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Ankara Citadel (Hisar)

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A Forgotten Castle and Culture: Ankara’s Citadel (Hisar)

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One of the oldest yet strangest structures in Ankara is the Citadel! Also known as Kalesi (“Castle”), the citadel is located just above the Ulus district and sits atop one of the more prominent hills in the city. However, only recently has the government put an effort towards improving the roads, buildings, and security in this area.

The Citadel is located a short walk from the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, but that “short walk” is up a steep incline. There are also steps at the top of Ulus shopping district that will take you straight up the hill and through a sparsely wooded park. The Citadel is not your ordinary “castle” attraction. It has not been restored to any particular period in time, and visitors will not see bedrooms of kings or drawing rooms fit for queens. Instead, patrons will see an amazing structure that has been built, rebuilt, and restructured over thousands of years. One only needs to look at the walls to see Roman sculptures or slabs used as “filler” material for repairs. The rebuilding of the Citadel over the course of its existence is as much part of the history as the castle itself!

The main ramparts of the castle are at the heart of the Citadel. In order to reach the top and walk the walls, one must navigate very uneven footpaths past unique (some with very good quality) tourist shops, several large and small restaurants, and local residents trying to sell you handicrafts. These handicrafts rarely cost more than a couple of Turkish lira and they make great gifts for nieces and nephews!

WARNING: The road into the castle is more of a sidewalk that is used for all types of transportation. While you wouldn’t think they would fit, good sized sedans and delivery trucks drive on this path—very fast I might add. In this area, it is unwise to to think pedestrians have the right-of-way!

As you make your way to the actual castle, you will begin to realize that people still live in the small and seemingly unstable shacks. This is not a walk for the faint-hearted or for those with physical challenges. There is a steep paved hill (very slick in the spring/fall)which leads to a flight of stairs that will take you to the main castle. Children will probably be playing futbol (soccer) inside the spherical entrance, so watch for flying balls! Children will also offer to be your guide (they will start “offering” right around the entrance), and many actually have fairly good English skills (mostly from interaction with tourists). They all know the history of the castle and for a couple of Turkish Lira, you will get quite an earful. Not all of the children are able to be in school, so it doesn’t really matter what time of year or day you visit the castle, there will also be a handful ready to be your personal guide!

In order to reach the upper walls, you will have to climb a few short BUT VERY SLICK steps. However, once you reach the top of the Citadel walls, you will have an awe-inspiring (if not gut-wrenching) experience. From here, you can view the whole of Ankara from Parliament to Ataturk’s Tomb and from the Hippodrome to the Atakule Tower. You will also have first hand view of the extreme poverty of residents who have been forced “upward” from Ankara’s population/development boom. The whole of the mountain side consists of a shanty town with sections being razed to make room for skyscraper apartments. The dichotomy is stark: extreme poverty conditions side-by-side with brightly coloured, multi-story apartment buildings.

While Ankara is an amazing city, those who can forge ahead to the Citadel will have a truly eye-opening experience not only from the grandeur and the history but also from the culture and the reality of developmental boom and bust. This is NOT a “pretty” or comfortable attraction, but one that should not be missed as continued development, vandalism, and deterioration will take its toll, and the massive structure (and the cultural significance) will be lost.

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