Even today, people are surprised to learn that Istanbul ISN'T the capital of Turkey. Their next question usually is, why is Ankara the capital and not Istanbul? We understand the confusion. After all, when looking at cities in Turkey, much hype revolves around Istanbul, the largest city. Politically, Istanbul is Turkey's stronghold. The saying goes that if you control Istanbul, you control Turkey. Additionally, most people head to Istanbul rather than Ankara for tourism and travel. A modern city, Istanbul also stands at the forefront of education, business, real estate and investment, healthcare and finance. So, the confusion is understandable. But to answer the question, there is a story to be told about how and when Ankara became the capital of Turkey.
Why is Ankara the Capital of Turkey?
History is pivotal in understanding why Ankara, now a modern city, was selected as the capital. Ancient records reveal that Ankara, known as Ancyra in ancient times, dates back more than 3,000 years. The strategic location in central Anatolia made the area vital for trade and commerce throughout history. This strategic positioning provided buffers against potential invaders and allowed the region to flourish and prosper.
The decision to establish Ankara as Turkey's capital happened following the Ottoman Empire's fall and the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Previously both the Ottoman and Byzantine empires had their capital in Istanbul, which was then known as Constantinople. They did this because the geographical proximity to Europe and the Bosphorus Strait played vital roles in shipping routes.
Byzantine and Ottoman rulers symbolised Istanbul with power and prestige. As the seat of government, the city represented their authority over vast territories and diverse populations. Additionally, both empires considered themselves as continuations of the Roman Empire, and by making Constantinople/Istanbul their capital, they emphasised their connection to the illustrious Roman past.
However, the Ottomans were defeated in world war I, leading to the Turkish War of Independence. The Turks, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, won this war. Ataturk, the revered founder of modern Turkey, sought to reshape the nation from the Ottoman past. He envisioned a new, progressive, and unified Turkey, and selecting Ankara as the capital aligned perfectly with this vision.
Ankara offered a blank canvas, free from the weight of historical legacies and complex ethnic and religious influences that might have overshadowed Istanbul's potential as a capital. Ataturk saw Ankara as a rebirth, a chance to build a modern nation to bridge the gap between the East and the West.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Ankara
1. War of Independence: During the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923), Ankara emerged as the resistance heartland against foreign occupation forces. Ataturk, as the nationalist movement leader, established the Grand National Assembly in Ankara in April 1920 as the legitimate governing body and the heart of the independence struggle.
2. Republic Declaration: On October 29, 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared the new Republic of Turkey, marking the end of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of a new era. He chose Ankara as the capital of the newly formed Turkish republic, symbolising breaks from the imperial past and Istanbul, which was associated with the Ottoman Empire.
3. Strategic Location: Ataturk selected Ankara because the strategic geographic location in the heart of Anatolia provided safer and more defensible places, away from the borders and potential threats from foreign powers.
4. Building the New Turkish Republic: Once Ankara became Turkey's capital, Ataturk initiated an ambitious project of nation-building and modernisation. He introduced sweeping reforms to transform Turkey into a secular, democratic, and Westernised nation. These reforms, known as "Kemalist Reforms," touched every aspect of society, including legal, political, educational, and cultural realms.
5. Modernity: By establishing Ankara as the capital of Turkey, Ataturk created a new modern Turkey, distinct from the Ottoman past. The city was his vision of a progressive nation that embraced modern principles, equality, and secularism.
6. Legacy and Mausoleum: Ataturk's presence and influence on Ankara continue to be felt even after his passing in 1938. Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Ataturk, in Ankara, pays tribute to the revered leader. The monumental structure holds his tomb reflecting national pride as a remembrance site.
7. Political and Administrative Center: Ankara's status solidified the city as Turkey's political centre. Ankara houses critical government institutions, ministries, and foreign embassies, reflecting Turkey's governance and international relations.
Istanbul Versus Ankara
So while Istanbul remains Turkey's cultural and historical gem, Ankara rightfully holds the title of Turkey's capital. As visitors explore this dynamic city, they discover threads of history, ambition, and progress, truly making Ankara the heart and soul of Turkey. Choosing between the two cities depends on personal preferences and interests, with Istanbul, catering more to tourists and Ankara offering glimpses into modern Turkish life and Turkey's government. Both cities play integral roles in shaping Turkey's identity, making them equally important and captivating in their own right. But there are some significant differences.
1: Historical Significance of Both Cities
Istanbul: As the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul boasts an unparalleled historical heritage. The city was the Roman Empire's heart as Constantinople wielded power throughout the centuries.
Ankara: Though ancient, Ankara's significance primarily revolves around the capital city status after the Ottoman Empire's demise. The city played crucial roles in modern Turkey's formation and development.
2: City Architecture Throughout Time
Istanbul: The city's architecture reflects diverse history, with stunning examples of Byzantine, Ottoman, and modern influences. Iconic structures like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace adorn the skyline.
Ankara: As a more modern capital, Ankara's architecture is characterised by contemporary designs and government buildings interspersed with Ottoman and Roman structure remnants.
3. Size and Population
Istanbul: As Turkey's largest city, Istanbul is a sprawling metropolis with multicultural populations, and important trade, tourism, and economic activity.
Ankara: While still a significant city, Ankara is significantly smaller and less crowded than Istanbul. The primary role as the political centre makes the city more government-oriented.
4. Turkish Cultures and Lifestyles
Istanbul: The city's rich cultural heritage is evident in arts, music, and cuisine. The diverse population and long history reflects the city’s traditions and customs.
Ankara: As the seat of government, Ankara's culture leans more towards Turkish political and bureaucratic aspects. Cultural highlights are less vibrant in entertainment and nightlife compared to Istanbul.
5. City Break Tourism in Turkey
Istanbul: As a major tourist destination, Istanbul attracts millions of visitors every year. The historical landmarks, vibrant bazaars, and stunning waterfronts attract many travellers.
Ankara: While the city may not receive as many tourists as Istanbul, Ankara still offers attractions for history enthusiasts and those interested in understanding Turkey's modern development.
6. Geography and Location in Turkey
Istanbul: Located on the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul's unique geography straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, making it the only city in the world spanning two continents.
Ankara: Sitting in the central Anatolia region of Turkey, Ankara is surrounded by the vast central plateau and lacks the coastal charm that Istanbul enjoys.
Main Attractions, Buildings and Highlights of Ankara Capital City of Turkey
1. Anitkabir - The Mausoleum of Ataturk: Anitkabir, is the grand and awe-inspiring mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This monument's sheer scale and architectural beauty pay homage to the nation's visionary leader. As you walk through the vast courtyard and witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, Turkey's history and the legacy of Ataturk's vision shines through.
2. Museum of Anatolian Civilisations: Housed in a former Ottoman han (caravanserai), this fascinating museum showcases thousands of artefacts from the Neolithic era to the Byzantine period. Marvel at intricately carved Hittite artefacts, ancient religious relics, and impressive collections of Roman and Greek artefacts, each narrating unique chapters of Anatolian heritage.
3. Ulus Old Town: Stroll through the charming cobbled streets of Ulus, Ankara's old town, where history comes alive amidst traditional Ottoman houses, buildings and ancient landmarks. Explore Haci Bayram Mosque, symbolising Ottoman architecture, and browse through bustling markets offering local crafts, spices, and traditional Turkish delights.
4. Citadel of Ankara: Perched atop a hill, the Citadel of Ankara, also known as Ankara Kalesi, offers breathtaking panoramic city views. Wander through this well-preserved fortress's ancient walls and towers, dating back to the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods.
5. Atakule Tower: For modern touchs, Head to Atakule Tower, Ankara's iconic landmark. This 410-foot-high tower offers bird's-eye views of the city's skyline. Enjoy panoramic meals at the revolving restaurant, or venture up to the observation deck to witness mesmerising sunsets over the city.
6. Genclik Park: Embrace nature's embrace at Genclik Park, one of Turkey's largest urban parks. Ideal for families and friends, the park offers lush green spaces, serene ponds, and recreational activities such as bike rides, picnics, and boat cruises.
7. Kocatepe Mosque: Witness the elegance of Kocatepe Mosque, a modern masterpiece building of Islamic architecture. As Ankara’s largest mosque, Kocatepe Mosque's soaring minarets and stunning interior creates serene ambiences for prayer and contemplation.
Also, About Istanbul and Turkey
Bosphorus Strait: The Bosphorus in Istanbul holds significant historical, geographical, and cultural importance. Spanning approximately 17 miles, the strait is the natural boundary between Europe and Asia, making Istanbul the world’s only city to straddle two continents. The strait connects the Black and Marmara seas, hence connecting international trade and transportation. The shores are adorned with iconic landmarks, like the majestic Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, adding to the strait's allure.
Constantinople to Istanbul: Constantinople, the historic capital of the Byzantine Empire, underwent significant transformation in the early 20th century when the city was renamed Istanbul. The name changes officially took place on March 28, 1930, following the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. The decision to rename the city was part of broader efforts to modernise the country and move away from the imperial past.
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