10 October 2022
5:47 am – a cacophony of prayer calls stream over the city battling for the airwaves from every direction. I suspect the large Melike Hatun Mosque just around the corner is winning. I go back to sleep.
The sun is brightly streaming into my room and the castle is still up there. No rush this morning. It is planned as an easy day. Instead of going downstairs for breakfast, I will find a cup of coffee somewhere on the street. This city is not at a loss for tea and coffee. And it will NOT be Nestle’s crystals!
My destination is Ancient Rome. As I meander through the back streets I discover Ankara, one that I can appreciate. The walkways are shop after shop selling everything imaginable, streets and businesses are alive with activities. I smell my way through the spice market with all its mounds of colorful spices, dried fruits and mushrooms, and wreaths of garlic and dried peppers But I’m sure it’s the same problem here – you can never find what you want when you need it.
I walk around the gardens and plazas of Haci Bayram Mosque, built during the Ottoman Empire and in use since 1428. It is pleasantly quiet as it sits above the fray of the city. I appreciate their escalators. The large mosque complex also sits over and within what was once part of a great Roman settlement during the time of Emperor Augustus. His temple is adjacent.
The mosque complex offers fantastic views for miles and it overlooks Roman ruins. Here, at Augustus’ Roman temple, were found the emperor’s inscribed achievements written into the walls in two languages with red letters on a gold surface. After the death of Emperor Augustus in 14 A.D. the original inscription was on two bronze columns in front of Augustus’ mausoleum in Rome but the best preserved one is here on the walls in Ankara. The list is quite long.
Very sparse remnants of the Temple of Augustus are left. Just some partial ruins of the temple’s once impressive walls remain. I am learning that finding Roman ruins is not easy. After walking downhill from the Haci Bayram, I find that what is mentioned on Google Maps and corner street signs exaggerates what one will find.
Most ruins have been surrounded by huge car and bus parks. It looks as if they’re trying to restore sites but currently it is more like piles of random rocks and open excavations. The experience is not much more than being the only blonde non-Muslim woman walking around these gritty streets and busy bus parks. The condition and restoration of the Roman theater is coming along much better, as I saw on my walk yesterday.
The exception to all this is the wonderful Roman Baths Open Air Park. Excavations began when the first artifacts were uncovered during construction work in 1931. Since then, ongoing archaeological digs have uncovered a very large complex of baths and a sporting complex. There are also many gravestones, steles, lions, and priceless statues and artifacts from the dig, mostly belonging to Roman and Byzantine period, most of which are in the Anatolian Civilizations Museum across town. Based on coins and artifacts found at the site, the bath/sports complex was thought to be constructed in the third century by Emperor Caracalla (212-217), better know for his baths in Rome.
This is a nice place to escape the noisy traffic below. Views of the city include many pointy towers – all minarets and not cell towers. A long colonnaded route once connected this to the temple of Augustus over by the Haci Bayram Mosque.
Looking at a city map, you can see how the castle is south atop the highest hill and moving in a northwesterly direction and downhill you come upon the Roman theater, Augustus’ Roman temple and the colonnaded route to the baths. All key areas were connected with the standard efficiency of Roman water and waste systems.
A second peaceful interlude in Ankara is Gençlik Park. Don’t let the huge Ferris wheel put you off. This is a wonderfully charming, relaxing park filled with benches, lounge chairs, tables and picnic spots. The water fountains, arbors, sculptures, miles of walkways, center lake and Atatürk Memorial add the perfect ambiance for a relaxing lunch, ice cream, or coffee.
Gençlik is the perfect spot to contemplate Ankara and readjust my thinking. The city has gained plus-points as a result of its ancient history and archeology, cheap metered taxis, green spaces and their kindness to cats and strangers. However, a cool draft for lunch or end of day remains elusive.
The rule is they don’t sell alcohol so many feet from a mosque; unfortunately there’s a mosque every so many feet.