By Antonio Malara
The visit to Ankara is the fifth chapter of my trip to Turkey. That morning started in Cappadocia in the city of Kaymakli and we left for the Turkish capital around 07:20 AM. Along the way there were very suggestive scenarios made even more beautiful by the clear sky. At a certain point the snow-covered volcano of Hasandagï stood out clearly in the middle of the blue sky, luckily after a few minutes we stopped for a break to visit a caravanserai. Once I got off the bus the first thing I did was take some static photos of the volcano and then I started exploring the place. In Turkey there were many caravanserai, these places were used in ancient times as resting areas for caravans when they moved on long journeys. Very beautiful from an architectural point of view also because inside they always have a large courtyard, today they house shops or restaurants. In this specific case there were certainly shops but personally after a brief visit inside, I went back outside and together with others I enjoyed the warmth of the sun in that clear day.
The scenario we saw on the way to our next destination was absolute my favorite of the whole trip. This was my strictly personal point of view and was related to my passion for bright colors. At one point, in fact, it was created a beautiful combination of colors, the gray of the asphalt, some green, the orange-yellow of the cultivated land, the blue of the lake and a very clear blue sky. That view, made even deeper from the high observation point of the bus, gave the idea of an abstract figure rather than a real panorama. For several kilometers, I was able to observe different shades of that original landscape and despite being in motion I managed to capture several beautiful images with my camera.
Our next destination before arriving in Ankara was the salt lake of Tuz Gölü, personally I didn't know anything about that site but I started to get curious because our guide talked about it in an exciting way. We arrived in the lake area around 10:30 AM and in the large parking lot we were higher than the lake. From there I could hardly see anything and this factor increased my curiosity to see it. We tend to define "alien", one of those singular places that we may have seen in a science fiction film or imagined while reading a book by Asimov. I have already said that I love places that do not seem terrestrial but not like in Cappadocia where I compared the Göreme Park to a cartoon place that therefore always has a reference of this world. In this case the lake had the mysterious beauty of alien places, of what we have never seen anywhere and perhaps we could have dreamed in part. The lake was a surreal spectacle as long as I looked towards the horizon, without looking back. It was like entering a new dimension and this because of its conformation, more like a beach than a lake shore. The peculiarity was given by the muddy yellow-gold beach, the almost non-existent bottom of the water that perfectly reflected sky and clouds and the thin strip of land on the horizon that gave depth to the landscape. The water and the sky merged in such a way that they gave the impression of being a physical place where someone could walk on, it seemed the road to heaven. Someone had placed an iron chair in the middle of the water, making the panorama even more surreal, a setting like one of Dalí painting. The place was a perfect location to take original photos and with my sister we worked hard to find perspectives that were not all the same. Sky and water were constantly reflected and walking along the shore we found another iron chair, at that point we were completely alone and we continued with the surreal photos. We left after almost an hour and the experience was wonderful, as long as I looked at the horizon, I really had the impression of being in a science fiction place.
I don't remember where we had lunch that day but I have in mind the moment we entered Ankara. Actually mine was an intuition given by the fact that around us began to appear small skyscrapers, both completed or still under construction, that was the sign that we were in the capital. I photographed from the bus all the time until the new skyscrapers gave way to the most characteristic ancient buildings of the historic center.
Our destination was the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, but before arriving, my attention was captured by a large pointed hill, on which many old-looking nativity-style houses were "distributed". Luckily for me the museum was right next to that view so before dedicating myself to the museum I was able to take some photos of the hill. Then I asked the guide what was on that hill and he hastily replied that this was the old Ankara but that there was nothing to see and therefore we wouldn’t have gone up there. Personally, that hill intrigued me and the guide's response hadn't convinced me at all but that was my feeling. The outdoor area of the museum looked very good, with lots of well-kept greenery and statues. After a short line we entered to discover the museum. Even that morning I was convinced that it was a minor visit, even if the pride with which the guide spoke of it made me suspicious. As usual, I didn’t follow his explanations and I behaved as I always do in these cases, I exploit the knowledge of the brightest ones in the group and follow them in the visit, eventually I get explained on the fly if I see something interesting. Inside the museum there were many display cases that kept smaller artifacts such as weapons, but as I went around I also saw whole skeletons inside a display case. Of those small objects what struck me most were the engravings on stone blocks. They were the equivalent of today's sheets of paper and there were all sizes. The engraved language was unknown to me but it had a nice stylized effect, it seemed more modern than ancient, like the "Pininfarina" logo. Someone in the group pointed out that one of these pieces of stone was a divorce certificate, demonstrating the fact that bad relationships were popular even in ancient times. Also for this reason it concerned small objects, I was very impressed by the gold necklaces and also by the skulls, some of them covered with the same material. Obviously, inside the large rooms there was also space for statues but I don't remember any of them having particularly impressed me. We left the museum after about an hour and a half and I was convinced that we were going to visit the streets of the center but the guide explained that this was not possible for a safety reasons. In that instant I understood why the guide had belittled the old Ankara and at the same time I perceived that the Turkish capital was on a large scale what Konya had been; a dangerous city for pilgrim groups. Resigned to the idea of not being able to visit the center, I tried to photograph the part of the city of Ankara that I could see from the bus.
The second destination in Ankara was closely linked to the pilgrimage and was very important because we were going to visit the Apostolic Nuncio in Turkey and were official guests. We went to see the Nuncio directly to his house which was a place of maximum surveillance. After the checks, the Nuncio welcomed us in his beautiful private residence. After the official introductions, he took us to the private church, adjacent to the house. This structure struck me immediately for various reasons; it was developed slightly lower than the entrance, the shape was square, which meant that the wooden benches turned up to the sides of the altar. In addition to this, there were the colors that immediately struck the eye. The seating desks, which had at least three sections, were brown and beautifully broke the cool red of the large central carpet, the yellow of the walls and the pink of the ceiling. After the usual photos of that beautiful architecture, I took a seat with the others, after which the Nuncio began to celebrate an endless mass. At the end of the celebration something happened that saw me as the protagonist. The Nuncio as a gift for the visit gave to each of us a rosary blessed by Pope Francis and began to deliver them one by one. When it was my turn he said: "no, you will not have it because you didn't follow the mass". Even without ever looking at me he had noticed that I had never answered during the religious service, but not out of fanaticism but because I really didn’t have the knowledge to do so. I explained this reason in front of everyone and rewarding my sincerity, he gave me the blessed rosary anyway, telling me that I surely knew someone believer to whom I could give it. After the mass we went outside and there we took a group photo all together after which he invited us all into his house, even though it was forbidden. The Nuncio made us explore every corner of his house, personally I was very impressed by the private chapel and the room with the large rectangular table, that room was for important dinners. As a person of great culture, the Nuncio had no problem expressing his state of mind by openly saying that that house was unnecessarily big for him and implying that our company was worth much more than a life in a golden cage. We left around 8:30 PM and we officially invited him to join us for dinner that night. He said he couldn't confirm it for safety reasons but he would think about it. That night, when without inform us, the Nuncio appeared in the restaurant of our hotel in Ankara, it was a great celebration for everyone. We were honored with that presence and we dined in a unique serenity and joy. The dinner ended with a lot of photos with the Nuncio, as if we were old friends who meet again after a long time. I have wonderful memories of that day, it was an example of how a person can be severe in the beginning, to impart a certain type of education, but then from a stranger he can become a friend, like those who have always known each other.
The day after we left very early, around 7 AM, our final destination was Istanbul, so I was very excited. I had a mixed mood because in a certain sense that was the last trip by bus which was also synonymous with the end of the journey. On the bus I took advantage of the daylight to take the last photos of Ankara, one of the most bizarre visits I have ever done.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800