Ankara is the capital city of Turkey and the country’s second largest city after Istanbul. Istanbul, the mighty age old capital of empires, handed over its crown to a tiny, undeveloped Anatolian town called Ankara in October 1923. By choosing Ankara as his capital, the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk propelled Ankara from a small provincial backwater of less than 30.000 into a blasting modern city of nearly 4.5 million.
The city has an important foreign community, working mostly for embassies and foreign representations. Ankara already had a long past: it was known by the Hittites as Ankuwash and Ancyra by the Romans.
Some of the major neighborhoods in Ankara are Ulus (in the older part of town), Kızılay, Kavaklıdere, Gaziosmanpaşa and Çankaya.
The Ankara Castle, with its 42 towers that are on average 15 meters high, is perched on a craggy lava outcrop towering over Ulus. Some of its traditional houses made of wood and dried-mud bricks laid in an interesting diagonal pattern, have been restored and turned into restaurants and boutiques.
Kızılay, the central hub of the city, is named after the Red Crescent (Kızılay) Headquarters, which is located there. Kızılay is the downtown of the city. It is a shopping and business district and a hub, highly packed with people transiting from various points of the city on their way to and from work. There are many meat and kebab restaurants, cafes, bookstores, and reasonably priced retailers catering to the middle class in Kızılay.
Until not so long ago, Kavaklıdere (Poplar Creek) was known for its vineyards. They have now disappeared and the creek now flows underground.Kuğulu Park (Swan Park), adjacent to Tunalı Hilmi Street, provides the main element of greenery in Kavaklıdere. It provides a peaceful spot in the middle of busy Kavaklıdere. Also part of the landscape is several 5-star international hotel properties and first class boutique hotels.
Gaziosmanpaşa, often shortened to GOP, is still one of the fanciest neighborhoods of Ankara. This is where some of the best restaurants are to be found, as well as diplomatic residences, expensive boutiques and art galleries. Luxury housing with breathtaking views of the city commands high prices. GOP is one of the neighborhoods located within the Çankaya administrative district of Ankara. Çankaya also refers to the area around the residential palace, known as Çankaya Köşkü.
Atatürk lived here, in a vineyard house that has been converted into a museum. Çankaya is now home to numerous embassies. There is also a 125-meter high tower which is one of the symbols of Ankara and called “Atakule”. It can be climbed to the top of the Tower by paying a fee and it has a stunning bird’s eye view of the city.
There are several very good museums and the following are just some of the sites recommended to visit.
A huge statue, portraying Atatürk on horseback, stands in Ulus square, the gateway to the old city. Of course, the most famous tribute to Turkey’s founder is to be found at Anıtkabir, the monumental mausoleum that dominates the quiet Anıttepe residential district. The mausoleum is the first port of call for all foreign dignitaries arriving in the Turkish Capital. Hundreds of thousands of Turks also pay their respect to their late leader every year in front of the marble casket. The War of Independence rooms are also worth visiting while in Anıtkabir.
The best overview of the city’s rich and complex history is to be found at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, located in a restored old bazaar just below the citadel entrance. It contains a rich collection of artifacts that give one a sense of the incredible mix of cultures – layer upon layer of history left by Hittites, Urartian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and others – that have produced today’s Turkey. Since 2005, the privately owned Çengelhan Rahmi M.Koç Museum, a maze of little alleys enjoyed by foreign visitors, adds further value to the citadel area.
When Ankara residents feel the need to escape urban culture, a favorite destination for a day out is the Atatürk Farm or Atatürk Orman Çiftliği. With its zoo, restaurants, dairy farm and greenhouses, it offers opportunities for “al fresco” dining or strolls away from the noise and pollution of the city.