August 1st, the midpoint of summer. It has been hot here in Ankara, and despite a cooler weekend, the result of a huge storm in Istanbul last week, hot days are predicted to return.
A nap in Ulus
I was in Ulus last Wednesday, in particular to pay the semi-annual car tax. An electronic panel registered the noonday temperature as 38 C (= 100 F). As my last stop I headed for the huge covered market, looking for vişne (sour cherries), to make vishnovka, a Russian sour cherry vodka. Vişne are hard to find at our local markets; they are not for eating like sweet cherries, but are used in cooking, for jams and for fruit juice, all fabulous. I also bought one kilo of apricots from Iğdır (impossible to explain in English how this name is pronounced), a province in far eastern Turkey, famous for its apricots and for Mt. Ararat. The greengrocer gave me one to try: sweet, succulent, sublime.
The Ulus district is entirely different from Bilkent, where I live. It’s traditional Turkey, for people with modest incomes and a conservative bent, with little shops of all sorts and the city’s religious epicenter, the 15th-century Hacı Bayram Mosque.
Sign: "This street goes to the Hacı Bayram Mosque"
But Ulus has an interestingly complex texture. As the heart of ancient, medieval, and pre-Republican Ankara, Ulus has Roman ruins (the Temple of Augustus and Roma),
Temple of Augustus and Roma
Seljuk mosques (of which the Arslanhane Mosque is the greatest),
Inside the Arslanhane Mosque
Ottoman buildings (the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is located in a restored han, or commercial building, of the 15th century), imposing government and bank buildings of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, the much-treasured early parliament buildings of the Republic, and now an impressive cluster of museums.
Sign: "History comes alive again in Ankara!"
I bring my Byzantine & Islamic Art & Archaeology students here in November, for a half-day walking tour, in and around the medieval citadel, but that route has been set for years. Only if I am by myself can I see the city freshly.
Ankara citadel: Byzantine fortifications
Is Ankara a great city? I don’t usually think so, but walking around Ulus makes me wonder. I’ll take up the issue with you later, after I finish reading Alexander Garvin’s recent book, What Makes a Great City. Garvin doesn’t discuss examples from Turkey, though, not even Istanbul. Instead, he concentrates on public spaces in European and North American cities. Nonetheless, his insights deserve the attention of those interested in the pros and cons of Turkish cities.
So-called Column of Julian (later 4th century), in Ulus
Driving back from Kaman a few weeks ago, we noted that the posted population of Ankara is now just short of 5 ½ million. That’s incredible. I remember the city from the 1970s, with a population of a mere one and a half million. The character of the city still seems to me pretty much the same, even with intense traffic, sprawl in all directions, sporadic clusters of high-rise office and apartment buildings, and a handsome airport.
Kaman, a city of some 30,000 a two-hour drive southeast of Ankara, is notable in archaeological circles for the multi-period site of Kalehöyük (under excavation since 1985) and, nearby, the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology (founded in 1998), an archaeological museum, and a Japanese garden. The museum and the garden are open to the public.
Inside the Kaman-Kalehöyük Museum
Although Kaman is not far from Ankara, driving there gives you the feeling of going to a very remote place. After turning east off the main north-south Ankara-Adana highway, the countryside starts to empty. Towns, such as there are, are off the main road. Indeed, our archaeobotanist colleague whom we would see at the Japanese Institute told us the land is not particularly fertile, accentuated by the deforestation of recent times (late Ottoman into the Republic). For agriculture, government subsidies are needed.
We did note a new feature as we drove along: at least three mescit, or Muslim chapels, next to the road. In the old days, if someone wanted to pray in a remote spot, he stopped his car on the side of the road, got out, and prayed, using a little prayer rug if he happened to have one.
One of the new mescit / chapels bore a prominent dedication to the martyrs of 15 July, those who died during the attempted coup d’état last year. July 15, whose anniversary was recently commemorated, is being held up as the heroic moment in Turkey’s recent history. The Atatürk Boulevard entrance to the Meclis in Ankara, the Parliament, is now marked by one-meter high blood-red blocks that say: 15 Temmuz Destanı (the July 15th Epic).
A commemorative poster,
which makes the art historian me think of:
We crossed the Kızılırmak, the longest river in Central Anatolia, at a point used for centuries for fording the river. Above a 13th-century Seljuk bridge is a promontory which the Hittites used as a fortress. This is the site of Büklükale, under excavation by the Japanese Institute.
View from Büklükale down toward the Kızılırmak River, with the
Seljuk (lower) and modern (upper) bridges
I had forgotten to buy water before setting out from Ankara and before long I was getting thirsty. There was nowhere to stop, though, without driving off the main road into one of the small towns in the area. Eventually I saw a sign, Büfe/Market, and we pulled over. I went in, took three small bottles of water from the refrigerator, and asked the older man on duty, “Ne kadar?” (“How much?”). He look at me ... paused ... then said, “Two liras.” I paid, thanked him, went out. I thought, that’s not right. Two liras divided by three; what would the price per bottle be? Normally, one pays 50 kuruş ( ½ lira) for a small bottle, or perhaps 75 kuruş or even one lira in the city. But not two liras for three. A tiny rip-off, but a rip-off nonetheless. A suprise, for these days, now that the taxi stand at AŞTİ, Ankara’s central bus station, has cleaned up its act, the only place I might expect such behavior would be the top touristic districts in Istanbul.
Eventually we reached Kaman, and soon after, the road for the Japanese Institute. You can find the Institute's web site at:
The Institute is a magnificent facility, offering space for processing, conserving, analyzing, and storing finds from the three excavations and a surface survey that the Institute runs during the temperate months. The projects are run in sequence: Büklükale first, Kaman-Kalehöyük second, third Yassıhöyük (located to the east, not far away), and, fourth and last, the regional survey. Our visit fell between the first two projects, so there weren’t many people around. But we had come to visit an Australian archaeobotanist who studies plant specimens from Kinet Höyük as well as from Kalehöyük, and we greeted Kimiyoshi Matsumura, the director of the Büklükale excavations, and two Bilkent MA students analyzing Iron Age ceramics from the excavations at Yassıhöyük.
Autumn at the Japanese garden, Kaman
We had tea, and we visited the flotation machine (a series of large barrels with water and sieves, designed to recover seeds and other plant remains from soil samples) in the shelter of trees a few minutes’ walk away. The lively conversation continued during a nice lunch. After lunch, we were given a tour of the laboratories, study spaces, library, the grand lecture hall, and the storerooms. It’s a place devoted to archaeology; clearly there is no time to do anything else. And it’s a great testimony to the vision of the Institute director, Sachihiro Omura, and his wife and fellow archaeologist, Masako Omura. May the Institute long prosper!