Ankara is an ancient city; however, it only became highly important in recent times. It became a distinct community during Hittite period, and by Roman times was a key regional centre, home to the Temple of Augustus and Rome (Monumentum Ancyranum) that features the only complete contemporary surviving inscription of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, the great poem that was penned as memorial to Emperor Augustus.
During Ottoman times, Ankara was a commercial hub for West-Central Anatolia, amidst an area that was productive in leather, wool, mohair and cereal grains. It had a heyday in the 17th and 18tth Centuries, while most of the 19th Century saw difficult economic conditions and stagnant population growth. Indeed, Ankara’s prospects were then limited because its road connections to the rest of Turkey were poor. For instance, it took on average 14 to 16 days for a cart laden with produce to reach Istanbul!
Ankara received a major boost at the end of 1892, when a spur of the Anatolian Railway was completed to the city, providing a fast link to Istanbul. This bought an end to Ankara’s isolation, and it quickly grew in importance as a logistics and military hub, even as its population remained small.
World War I was hard on Ankara, a fire in 1916 destroyed a good part of the old city centre, below the ruined citadel. The fact that that most of the city’s male population was then away on military service made containing the fire at an early stage impossible, and severely retarded rebuilding efforts. Additionally, sectarian tensions ensured that most of Ankara’s longstanding Armenian and Greek populations departed, while thousands of ethnic Turks migrated to the city. This population exchange caused great dislocation, as on top of the wartime problems, many of the city’s leading businesses had been owned by the departed minority communities.
In 1920, during the Turkish War of Independence (1919-23), Kemal Mustafa Pasha (later President ‘Atatürk’) made Ankara his military headquarters and the political seat of the Grand National Assembly (the government-in-waiting of the envisioned new Turkish state). Ankara had the advantage of having good access to food and materials critical to the war effort yet possessed a deep inland location that made it almost impossible for his European enemies to attack.
Kemal Mustafa envisaged a great future for Ankara but initially found urban planning to be virtually futile due to the lack of an accurate and detailed city plan. In April 1921, he summoned an elite team of 22 military surveyors and draftsmen to come to the city. For the better part of three years, they conducted painstaking trigonometric surveys of the entire city and its environs.
In 1923, as the victorious Atatürk prepared to establish the new Turkish state, he chose Ankara to be its permanent capital, in the place of Istanbul. While Istanbul had the prestige of having been the centre of multinational empires for 1,600 years, Atatürk desired a rupture from the past, instead creating a modern, yet distinctly Turkish state. Ankara was quintessentially Anatolian (as opposed to European, like Istanbul). It was also a small city, surrounded by open countryside that provided a blank canvas upon which a new, ideal city could be built.
On October 29, 1923, Ankara became the capital of the new Republic of Turkey. That same month saw the foundation of the Mübadele, İmâr ve İskân Vekâleti [Ministry of Population Exchange, Development and Settlement], which oversaw all matters of urban planning across the country. The Ministry designated Ankara as the republic’s first Şehremaneti [Municipality] and initiated a process that would lead to the creation of a grand new masterplan that would realize the modern capital as envisaged by Atatürk. Beyond the important, but unglamorous, imperative to install sewage, water and electricity systems though the existing city, the plan was to build the new Ankara outwards along a ‘garden city’ design, with geometrically rational boulevards and squares, large public parks and gardens, and with offices, services and apartment buildings all well integrated with the infrastructure.
The Ankara Şehremaneti Law stated:
“The city of Ankara constitutes a Şehremaneti including the vineyards, gardens, fields and pastures inside the limits that will pass through the surrounding hills. This boundary is determined and the map of the city is prepared by the Municipality. This map becomes valid after its approval by the Ministry of the Interior.”
Meanwhile, authorities had commissioned the prominent Berlin architect Carl Christian Lörcher to produce a masterplan for the future development of the city, from which the Sehremeneti Map was to be his departure point. Lörcher’s design, illustrated with a map, Plan zum Aufbau der Türk Haupstadt – Angora – Altstadt u. Regierungstadt ‘Tschankaya’ (1925), was a masterpiece of modernist urbanism. However, it was ultimately rejected by officials for being too radical, as it called for the levelling of large parts of the Urus (considered undesirable and traumatic by the city’s residents) and would promise to be too expensive.
Meanwhile, Ankara continued to grow briskly, by 1927 its population had risen to 75,000. However, authorities strictly controlled growth in the parts of the new city that were already developed, so as not to preclude to implementation of the still-desired masterplan.
In 1929, the esteemed German city planner Hermann Jansen developed a new masterplan for the future of Ankara, winning a high-profile international competition to be given that chance to see it through. Jansen admired Lörcher’s work, and incorporated some of his key ideas; however, he developed a less radical vision for Ankara that ensured that its historical neighbourhoods would be preserved, while an entirely new, practical modern city developed in the countryside beyond. A series of grand curving avenues were to divide neighbourhoods of square blocks, everywhere interspaced with greenbelts, while the city was to be divided into distinct specialized zones. Jansen’s 1932 map, which regulated the plan, was in the succeeding years largely followed as the blueprint for expanding the city to the west and the south. Indeed, the outlines of his boulevards and major building blocks are still evident in today’s Ankara.
Jansen’s plan was brilliant, and it created one of the world’s most pleasant and functional new cities. However, it only included provisions for Ankara to grow to 300,000 inhabitants, and while the city grew in an orderly fashion, and to plan, until the early 1950s, by this time the population crossed the 300,000 mark. Front that point onwards, waves of migration from across Anatolia, and a loosening of zoning laws ensured that the growth of the city outside of bounds of Jansen’s plan was disorganized, often resulting in relatively chaotic, less pleasant outer areas. This problem worsened as Ankara grew to have 1.5 million residents by 1973 and continued to intensify up the present day, whereupon Ankara has almost 6 million residents – twelve times that envisaged by Jansen’s plan! That all being said, today, while Ankara suffers from many of the problems of modern hyper-urbanization, the central part of the city is still one of Asia’ most pleasant capitals, the enduring legacy of foresight of Ankara’s 1920s and 1930s leaders.
References: Sinem Türkoğlu Önge, ‘Spatial Representation of Power: Making the Urban Space of Ankara in the Early Republican Period’, in Jonathan Osmond and Ausma Cimdiņa (eds.), Power and culture: identity, ideology, representation (Pisa, 2007), pp. 71-94