Ankara: A city of contrasts

Neolithic sun disc

Turkey’s capital is as different from Istanbul as you could imagine. Istanbul is like a decrepit dowager aunt, clad in a dress that might have been in fashion a few centuries back and always preoccupied with the past and her glory days as a fresh young debutante. Ankara is brash and modern, a city of yuppies, politicians and upwardly mobile young professionals.

Byzantine sculpture over citadel gate

The self-contained mini-cities with their security guards and walls that have sprung up around some parts of Istanbul are the norm here, but the families and young go-getters I encountered absolutely love this demonstration of affluence.

To drive your Mercedes or BMW up to the barrier and nod to the security man to let you through, press a remote to activate the underground garage door and take the elevator up to your flat, letting yourself in with a key-card, is the pinnacle of chic, a clear demonstration of professional success.

And jolly good luck to them, that’s what I say. Turkey went through difficult times during most of the last century, and joining the rat race is now surely the right of every citizen.

Citadel – interior main tower

Fortunately, I was able to completely ignore most of the city because there’s a clear demarcation between the historic quarter and the piles of concrete and steel which characterise the sprawling rest of it. The citadel in particular was marvellous, as neat a castle as you could wish for.

This masterpiece of Byzantine military architecture dominates the northern part of the city and its walls enclose an assortment of small shops, cafes, restaurants and wooden houses. There are sheer drops from most of the walls and towers, and a refreshing absence of warnings such as you’d see every few yards on such a building in England.

The nanny state was never in evidence here and one of the joys of exploring ruins in Turkey is that you take your life in your hands more often than not.

Ankara from citadel walls

The other great attraction of Ankara for me was the truly outstanding Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. It’s the best museum in the whole country and occupies two renovated Ottoman buildings from the 15th century, just below the citadel.

The displays include everything from prehistoric flint tools and Assyrian cuneiform tablets to Roman and Hittite sculptures, and whenever you see a reproduction of an Anatolian inscription, ivory or sculpture in some other museum collection elsewhere in the world its original will almost certainly be here.

Wooden buildings within citadel

There are other museums in Ankara that I’d love to explore, in particular the Ethnography Museum, but I was pushed for time on this occasion. Ankara is at the cutting edge of modern Turkey, and it’s a very fine city and a showcase for the many great achievements of the Turkish Republic.

I have to say, though, that if my head is in Ankara my heart is definitely farther to the west, with the decrepit but still charming and dignified dowager Istanbul.

Museum ivory

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