Ankara’s Citadel

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While primarily known as Turkey’s modern capital, Ankara in fact has a long history. Nowhere does this history come more alive than in the Citadel, which overlooks the city from a 978m-high hill.

With its many layers of architecture, Ankara’s Citadel offers visitors a fascinating glimpse of the city’s history. Today more a cluster of walls and towers than a unified structure, the fortress was built by the Byzantines in the 7th century and then expanded by them two centuries later. Several mosques built by the Seljuks in the 12th and 13th centuries remain the city’s oldest mosques, with much of their original woodwork still intact.

Later, the Ottomans built enormous khans, or caravanserais (roadside inns where travellers could rest), turning the vicinity of the Citadel into a market area. Although the Citadel had greatly deteriorated by the end of the 20th century, the area is now being gradually revitalised and holds many attractions for visitors.

Entering the Citadel, one encounters a maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets, lined with traditional old houses built out of mud and timber covered with painted plaster. Some are still inhabited by local families, some sadly are crumbling into ruin, while others have been turned into restaurants and cafés, some with ‘museum’ rooms where Ottoman-era furnishings, antiques, and traditional Turkish clothing are displayed. A couple of boutique hotels offer guests a similarly historic atmosphere.

As you stroll through the winding streets, you may even find yourself forgetting that you’re smack in the middle of a modern metropolis of more than 4.5 million. Roughly in the centre of the Citadel is the Şark Kulesi, or ‘Eastern Tower’, reached by a series of stone steps. Having fallen into ruin, the tower was reconstructed in recent years and its walls are now safe to climb. And it’s well worth the climb, for the tower offers incredible 360° views of the city.

On a clear day you can pick out Ankara’s modern landmarks, including the Anıtkabir – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s imposing mausoleum, the multi-storey hotels of the upscale Kavaklıdere district, and Atakule Tower.

Just below the Citadel’s outer walls is Atpazarı Sokağı, or ‘Horse Market Street’, so named because animal feed used to be sold there. The nearby hans built by the Ottomans in the 15th and 16th centuries once housed a variety of merchants and tradesmen. In the modern era these impressive structures gradually fell out of use and into disrepair, but two have been restored and made into museums, with another set to open soon as a luxury hotel.

Befitting its history as a marketplace, Atpazarı Sokağı and the surrounding neighbourhood of Samanpazarı (‘Hay Market’) are home to an array of shops selling antiques, carpets, ceramics, and souvenirs. Despite its many transformations, the Citadel has remained close to its past.

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