Central Anatolia Feature

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From Genghis Khan to Atatürk

Tamerlane, the fearsome descendent of Genghis Khan, laid siege to Ankara in 1402 and wrested control of the city away from Beyazit, the Ottoman sultan. Then, perhaps bored with the landscape or seeking greater riches in the abundance of China, Tamerlane and his Mongol horde quickly gave the city back to the Ottomans and turned around and headed back east toward the Mongol plains. Tamerlane died a year later.

Tamerlane's victory in Ankara was but a later scene in the city's long history. Local legend attributes Ankara's foundation to the Amazons, the mythical female warriors, but many archaeologists have factually indentified it with Ankuwash, thought to have been founded around 1200 BC by the Hittites and then taken over by the Phrygians around 700 BC. The city was known to the Greeks and Romans as Ancyra or Ankyra, and later as Angora, famed for its wool. Alexander the Great conquered Ankara centuries before Augustus Caesar annexed the city to Rome in 25 BC.

Over the coming millennia Ankara was attacked and worn down by Persian, Arab, Seljuk, Mongol, and Ottoman invaders. By the early 20th century, Ankara was little more than a provincial town with nice goats and an illustrious past. In 1919, as World War I and the Turkish War of Independence raged, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made Ankara the headquarters of his secular resistance movement.

When Turkey was declared a republic four years later, Ankara was declared its capital. Atatürk mobilized the young nation's resources to make the city a symbol of a modern and secular Turkish city built on European lines. Tens of thousands of workers streamed in on foot to help build it, with designers intentionally abandoning Ottoman architecture in favor of a symbolic, stark modernism influenced by the Vienna cubist and German Bauhaus schools.

As with most planned cities, Ankara today is mostly convenient and pretty characterless. Despite Atatürk's dreams, it never made a serious bid to overtake Istanbul as the country's cultural capital.

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