Why Is Ankara the Capital of Turkey?

(Last Updated On: December 6, 2019)
Why Is Ankara the Capital of Turkey?

A part of Europe or Asia depending on who you ask, Turkey is a country with a deep and rich history, ranging from its time as part of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire to its modern status. For a lot of people, this history revolves around its largest and most famous city, Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). However, despite being the major city of Turkey, Istanbul isn’t the nation’s capital. That honor goes to the second-largest city, Ankara, formerly known as Angora. Situated in the northwest part of the country, how Ankara became Turkey’s modern-day capital is a story that goes into the various incarnations of Turkey. Let’s take a closer look.

The History of Ankara

Ankara, or Angora, depending on what historical texts you read, was an important trade center all the way back to the times of the ancient Hittites. Much of the ancient history surrounding the city regards its occupation. For example, in 333 BC, it was conquered by Alexander the Great, and in the 3rd century BC, it would become the capital for the Galatians. These were a Celtic group that gave it the name Ancyra, or anchor–fitting for a seafaring people.

Later, it would be added to the Roman Empire under Augustus, and would rapidly develop under Roman rule. Under Augustus, Ankara grew to become a crucial trading, art, and cultural hub for the region. This would continue to develop when the Roman Empire split, and Ankara became a part of the Byzantine Empire. If you go to Ankara today, you can still see a few structures from its Roman history.

The history of Ankara during the later days of the Byzantine era and afterward were marked by a push and pull between different Turk groups trying to garner control. This would start to change in 1354, when the city was conquered by Orhan, the second sultan of the Ottoman Empire. After a brief occupation by Tamerlane, Ankara would return to becoming part of the Ottoman Empire. Under the Ottoman rule, Ankara enjoyed a lot of the prosperity it saw under Roman rule. Its strategic location and proximity to well-known trade routes made for a popular destination.

Further reading: What Was the Ottoman Empire?

Why Is Ankara the Capital of Turkey?

The next chapter for Ankara, and what would ultimately set the stage for it becoming a capital, was World War I. As a part of the losing side, European countries were scrambling to grab land from the Ottoman Empire. Serving as an opposition was the Turkish Nationalist leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who was looking to resist more European occupation as well as get rid of the last traces of the monarchy.

Ankara would be the center of Atatürk’s operations in 1919, its strategic location proving useful for his agenda. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Ankara declined in stature. However, after Atatürk succeeded in creating a free and independent Turkey, he had a bit of a problem in terms of what the capital should be. Naturally, Istanbul seemed like the obvious choice for a capital. However, there was a concern that it would draw instant comparisons with the older monarchy, which he was trying to break away from.

Ankara ended up filling several purposes as a new capital. First, it was an instant break from tradition to show the new Turkey to the world. Second, it still had that desirable location. Third, turning the now quiet Ankara into a major city would serve as a great example of the modernizing reforms Atatürk wanted to put into place. The capital of Turkey would switch from Istanbul to Ankara in 1923.

The Capital of Turkey

The Capital of Turkey

The capital swap would end up causing a massive population surge for Ankara almost overnight, beyond what the city planners were hoping to account for. Fast forward to today, and Ankara has a population of roughly 5.5 million. The main businesses in the city are largely government/administrative, but it is also the second-largest industrial city in Turkey, behind Istanbul. The aerospace industry and a military base in the city have also led to a leap in economic growth.

For those who visit Ankara, this also makes a great destination to learn about the varied history of Turkey. Several Ottoman-era buildings have been refurbished to serve as museums, with collections from both the Hittite and Roman eras. Ankara is also home to the Atatürk Mausoleum, which also has a museum showing personal effects from the country’s founder. 

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