Climbing through Ankara's history: From Ulus to the Kale

Mongeri building on Çankırı Caddesi

January 10, 2010, Sunday/ 11:35:00
Pity poor Ankara. Long used to playing the Ugly Sister to İstanbul's Cinderella, this year Turkey's capital is likely to languish even deeper in the shade as its rival preens in the sun as a European Capital of Culture.

 All of which will be a bit hard to swallow given that the city has been trying hard to reinvent itself, scrubbing up the areas around the Kale (Citadel) and the shrine of Hacı Bayram Veli, and reopening all those museums which used to delight in greeting would-be visitors with signs saying “closed for restoration.”

Many people know that old İstanbul, like Rome, was built on seven hills, but actually it's Ankara that is the more obviously hilly city, a fact that is particularly evident if you stand on the terrace in front of the Hacı Bayram Veli shrine. From the visitor's point of view the most important of these hills is the one that runs all the way up from the Ulus Metro station to the Kale, with busy Çankırı Caddesi bisecting it at Heykel, the monument to Ankara's great hero, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This hill is like a layer cake, slicing through the many segments of the city's history and littered with monuments stretching back as far as the Romans.

Records show that Ankara was originally founded by the Phrygians around 750 B.C. The Phrygians seem to have settled around the site of the Hacı Bayram Veli shrine and around the site to the southwest where Atatürk's tomb was later erected, but it was the Romans who left the monuments that still stand today. These are mainly clustered to the east and west of Çankırı Caddesi and include the extensive remains of a bath suite dating back to the third century; a single column permanently surmounted by a stork's nest probably dating back to 362 and the visit of the Emperor Julian the Apostate; and the walls of a temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus and Rome dating back to the first century. This temple is particularly interesting because it fits into a pattern whereby many religious sites remain holy despite successive changes of culture; built originally to fulfill Imperial Rome's requirement that its rulers be worshipped as gods, it became a Christian church during the Byzantine era and today stands right up against the walls of the shrine to Hacı Bayram Veli. Its walls are also inscribed with a list of the deeds of Augustus, an inscription that has grown in importance since the original from which it was copied was lost. (The temple is currently off-limits due to repaving work.)

Faint traces of what may have been the agora (market) link Julian's Column to Hisar Parkı Caddesi, the road running up to the Kale, and as you mount the hill you will see, on the left, the battered remains of a theater probably dating back to the first century. It's likely that the Romans would also have fortified the Kale, although the existing walls date back mainly to the Selçuk period. The Selçuks left quite a mark on Ankara, even though it's not especially obvious. Even the much-revered tomb of Hacı Bayram Veli was built in Selçuk style in 1427-8, although it was renovated by the Ottoman architect Sinan.

Plenty of people find their way to this shrine. Far fewer find their way to Ankara's unsung Selçuk treasures: two mosques hiding in Atpazarı, the newly laundered petticoat of the Kale. The first of the two, the Aslanhane Cami, has the good grace to advertise its potential interest since the exterior of the building is studded with pieces of old masonry obviously garnered from Roman and Byzantine sites. Inside it's an absolute gem, its wooden ceiling supported by columns made from entire tree trunks topped off with stone capitals, again clearly filched from Roman sites. The Aslanhane Cami dates back to 1289-90, when it was built for Ahi Şerafeddin, who governed Ankara during the period when the Selçuks were forced to pay allegiance to the Mongols. His tomb can be found across the road alongside what looks suspiciously like the slight remains of another Roman temple. A little further down the hill the second and more low-profile of these rare wooden mosques is the Ahi Elvan Cami, another 13th-century structure with almost identical wooden columns and pilfered stone capitals. (Its wooden shutters are preserved in the new Vakıf Eserleri Müzesi at Opera.)

As ever, the coming of the Ottomans in the 15th century initiated a new phase of building, a fine example of which will be seen by everyone who transits Ankara specifically to see the wonderful Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. This is housed inside a bedesten (covered market hall) built on the Kale slopes between 1464 and 1471 by Mahmut Pasa, grand vizier to Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Most of the less-sturdy buildings erected in Ottoman times have long since vanished, but inside the Kale and tumbling back down the hill towards Çankırı Caddesi there are numerous wood-and-stone houses built during the 19th century. Some of the best of them inside the Kale and around its walls have been restored and turned into cafes, restaurants and boutique hotels; others around the Hacı Bayram Veli shrine are about to receive the same treatment.

For most people that's the sum of historic Ankara, but of course the city only really came into its own in 1923, when Atatürk moved the capital of the new republic here from İstanbul. Cumhuriyet Bulvarı, the lower part of the hill that stretches from the Ulus Metro station to Heykel, is a hymn in stone to those exciting early years. Here you can now visit the newly renovated Birinci Büyük Millet Binası (First National Assembly Building), a single-storey edifice designed in 1917-20, while the War of Independence was still raging, by Hafi Bey, and the İkinci Büyük Millet Binası (Second National Assembly Building), an altogether grander two-storey building designed in 1924 by Vedat Tek. Facing it across the street is a similarly imposing structure, originally designed by Tek in 1924 to house the Ministry of Health but completed as a hotel called the Ankara Palas by Kemalettin Bey in 1928 after the initial funding ran out. It's currently undergoing restoration.

It's a shame that Çankırı Caddesi is such a busy traffic thoroughfare since that makes it hard to appreciate the many magnificent buildings dating back to the early days of the republic which line it. Nevertheless it's well worth taking a stroll along it to admire three bank buildings designed by the Italian architect Giulio Mongeri -- the Garanti Bankası (1926), the Türkiye İş Bankası (1929) and the Ziraat Bankası (1926-29); the Maliye Bakanlığı designed by Yahya Ahmet and Mühendis İrfan in 1925; and the Yunus Emre Vakfı, also designed by Mongeri in 1928. Then turn the corner onto İstiklal Caddesi, which runs back to the Ulus Metro. Here you can admire the Vakıf Apartmanı block, an elegant pile designed by Kemalettin Bey between 1928 and 1930 which has been restored to house the State Ballet in lovely rooms overlooking Gençlik Parkı. Even this has been given a complete makeover and now makes the perfect place to plop down on a bench and wonder at so much history condensed into such a small area.

WHERE TO STAY

Coming soon - - an all-suites hotel in the restored Çukurhan

facing the clock tower of the Kale and beside the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.

Angora House Hotel, Kale.

Tel: 0312-309 8380

Sevda-Cenap And Müzik Vakfı Konuk Evi, Kale.

Tel: 0312-310 2304

Hotel Spor, Ulus.

Tel: 0312-324 2165

HOW TO GET THERE

There are frequent flights, buses and trains from İstanbul to Ankara, and connections from Ankara to all parts of the country.

 

 

A restored Ottoman home in Kale

 

 

The first national assembly building

 

 

A restored shop in Atpazarı

 

 

Mongeri building on Çankırı Caddesi

 

 

Ankara Palas

 

 

The interior of Aslanhane Mosque

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