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Ankara History

Phrygian mythmakers will have you believe that gold-loving King Midas founded Ancyra (now Ankara). In reality, its history stretches back the Bronze Age, with early settlements providing a foundation for what would become the capital of modern day Turkey.

Alexander the Great conquered the city in 333BC but following his death a decade later, the city was bequeathed to Antigonid dynasty, led by Antigonus the One-Eyed.

That triggered a period in which Ankara was transferred from hand to hand, with Galatians, Romans, Byzantines and Seljuks all adding to its development. Nevertheless, with the seat of power firmly entrenched in Istanbul, Ankara never really grew beyond being a rather insignificant provincial city.

It found a place in the history books in 1402 when Timur, another Turkic ruler, defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Ankara. But by the following year, the city had been recaptured by the Sultans, and it lapsed back into relative obscurity.

Things changed after WWI, when the defeat of the Ottoman Army in 1919 led to the Allied Forces taking control of Istanbul. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey, chose Ankara as command centre of the nationalist resistance.

Four years later, the Turkish Grand National Assembly voted to move the capital to Ankara indefinitely. Soon the city started to grow and in 1929 the Turkish Government ran a competition for an international architect to develop their capital.

It was won by German, Hermann Jansen, whose plans only made provisions for the middle- and upper-classes. The poor went on to build gecekondular (shanty houses) around the city edges.

Jansen’s plans, though, were never fully completed and he asked for his name to be removed from the project in 1938.

The city then grew organically, with new districts such as Yenişehir and Kızılay built atop Jansen’s streets in the place of the Ottoman-era buildings that once dominated.

Today, modern Ankara is a beguiling blend of contemporary and ancient and, although not quite as big as Istanbul, is the second most populous city in Turkey.

Did you know?
• Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, was born in Ankara.
• The Roman Baths of Ankara were still in use up until the 8th century when they were largely destroyed by a fire.
• Kocatepe Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world. It can hold up to 24,000 people.