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Old Town Stories from Ankara

With a population of approximately 5.7 million, Ankara is the second most populous city in Turkey. The ancient city goes back as far as the Celtic state of Galatia (280-64 BC) and the Roman province with the same name (25 BC-7th century), serving as the capital of both, and contains various Hattian, Hittite, Lydian, Phrygian, Galatian, Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and, naturally, Ottoman archeological sites. Throughout the city, one can observe many pristine examples of Ottoman and Roman architecture, the most remarkable of which is the Temple of Augustus and Rome (20 BC) containing the Monumentum Ancyranum, the inscription recording the Res Gestae Divi Augusti.  The Ankara Castle adorns the 150m crest that comprises Ankara’s historical center.

Ankara Castle © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz

I head out to the Old Town on a sunlit morning in October. Though Ankara Castle is only 10 minutes away by car from the city’s cosmopolitan center, I am practically transported to a parallel universe on the way up the hill that leads to it. My first stop is the Erim Tan Museum, where I visit the exhibition by Ara Güler, one of the few photographers to have photographed Salvador Dali, with the photographs he took in 1958 in the discovery of the ancient city of Aphrodisias.

Ara Güler Exposition © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz
Gözleme Lady © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz


The exhibition is followed by a Turkish coffee and an oven-fresh gözleme [pancake] that I treat myself to in the teahouse in the castle courtyard.

Old Town Streets © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz

I then walk down the narrow, colorful streets redolent of old Turkish movies that wind down from the castle. The streets are lined with shops and coffeehouses. Finally, I find myself in a lush green, sunlit street. This is the street that Pirinç Han is on.

If one day you find yourself here, you must absolutely stop by Pirinç Han. Built-in the 1700s, the inn contains ateliers, antique stores, gramophone repairmen, and hat shops.

Meyra Art Gallery © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz

Drawn by the sound of classical music rising from the shop of Hümeyra Aksu, the Ankara native, and painter, I drift inside. “I have been working at this atelier every day for 24 years, I never get sick of coming here,” Aksu says. “Before, the people of Ankara did not know much about these parts, but with the proliferation of shopping malls, people got sick of the center and started to explore. The area now has many regulars and fans. We love it too. The antique shops are extremely popular; old belongings evoke experiences, and old memories come to life. It’s exciting for the visitors of Pirinç Han. And I’m delighted to witness it. I’m productive, and I sell my work, though I’m happier to think of my work decorating homes rather than making money. I’m very happy here,” she adds.

Hümeyra Aksu © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz

I move on to the Antiques and Souvenirs Shop on the same floor and get the history of the Pirinç Han from shop owner Aydın Turan: “As you may know, it was one of the important stops on the Ankara Silk Road. Pirinç Han is an inn that was built in the 1700s. At that time, people came from the villages and sold rice on this street and stayed in the dormitories upstairs; there was a barber shop at the bottom and two stables for horses. All those years of selling rice, and the name Pirinç [Rice] Han stayed.”

Aydın Bey worked as a banker for 25 years before retiring 19 years ago, after which he opened this collectibles store.

Aydın Turan © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz

A glass of fresh orange juice in the courtyard punctuates my interval at Pirinç Han. Us Turks don’t like to knock around without food and drink. I walk down Çıkrıkçılar Slope and end my trip in Ulus Square. There is no shortage of stops and stories in Old Town. I hope to see you in our next Ankara local travel blog.

Pirinç Han © Nazli Sagdic Pilcz

To be continued…

Nazli Sagdic Pilcz