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ANKARA: HİSAR AND SAMANPAZARI

ANK6The best place to start exploring Ankara is the Hisar (AKA Ankara Kalesi or Kale for short), the fortified area which gazes down on Ulus from on high.

Like İstanbul, Ankara was built on a collection of hills, and the Hisar bestrides the summit of one of them, with two sets of defensive ramparts ringing it like hoops in the frame of a crinoline skirt.

Above them, the walls of the actual castle date back mainly to Selçuk times, although the old marble door lintels and tombstone inscriptions set into them make it evident that much of the building material came from abandoned Roman and Byzantine properties.

The area enclosed by the Hisar is the oldest continually occupied part of town, its narrow streets still lined with old Ottoman houses that are being snapped up for conversion into bars and restaurants.

One specific monument to look out for is the early 13th-century Alaadin Çami whose portico and walls were built by the Selçuks using pieces of old Roman masonry. The same is true of the nearby Şark Kulesi which offers fine views down towards Ulu. 

Although some of Ankara’s poorer residents continue to maintain a traditional lifestyle here, a programme of speedy urban regeneration is in progress which will probably see most of them moved out in the foreseeable future.

If you leave the Hisar via the Parmak Kapısı (Finger Gate) beside the tall clocktower you will emerge opposite the Rahmi M Koç Industrial Museum, a shrine to industrial archaeology housed in the old Çengelhan.
 
The Çengelhan (Hook Han) was built by Damat Rüstem Paşa in 1522-23 during the reign of his father-in-law, Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. At the time it was said to be one of the four finest hans in existence with a vast stable to accommodate the camels of passing traders, many of whom came here to snap up the wool for which Angora was famous.ANK9
 
The Çengelhan was just one of a set of hans, most of them now in a state of dereliction. Fortunately, the Koç family decided to restore this one to house a mixed-bag of industrial relics, most poignantly a reconstruction of the hardware store in which Vehbi Koç established the business that grew to become Koç Holdings. It also contains a collection of machines and gadgetry from around the world that will probably entertain those boy children who yawned their way round the archaeology.
 
The courtyard of the Çengelhan, where traders once jostled for position, now houses a classy restaurant, while a small rooftop café offers a fine view over the Atpazarı (Horse Market), an atmospheric bazaar area where fruit and nuts are sold in vast quantities.
 
If you turn right out of the Parmuk Kapısı and walk downhill you will come on the left to the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (Anadolu Medeniyetleri Müzesi), the jewel in Ankara’s crown and pleasingly housed in a 15th-century bedesten (covered market hall). This is the place to come to gawp in amazement at the finds from all the country’s most important archaeological sites – ÇatalhöyükHattuşaGordion and many others – and it’s the one place in town where you might find the odd tour group blocking your view of the exhibits.

Note that the museum will be largely closed for restoration throughout 2013, with only one hall open to visitors.

ANK7If instead you turn left  from Parmak Kapısi and walk downhill you will pass through the recently relandscaped Samanpazar (Hay Market)ı, home to most of the town's antiques dealers.
 
On the right you will eventually see the Arslanhane Cami built in 1289-90 for Ahi Şerefeddin who governed Ankara in the period when the Selçuks were forced to pay allegiance to the Mongols. His tomb also survives just across the road.
 
It's well worth popping inside to see the forest of wooden columns resting on reused Roman stonework that support the ceiling. In 2013 restoration of the mosque was in progress.

Further downhill the 13th-century Ahi Elvan Cami is another "forest mosque" full of wooden columns resting on reused masonry. 

ANK8Ahe Elvan CamiSleeping

For visitors this is the most atmospheric part of town in which to stay. 

Angora House Hotel

Divan Çukurhan Hotel

Sevda-Cenap And Müzik Vakfı Konuk Evi, Kale. Tel: 0312-310 2304

Transport info

No buses serve the Hisar so if you don't want to walk up the steep hill from Ulus you will probably need to take a taxi. 

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