Dominating the Ankara skyline is the grand mausoleum of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. A visionary man who united 24 tribes across the land and brought significant changes to the Turkish way of life. Already mesmerized by what we had seen on our Bosphorus Cruise the monumental mausoleum was a great way to start off our exploration of the rest of Turkey. This was day 2 of our tour and we were already floored by yet another colossal structure.
As we went through tight security and drove up several square metres of pristine parkland to a colonnaded piazza, did we realise how great of man he must have been to be honoured in such a glorious way. Located on the highest point of Ankara, the views of the capital state are beautiful, making it a very photogenic spot.
The Memorial Tomb
The mausoleum or Anıtkabir as it is called in local tongue was designed by architects Professor Emin Onat and Assistant Professor Ahmet Orhan Arda and took 9 years to complete. Situated on Observation Hill, the stage by stage construction process ended 15 years after Atatürk’s demise.
The mausoleum rises 56 feet into the clear blue sky and with it’s gilded ceilings, it’s simply impressive. The Panteon like columns themselves measure 47 feet. Atatürk’s tomb is hewn from a solid block of stone. Stones and marble used for building were brought from all over Turkey representing the Turkish people’s unity and devotion to the founder of the republic.
Atatürk’s tomb is situated right under a symbolic 40-ton sarcophagus while his corpse is buried below in a special Tomb Room in the basement level which is not accessible to the public. The room is said to be octagonal in shape and built in Seljuk and Ottoman architectural styles with its pyramidal ceiling inlaid with gold mosaics.
There are four main parts to Anıtkabir: the Road of Lions, the Ceremonial Plaza, the Hall of Honor (location of Atatürk’s tomb) and the Peace Park that surrounds the monument. The Road of Lions is a 860 feet long pedestrian walkway lined on both sides by twelve pairs of lions carved in ancient Hittite style. The lions represent Anatolia and are shown seated to simultaneously represent both power and peace.
Who was Atatürk?
Born on 19 May 1881, Mustafa Kemal was an Ottoman and Turkish army officer who led the Turkish War of Independnece against the Ottoman Empire. He embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms as he seeked to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a westernized and secular nation-state. What made this man so unique was his vision and execution of his ideas for a modern state with the acceptance of women as equal beings with the right to an education.
Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was made free and compulsory, while the burden of taxation on peasants was reduced. The principles of Atatürk’s reforms upon which modern Turkey was established are referred to as “Kemalism”.
Apart from uniting 2 dozen tribes into one unified country, Atatürk made the following changes from 1926-1938:
- The Sultanate was abolished and he introduced a radical departure from previous reformations established by the Ottoman Empire. For the first time in history, Islamic law was separated from secular law, and restricted to matters of religion.
- Dervish brotherhoods abolished. Veiling of women discouraged; Western clothing for men and women encouraged. Western (Gregorian) calendar adopted instead of Islamic calendar.
- Women were given the right to vote and the right to hold office. Law of Surnames adopted – Mustafa Kemal was given the name Kemal Atatürk (Father of the Turks) by the Grand National Assembly.
- Ottoman practice discouraged social interaction between men and women in keeping with Islamic practice of sex segregation. Atatürk established the new Turkish civil code which was modelled after the Swiss Civil Code gaining women equality with men in such matters as inheritance and divorce.
- The 1926 civil code made by the Parliament under the presidency of Atatürk outlawed polygamy and repudiation, which are provided for in Islamic law of some Muslim countries. In their place came civil marriage and divorce, both to be registered with the civil authorities and both entailing equal rights for the man and the woman. Marriage of a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim man became legally possible. “Religious” marriages contracted before a member of the religious establishment were not recognized as lawful unions, and their progeny were considered illegitimate.
- He implemented a new alphabet for the written Turkish language based on a modified Latin alphabet. The new Turkish alphabet would serve as a replacement for the old Arabic script and act as a solution to the literacy problem in Turkey.
- He was interested in both female and adult education for the goal of forming a skill base in the country. Thus Turkish education became an integrative system, aimed to alleviate poverty while also allowing the education of women in order to establish gender equality.
- Atatürk believed that culture was the foundation of the Turkish republic and promoted it by commissioning research and archeology. The pre-Islamic culture of the Turks became the subject of extensive research and particular emphasis was laid upon Turkish culture widespread before the Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations.
- He established the Turkish Education Association that supported intelligent and hard-working children in financial need, as well as making material and scientific contributions to the educational life. He also established several universities around the country.
- Atatürk supported and encouraged the visual and the plastic arts which had been suppressed by the Ottoman leaders, who regarded depiction of the human form as idoltry. Many museums opened, architecture began to follow modern trends and classical Western music, opera, ballet and theatre took greater hold. Book and magazine publications increased and the film industry began to grow.
- In 1932, a Qur’an in the Turkish language was read before a live audience and broadcasted over the radio.That same year, Atatürk wanted religion to be taught in Turkish to Turkish people who had been practising Islam without understanding it for centuries. With the supportof Atatürk, the Parliament approved the project and the Directorate of Religious Affairs enlisted, Mehmet Akif (Ersoy), to compose a Qur’an translation which found its way to print. For a more detailed information on the reformations, click here.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk passed away on 10 November 1938 in Dolmabahçe Palace, where he spent his last days. Atatürk’s remains were originally laid to rest in the Ethnography Museum of Ankara and transferred on 10 November 1953, 15 years after his death in a 42-ton sarcophagus to the Mausoleum.
It is said that in his will, he donated all of his possessions to the Republican People’s Party, providing that the yearly interest of his funds would be used to look after his sister and his 13 adopted children, and also fund the higher education of the children of İsmet İnönü, Turkey’s second President. The remainder of this yearly interest was willed to the Turkish Language Association and the Turkish Historical Society.
Our Turkish experience began when our tour guide picked us up from out hotel in Istanbul. We spent several days in this amazing country mesmerized by its history, culture, food, art and its people. We were greatly saddened when we had to leave its shores and promised to come back again for more. The articles that would follow are memories that would last us for a lifetime.
The Mausoleum of Atatürk is an ideal place to start your tour of the vast plains of Turkey as you get to fully understand how the different regions became one united front and further graps how the country made itself unique and modern as compared to its surrounding neighbours. Turkey is the only country that lies on two continents. It is seeped with rich history, tales of conquerors, inspired poets and writers over many generations, vibrant culture and a centre for two of the world major religions. It will continue to inspire current and future generations for many more aeons to come.