The hub of this vast, central plateau – the cradle of the ancient Hittite and Phrygian civilisations – is the modern metropolis of Ankara. Kemal Atatürk supervised the construction of Ankara, a capital to replace Istanbul, in this hitherto underpopulated region during the 1920s and 1930s. Since then, it has grown into a thriving, trendy city with a population of nearly three million that has grown to rival Istanbul’s sophistication, and is much more interesting than is often imagined.
The Anitkabir, Atatürk’s solemnly imposing mausoleum, dominates the new city. Ankara was, however, built on the site of more ancient settlements and it is fitting that the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, built under the ramparts of the Citadel, should house a magnificent collection of Neolithic and Hittite artefacts. There are also reminders of the area’s more recent past as part of the Roman and Selçuk empires. More modern additions to the cityscape include the huge, elegant Kocatepe Mosque and the Atakule, a high tower with a sightseeing platform and restaurant.
Southwest of Ankara are Afyon, centre of the legal opium industry, and a fine old Ottoman town; Yazilikaya (Midassehir), home of the legendary golden king and his giant mausoleum; Kutahya, an attractive old city at the centre of the Turkish ceramic trade; and the ‘lake district’, a pretty, green area of interlocking fresh and brackish lakes that are an excellent birding habitat There are several interesting small towns along the lake shores, such as Isparta, famous for its roses, and Egirdir, founded by the Hittites, but with a fine collection of Ottoman and Greek houses.
Ruined cities of note in the area include Antioch ad Pisidia, the recently reconstructed Sagalassos and Kremna, where the earthworks built by the Roman siege are still clearly visible. Due south of Ankara, past the vast salt lake of Tuz Gölü, Konya is a former Selçuk capital and one of the great religious centres of Turkey, home of the Mevlana Tekkesi, the monastery and mausoleum of Mevlana Celâddin Rumi, one of Islam’s most celebrated mystics and founder of the Order of Whirling Dervishes. Other places of interest include the 13th-century Alâeddin Mosque, the Karatay Medrese (now an excellent Ceramics and Tile Museum) and the Iplikci Mosque, Konya’s oldest structure.
South of the city, Catalhöyük is the second-oldest town in the world, dating back to the sixth millennium BC, while to the east, Binbirkilise is an area stuffed with ‘1001’ Byzantine chapels and churches, most now sadly in a desperate state of repair. East of Ankara, the Hittite state archives were found in Bogazkale (Hattusas) in 1906, and contained within the Bogazkale-Alacahöyük-Yazilikaya triangle are the most important sites of the Hittite Empire. Sungurlu is a good base for visitors to this fascinating but underdeveloped region.