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27 November 2023 / Lifestyle

Why is Istanbul not the capital?

Even now, some people are surprised to learn that Istanbul is NOT the capital of Turkey. Indeed, this wonderful country's capital ruling city is Ankara, which sits 450 kilometres away in Turkey's central Anatolian region. It is easy to understand the assumption, though. As Turkey's largest city and the face of the Turkish Republic, Istanbul receives much attention. From the historic Blue Mosque to Topkapi Place, Istanbul city centre is the top tourist destination in the Republic of Turkey.

The larger Istanbul province is also the hub of everything and anything from the Istanbul financial centre to tourism, real estate, investment, education, business and industry. Indeed, this modern city easily ranks other alpha cities like Milan, Rome and Paris. But Istanbul was once the capital for two grand empires that shaped history across the globe and affected millions of lives over the centuries. So, what happened? To know, you have to delve back into the history of Istanbul, and the Republic of Turkey.

Why Is Ankara the Capital of Turkey and not Istanbul?

Why Is Istanbul Not the Capital of Turkey

What Defines a Capital City?

A capital city is the designated seat of government for a country or administrative region. It houses vital government institutions, including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The capital status is often established by law or through historical and political traditions, and the term "capital city" is commonly associated with specific characteristics.

Like the president or monarch, the head of state often resides in the capital. The official residence, whether a presidential or royal palace, is typically in or near the capital city. Capitals also serve as diplomatic hubs where foreign embassies and consulates conduct international relations and diplomatic activities. Capital cities are also often among the most populous and prominent cities. The concentration of population and resources contributes to the administrative and economic centre.

Brief History of Istanbul

Nestled strategically between Europe and Asia, Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and later Constantinople, has witnessed mighty empires throughout history. Indeed, Istanbul was once the the capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, leaving an indelible mark on human civilisation.

Istanbul Turkey

Byzantium: The tale begins in 657 BCE when a Greek city-state named Byzantium emerged on the European side. Founded by Megarian colonists, Byzantium's initial importance lay in strategic locations for trade between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. However, the Romans elevated this city to unprecedented heights of influence.

From Byzantium to Constantinople: In 196 CE, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus recognised the military and economic significance of Byzantium, so fortified city walls and expanded infrastructure. Yet, Emperor Constantine the Great forever changed Byzantium. In 330 CE, Byzantium became the new Roman Empire’s new capital because of the strategic position and symbolic importance.

To honour the founder, the city underwent monumental transformations, including being renamed Constantinople. The construction of grand edifices, like the Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome, marked the beginning of Constantinople's ascent. Geographical advantages also facilitated trade and cultural exchange.

Byzantine Golden Age: As the Byzantine Empire's capital, Constantinople reflected art, learning, and wealth. From the 6th to the 12th century, the Byzantine Golden Age witnessed flourishing literature, philosophy, and arts. However, the Byzantine Empire faced numerous challenges yet endured, and under the Macedonian Dynasty, it experienced 9th and 10th century revivals.

Fourth Crusade and Sack of Constantinople: The 13th century brought devastating blows to Constantinople with the Fourth Crusade. In 1204, Constantinople suffered brutal sacks, leading to the looting of treasures, desecration of churches, and fragmentation of the Byzantine Empire.  However, the city eventually reclaimed the Byzantine capital status under the Palaiologos Dynasty.

Ottoman Conquest: Under Mehmed II, Ottoman Turks laid siege in 1453. The transition from Byzantium to Istanbul was historical. Mehmed II preserved and repurposed many Byzantine structures, including the Hagia Sophia, which was converted into a mosque. This amalgamation of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences created vibrant tapestries that define Istanbul today.

Turning Point in History - The Turkish War of Independence

All was good with the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century. That is when they started to crumble. Known as the sick man of Europe by the 20th century, in World War I, they picked the losing sides. World War I left the Ottoman Empire in disarray, and occupied by foreign force. Hope emerged in the Turkish War of Independence. Led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, this pivotal struggle redefined history and gave birth to the modern Republic of Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a military commander who wanted a united and independent Turkey, rallied supporters and convened the Grand National Assembly in Ankara in April 1920. Atatürk's military prowess and strategic acumen became evident as he organised Turkish National Forces to counter invading armies. The culmination came with the Great Offensive in August 1922. Turkish forces launched coordinated and relentless campaigns, pushing back Greek forces and liberating Anatolian territories. The successful offensive ended the foreign occupation.

The Turkish War of Independence forced the Allies to reconsider their approach. Diplomatic negotiations led to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, replacing the punitive Treaty of Sèvres. The new treaty recognised the sovereignty of the Republic of Turkey. Concurrently, recognising the need to break with the imperial past, the Grand National Assembly abolished the Ottoman Sultanate. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, now President of the Republic of Turkey, embarked on radical reforms to modernise and secularise Turkey.

Ankara Turkey

Why Was the Capital City of Turkey Moved to Ankara?

The early 20th century marked a period of profound transformation for Turkey, catalysed by the visionary leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Among numerous bold decisions he made to reshape the country, the most pivotal was relocating the capital from Istanbul to Ankara. This monumental shift, undertaken in 1923, was driven by strategic, political, and symbolic considerations, ultimately laying the foundations for the modern Turkish Republic.

Strategic Location of Ankara: One primary reason behind Atatürk's decision was the strategic location. Situated in the heart of Anatolia, Ankara was more defensible than Istanbul, which was vulnerable to potential naval threats because of the Bosporus position. Istanbul's coastal proximity raised concerns about foreign naval interventions. Moving the capital inland to Ankara, shielded from potential external threats.

Breaking from Ottoman Traditions: Atatürk was determined to break with imperial Ottoman traditions and establish a new, modern Turkish identity. Moving the capital to Ankara symbolised departure from the Ottoman legacy associated with Istanbul. Ankara represented a neutral ground, free from the historical baggage of Ottoman rule. Atatürk envisioned Ankara as a canvas upon which the foundations of a new, progressive Turkish state could be laid, fostering an intellectual renaissance.

Inland Development: Moving the capital to Ankara was part of Atatürk's broader vision for economic development. He aimed to reduce the historical economic disparity between the coastal and inland areas by focusing on the interior regions. Atatürk initiated significant infrastructure projects in Ankara, including constructing government buildings, roads, and other essential facilities. This investment aimed to stimulate economic growth and urban development.

Economic and Governing Centres: Istanbul had long been the financial centre of the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk's decision to move the capital was strategic to diversify economic power, promoting the growth of other cities, including Ankara, as regional financial hubs. The central location facilitated more effective governance, providing better access to various regions. This centralisation was essential for implementing Atatürk's ambitious reforms and ensuring a cohesive national identity.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's decision to move the capital from Istanbul to Ankara was bold. Still, it reflected his vision for a new, modern Turkey. Relocation was not merely about changing geographic coordinates but laying the groundwork for the new Turkish Republic. The legacy of this decision resonates in modern Ankara city, which testifies to a man who steered Turkey through a transformative period in history.

What to Know About Ankara – Capital of Turkey

As a city with roots stretching back to antiquity, Ankara, known in ancient times as Ancyra and later as Angora, has played various roles throughout history. Ankara's history can be traced to the Hittite period, around the 2nd millennium, with evidence of Hittite settlements. The city gained prominence, particularly during the Roman 3rd century, when it was called Ancyra. As a provincial capital, Ancyra flourished by constructing temples, theatres, and other monumental structures. With the arrival of the 11th-century Seljuk Turks, Ankara experienced shifts in political influence.

Mehmed II, the Ottoman Sultan, captured Ankara in 1402. Despite periods of instability, Ankara became an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, contributing to economic landscapes. The city's historical significance was further emphasised during the 16th century when it became a vital staging post for Ottoman military campaigns.

Modern-Day Ankara in Turkey

Ankara's primary function as the capital is seen in government institutions. The Presidential Complex, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, and various ministries are centrally located, facilitating efficient governance and decision-making. Ankara is a diplomatic hub, hosting numerous foreign embassies and consulates, and international relations underscore the significance of dialogue and cooperation.

Ankara Citadel: The Ankara Citadel, dating back to Roman times but extensively modified during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, overlooks Ankara city. The towers and walls offer panoramic views of modern Ankara. Additionally, many places within and nearby are great traditional restaurants to visit for Turkish food.

Atatürk's Mausoleum (Anitkabir): Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is a monumental structure that reflects the reverence for the Turkish founder. The complex includes a museum and ceremonial plaza for Turks and visitors alike.

Anitkabir Ankara Capital of Turkey

Haci Bayram Mosque: This Ottoman-era Mosque, dedicated to Hacı Bayram Veli, is a significant religious and architectural site with a courtyard and surrounding structures. Also, see the Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Mosque for other exceptional places of worship.

Kocatepe Mosque: Completed in 1987, this grand mosque is the largest in Ankara. Designed by architect Vedat Dalokay, the Kocatepe Mosque seamlessly blends classical Ottoman design elements with contemporary aesthetics. The vast courtyard and imposing dome, flanked by four towering minarets, create striking silhouettes against the Ankara skyline. The interior is adorned with intricate calligraphy, geometric patterns, and ornate details, providing serene spaces for prayer and reflection.

Ataturk Forest Farm: The Atatürk Forest Farm (Atatürk Orman Çiftliği) is a historic and expansive farm complex that doubles up as a dairy farm and agricultural farm. Established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the farm features the köşk, or mansion, where Atatürk stayed during his visits to Ankara. This has been preserved as a museum, offering visitors glimpses into Turkey's founders. There is also a central restaurant where you can taste fresh farm food.

Gençlik Park: Gençlik Park, translated as "Youth Park," is a prominent recreational space in Ankara, Turkey's capital city. Established in the heart of Ankara city, Gençlik Park is a green oasis and a hub for various leisure activities. Gençlik Park was officially inaugurated in 1943 during the early years of the Republic of Turkey.

Ankara's journey from ancient Ancyra to Turkey's modern capital reflects resilience, transformation, and vision. As Turkey's political and administrative centre, Ankara City embodies the ideals of a nation that has undergone profound changes while holding onto its historical roots. The architectural landmarks and strategic significance make Ankara a symbol of Turkey's journey and enduring legacy of a major city that has shaped the nation's identity.

Istanbul Versus Ankara

Choosing between Istanbul and Ankara city for tourism and real estate investment is a nuanced decision, as each city centre boasts unique characteristics that cater to different preferences and objectives. Each is a significant city. By exploring the strengths and challenges of each city, potential investors and tourists can make informed decisions aligned with their specific goals.

Istanbul: The Enchanting Metropolis

Byzantine and Ottoman Heritage: Istanbul's rich history spans millennia, with remnants of Byzantine and Ottoman empires evident in the architecture and monuments. The Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque are iconic symbols.

Strategic Location: Straddling two continents, Istanbul's unique geography presents a cosmopolitan atmosphere. The Bosporus Strait not only divides Europe and Asia but also provides breathtaking views and opportunities for maritime activities.

Cultural Melting Pot: Istanbul's diverse population, influenced by centuries of trade and conquests, has shaped vibrant cultural scenes. The city centre offers a blend of traditions, cuisines, and lifestyles, making it an appealing destination for those seeking a dynamic and cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Tourist Attractions: Istanbul's allure lies in tourist attractions. From the historic district of Sultanahmet to the bustling Grand Bazaar, diverse restaurants and the trendy neighbourhoods of Beyoglu, the city caters to a broad spectrum of interests.

High Demand for Property: Istanbul's status as Turkey's economic hub ensures consistent home demand. Investors can find various properties, from historic mansions in districts like Bebek to modern apartments in bustling areas like Besiktas. The property market caters to different preferences, offering residential, commercial, and mixed-use development opportunities.

Ankara: The Capital City of Contrast

Modern Capital with Ancient Roots: As Turkey's capital, Ankara city centre holds political significance. While lacking the historical grandeur of Istanbul, it boasts archaeological sites like the Roman Temple of Augustus and the Haci Bayram Mosque, reflecting ancient roots.

Contemporary Architecture: Ankara's skyline is a juxtaposition of modernity and history. The Atakule Tower, a prominent landmark, represents modern identities. At the same time, the old citadel and restored Ottoman-era houses offer glimpses of historical charm.

Educational and Government Institutions: Ankara city centre is home to various universities, government institutions, and foreign embassies. The political centre is also home to mixed academic, bureaucratic, and diplomatic communities.

Government Investments: As Turkey's political capital, Ankara city centre benefits from ongoing government investments in infrastructure and development to enhance transportation, public spaces, and urban amenities.

Affordability and Stability: Ankara's property market is characterised by affordability and stability. While property prices may be lower than in Istanbul, steady growth and government-backed initiatives make Ankara an attractive option for investors seeking long-term stability.

So, that is why Istanbul is NOT the capital of Turkey. Istanbul's timeless charm, historical significance, and global appeal make it an enticing destination for tourists and investors. However, Ankara's role as the political capital and affordable housing options offer distinct experiences. Istanbul's allure may be irresistible for those seeking bustling city centres with rich historical tapestries. At the same time, Ankara's tranquil charm and strategic growth initiatives may appeal to those seeking stability and affordability. Both cities of the Republic of Turkey have something unique to offer.

More About Ankara in Turkey: With warm hospitality, rich heritage, and forward-looking spirit, Ankara stands as a great city, inviting residents and visitors alike to explore the layers of its captivating narrative. What makes Ankara a great city is its historical richness and modern dynamism. As Turkey's political and administrative heart, Ankara exudes a sense of purpose and significance.

More about Istanbul in Turkey: Despite massive fame and admiration worldwide, Istanbul is still vastly misunderstood regarding its location. Many people arrive at our website having asked questions like where Istanbul is or about which continent it sits on. Istanbul, an Alpha World City with economic power and political influence domestically and internationally, has regained supreme status. As Turkey's most prominent and wealthiest city, the 15 million population makes Istanbul one of the world's largest cities.

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