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454km (282 miles) southeast of Istanbul; 544km (338 miles) northeast of Antalya; 582km (362 miles) east of Izmir; 277km (172 miles) northwest of Nevsehir

Unlike Istanbul, vulnerable for centuries to neighboring countries with imperialistic motives, Ankara lies deep within the heartland, protected and insulated from uninvited guests. Atatürk deliberately chose Ankara for his new republic; while Istanbul was the seat of an imperial and dissolute empire, he saw Ankara as the clean-slate capital of an entirely new Turkish state. Ankara is almost exclusively geared toward sustaining a wide-ranging population of foreign ambassadors, visiting dignitaries, local politicians, and politically minded business enterprises. It also boasts a number of prestigious universities and technical colleges, as well as the largest library in the country. Ankara is a center for opera, ballet, jazz, and modern dance, and is home of the Presidential Symphony Orchestra, the State Theatre, and the State Opera and Ballet. Ankara's dining scene has also made enormous strides with local branches of some of Istanbul's best restaurants.

But while Ankara buzzes with the everyday business of keeping house, you can't compare Ankara to cities like Washington, D.C., or London, even if the brilliant Museum of Anatolian Civilizations is worth a special detour. It's not that there's nothing to do here: The short list of worthy monuments and museums includes Atatürk's mausoleum, a handful of Roman-era sites, and as mentioned before, the archaeological museum. There's a predictable concentration of statues of Atatürk, a bustling boulevard of Republican-era buildings, and dotting the parks and avenues are monuments to inspire a strong sense of nationalism. The Victory Monument, in Ulus Square, honors the heroes of the War of Independence, while the Monument to a Secure and Confident Future, in Güvenlik Park, reminds Turks to "be proud, work hard, and have self-confidence." The Hatti Monument, an oversize replica of a bronze solar disc, on Sihhiye Square stands as a constant reminder of the country's Anatolian roots. If none of this has you clamoring to stopover in the country's capital, I have to admit that to go or not to go is a dilemma borne by many. Most people choose to skip Ankara in favor of a direct transfer to Cappadocia, but as the construction of the fast rail line from Istanbul to Ankara progresses (which will cut travel time down to just 4 hours), everyone's default excuse for not passing through will disintegrate into thin air.