From Cappadocia we made a quick stop in Ankara, Turkey’s capital and second largest city. Second largest, but by no means the second most interesting; on the bus ride in we saw miles and miles and miles of sprawl. And while it’s an old city, there was really not that much going on until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk made it the capital of his revolt against the Ottoman Sultan. When he won that war and thus brought the Ottoman empire to an end, he made it the capital of the new Turkish Republic rather than maintaining Istanbul in that role. In the 1920s it was a city of 30,000, growing to today’s 4.5 million in just a few decades.(While the city itself isn’t really that interesting, I was intrigued to learn that through much of history the city was known across Europe as Angora. From that came the name of Angora goats [source of mohair], Angora cats, and Angora rabbits. How’s that for making the most of a modest history?)
The main reason we made our way up there from Cappadocia – besides the fact that it was a nice mid-way point en route to Istanbul – is that our old friends Sara & Erik, both former graduate school classmates, live there. Eric is fairly recently retired from the U.S. Foreign Service, but Sarah is still in it, so that’s their post for another year. Over the years Mark & I have periodically thought it would fun to see them in one of their far-flung posts but until now we’ve never made it. As they’re anticipating Sarah’s retirement in a couple years they’ve bought and restored a house in Umbria, Italy, where they’ll live half the year so chances are we’ll see more of them in the coming years. In case it isn’t obvious, we like Italy.We got into Ankara pretty late one evening and were leaving early two days later, so we only had one day to see the city. With a local guide like Erik, though, we made the most of our day. As he put it, “There are just three things you have to see: the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the Citadel, and Ataturk’s mausoleum.” So he showed us up to the Citadel, ruins of an old 9th century castle; 15 minutes later we’d knocked off the first assignment.
Next up was the Museum, a nice little survey of all that’s gone on in Anatolia over the last 10,000 years or so. Mark & I have learned that we like modest-sized museums, and this certainly fit the bill, just a nice little taste of all the great history in a beautiful setting. Erik ran some errands while we toured the museum and then took us to his favorite kebab place right near there.
Final stop was the Ataturk mausoleum, quite the monumental bit of hagiography. That’s not to say Ataturk doesn’t deserve a hefty degree of respect. Almost single handedly he marshaled the Turks’ dissatisfaction with the way the Sultan was effectively giving the country to the European victors after World War I and created the modern democratic Turkish republic. And in the process dragged Turkey into the modern era, creating the secular state that’s so important to the region today.
So that was it – some ruins, a museum, and a mausoleum. Then a couple dinners with Sarah & Erik and we were off to Istanbul. Sadly, they were off to a four-day Blue Cruise down on the coast from Bodrum. Sadly, I say, because they’d planned it with friends who had to cancel. And then, after weeks of fabulous weather, the forecast was for storms on their arrival. We haven’t heard how it went yet, but the signs were not positive.
On to Istanbul!