historical Atpazarı (horse market) district where the Anatolian Civilizations Museum is located. Parallel to the rehabilitation of the Citadel, the museum has also undergone a four year renewal, completed in 2014.  It was my first “post-refurbishment” visit to the museum and no doubt I was totally mesmerized.

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The museum’s setting is very historical.  It consists of the old Ottoman Mahmut Paşa Bedesten (bazaar) storage building and the Kurşunlu Han (inn, caravanserai). Today, Kurşunlu Han is used as the administrative building housing the offices, the library, conference hall, laboratory and workshops and the Mahmut Pasha Vaulted Bazaar is used as the exhibition hall.

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I would say that the museum is far more than just a spectacular history lesson, it is a visual celebration of life. It is the perfect introduction to the complex weave of Turkey’s ancient past, housing artifacts meticulously picked from just about every significant archaeological site in Anatolia.

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The magnificent old bazaar building housing the exhibits is no doubt worth seeing in itself, blending in with the splendid Anatolian artifacts being displayed. The exhibits of the priceless collection within this Ottoman building  start with the Paleolithic era (early stone age), and continue chronologically in a spiral manner through the Neolithic, Early Bronze, Assyrian trading colonies (when writing emerged), Hittite, Phrygian (Sea People), Urartian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuq and Ottoman periods. There is an extensive collection of artifacts from the excavations at Karain, Çatalhöyük, Hacılar, Canhasan, Beyce Sultan, Alacahöyük, Kültepe (one of the world’s oldest and wealthiest bazaars), Acemhöyük, Boğazköy (Gordion-capital of Phrygians), Pazarlı, Altıntepe, Adilcevaz and Patnos as well as examples of several periods.  An interactive digital screen at the entrance is a great point to start and orient one’s self.

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During my visit to the museum, passing from one section to the next, strolling from one era to the next, I realized once again how many different elements are to come together before a human community develops to the level of sophistication commonly referred to as a “civilization”. How rivers and the sea are a crucial part of the history, how the development of writing has greatly enhanced civilizations. It really is very striking how throughout the human journey, creative insight and actions have flowered in response to problems and as societies have been creating solutions, they have not neglected to take time to embellish their environs with art.

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With the many different peoples who have somehow called this land home, Turkey has rightfully earned a reputation for being the cultural melting pot of many civilizations. I believe the area around  Ankara Castle and The Anatolian Civilizations Museum takes visitors on a grand exploration of the peoples from around the region that have happily settled on Turkey’s shores over the past 8000 years. It is no doubt like walking across the pages of a history book, only much more fun with visuals.

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I very much cherish my annual visits and highly recommend a stroll around the Citadel as well as at least an hour in the museum to anyone who visits Turkey’s capital. It will, I am sure, be an opportunity to discover and experience a very different Ankara, one with many many tales for those who would like to listen.

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Museum of Anatolian Civilisations

(Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi)

Address: Gözcü Sokak No: 2

06240 Ulus, ANKARA, Turkey

Tel: +90 (312) 324 31 60, –61, –65

Working hours: 08:30-17:30

The museum’s website does not give an indication that the museum is closed on any particular day of the week except for the first day of publicholidays.

Unless you like walking up steep hills, a taxi to the museum is the best option.  It is only 1,5 km from the center of Ulus and approx. 6 km from Kızılay.


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