Places to Visit in Izmir

The Pearl of Aegean

The nature, sea, riches of history and culture have come together to make izmir one pf the most beautiful cities of Turkey, izmir keeps in its embrace many interesting aspects that attract the nature lovers, sea and sun worshipers and history enthusiasts and as a result it is one of the most prominent tourism centres of Turkey.

İzmir has developed as a trading city due to its perfect location along the Aegean Sea, and safe harbour, and reached its zenith during the Roman Era. It was also one of the places where the first seeds of Christianity spread in Anatolia. However, sharing a similar fate with many prominent cities of history, it was continuously attacked because of its richness and strategic location, and occupied several times, and gradually lost its importance because of those wars and occupations. In the first half of the 15th century it came under the rule of Ottomans and regained its former glory, and İzmir gradually rejuvenated itself to be an important commercial port city with a rich hinterland. Today it is one of the largest and most important cities of Turkey.

There are many ancient cities and settlements around, which shaped many characteristics of İzmir. Besides all historical and cultural treasures, the city and its environs have some of the best beaches of the whole Aegean Sea. There are many protected sites of outstanding natural beauty in its environs as well as many holiday resorts and traditional coastal towns and villages awaiting visitors. İzmir is worth a visit as well as spending a longer spell of life.

Historical and Cultural Treasures of İzmir

If you wish to follow the history of İzmir in chronological order, you should start from the site of the first settlement in İzmir, located in Bayraklı where the archaeological findings reach back to the 3rd millennia BC. After the conquest of İzmir by Alexander the Great in 334 BC, the city developed in the lower slopes of Kadifekale. The unearthed archaeological findings of Bayraklı are quite interesting.

The next stop in the excursion following the chronological order is the Kadifekale. After the conquest of Alexander the Great, the ancient settlement at Bayraklı along the coast was abandoned and the city was rebuilt along Kadifekale. The reason for that change was ascribed to a dream of Alexander. According to the legend, after a hunting trip Alexander fell asleep under a tree before the Temple of Nemesis located at the lower slopes of the hill. In his dream, nymphs instructed him to build the new city at the lower slopes of the hill. Therefore, Alexander ordered to rebuild the city as instructed, and Bayrakli area gradually lost its importance while the new city gained prominence.

Afterwards the city developed quite quickly and during the Roman Era its development continued with massive building effort. The agora of izmir is the most important ruin from that period. The agora is a large paved area, which functioned as a meeting place, town square and marketplace, and there are more than one example. The first and most prominent of them is situated at Namazgah district of izmir. Original building could be dated back to the 4th century BC; however, the present day ruins are largely from 178 AD. The agora consists of a courtyard surrounded by stoae, that is, covered porticos. The north and west stoae of the agora, and the Faustina Gate which marks the entrance to the agora bearing a relief of Faustina, the wife of Marcus Aurelius are the most prominent parts of the ruins.

There are several ancient cities around izmir which makes it unique. Among those ancient cities Efes (Ephesus in antiquity) (Selguk) is the most prominent one. While the city had a history going back to the 3rd millennia BC, the zenith of the city reached after the 2nd century BC when it became the capital of the Asia Province of Roman Empire. Structures such as the Temple of Artemis, which used to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World but failed to reach our times, the Stadium, the Theatre, the Library of Celsus, the Hillside Terrace Villas, and the Agora are the sights must be visited in Efes.

Efes has also great significance with respect to Christianity as it was the place where Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, spent last part of her life. The house where Virgin Mary lived was sanctified by the Vatican, and in every 15 August a worshipping session is held there. St. John the Baptist also lived in Efes. St. Paul who served the spread of Christianity first in Anatolia, then in whole Europe, visited Efes during his second visit to Asia Minor, and wrote his Epistles to the diverse communities. Three of the first seven churches mentioned in the Holy Bible are in Efes. One of the councils in which doctrines about Christianity were decided was also met in Efes during the Byzantine Era. Therefore, Efes is considered as a site of great importance for worldwide Christianity.

Later Efes came under domination of different states, and today the excavations have unearthed a great portion of the city. It is one of the well preserved ancient cities of the world. A tour in the ancient city is sufficient to realise how they lived in those spaces and structures.

The importance of Efes was due to its being a port city and a trading centre; however it started to lose its importance from the 4th century. The new settlements were clustered around the Ayasuluk Hill. There masterpieces from different eras can be seen together. The first of those masterpieces is the 6th century Basilica of St. John, which was commissioned by Justinian who had also commissioned the Ayasofya in istanbul. While the Fortress was also from the Byzantine Era, it was substantially altered during the Seljuk Period after its conquest. The most prominent example of Seljuk architecture, the İsa Bey Mosque, is also situated in that area.

Another important ancient city near İzmir is Bergama (Pergamum in antiquity) which was the seat of power of the Kingdom of Pergamum. Bergama did not lose its strategic importance, and became an important centre of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, today, structures from different periods can be found together.

The most prominent remains that can be visited in Bergama are the Royal Palaces, the Temples of Athena and Trajan, the Library of Pergamum, which was second only to the largest library of antiquity in Alexandria; the Theatre of Pergamum set in a very steep slope; the Asclepeion including the temples built for Asclepius, the god of health and medicine; and the Temple of Serapis.

After the glory days of the antiquity, Bergama was left for oblivion, but during the Seljuk and Ottoman eras it once more became an important settlement with regained strategic importance. There are structures from that era as well. The principal structures are the Selçuk İsa Bey Mosque believed to be built during the Seljuk reign, the Bergama Grand Mosque dating 1399, Şadırvan Mosque dating 1550, and the largest mosque of İzmir, Hisar Mosque, completed in 1597.

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When İzmir regained its importance during the Ottoman Era, it started developing commercially on the basis of  its strategic location. The Port of İzmir became the gateway of the Silk Road to Europe, and many inner city caravanserais were built during the Ottoman Era. Those caravanserais provided merchants with accommodation as well as storage and marketing facilities for those arriving from thousands of kilometres away with their commercial goods. The most important of them are the Kızlarağası Caravanserai dating 1744, and the Çakaloğlu Caravanserai which was built in the 19th century. Apart from these, the commercial importance of the city in Ottoman Era was indicated by the caravanserais, Çukur Caravanserai, built in the 14th century, and Taş Caravanserai, built in the 15th century.

In the territory of İzmir there are many more cities of antiquity. Some of them became the centres of towns and villages of today. Some others are out in the countryside awaiting exploration and discovery. The following are some of the renowned ancient cities within the territory of İzmir province: Metropolis, which means “The City of Mother Goddess”; Lebedos, located in the Menderes County; Colophon, to the east of Değirmendere; Claros, famous for its Temple of Apollo and oracles; Notion, one of the important port cities of antiquity; Teos, situated 6 kilometres to Seferihisar County with a history dating back to the first millennium BC; Erythrae, which is still inhabited as Ildırı Village; Klazomenai, an important trading centre of antiquity, located in present day Urla County; Phocaea, present day Foça County, a declared protected zone of outstanding natural beauty as well as an archaeological site; and Allianoi, an important healing centre of antiquity because of its thermal springs. In many of those ancient cities excavations are continuing and everyday a new artefact shedding light to an obscure part of human history is brought to light.

During the Ottoman Era İzmir was a city where different religious communities lived together. Today the city still maintains mosques, synagogues and churches side by side. The largest of all Ottoman mosques in İzmir is Hisar Mosque which is located next to the Kızlarağası Caravanserai and it was built in 1597. The other significant Islamic structures that reached to our times are the Şadırvan Mosque, which was built in 1636; the Kestanepazarı Mosque, which was built in 1667, and the Kemeralti Mosque dating back to 1671.

The most prominent and oldest of the Christian churches is the St. Polycarp Church from 1625 which is still used for worship. Other significant churches open to service are St. John Church completed in 1874, and the St. Helen Church located in Karşıyaka which was completed in 1882.

The synagogues of İzmir concentrated at the Namazgah, mainly a Jewish neighbourhood. The principal synagogues are the Algazi Synagogue dating 1724, and Beth Israel Synagogue from the 20th century.

Museums of İzmir

The best places to see the cultural treasures of different eras of İzmir are its museums. The İzmir Archaeological Museum is one the most significant museums of Turkey. The museum houses the most elegant and significant examples of sculptures from different periods of the İzmir and its environs as well as the stone, metallic, and ceramic artefacts representing the rich cultures and traditions of İzmir.

The Ethnography Museum of İzmir is located next to the Archaeological Museum, and housed in a striking 19th century building. Its galleries were designed to exhibit the daily life in izmir and its environs in the 19th century. There is a large collection of pots and pans used during the same period on permanent display.

Having several ancient settlements located in its environs has been the source of izmir’s treasures, and the intense exploratory studies continue without a break. Those explorations and excavations have led unearthing of numerous valuable artefacts, many of which are on display at local museums where they were found. The most prominent of such museums is the Efes Archaeological Museum, which exhibits mainly sculpture and artefacts of Efes, and it is situated at Selçuk County. Bergama was a significant school of sculptures during the antiquity, and the Bergama Archaeological Musuem, which displays the findings of excavations of Bergama, has a substantial sculpture collection.

Natural Beauties of İzmir

İzmir province has a 629 kilometre- long shore along the Aegean Sea, and the length of natural beaches is 101 kilometres. Those shores are suitable for swimming and sunbathing, and because of their natural lay, some of them are optimal for water sports.

The areas with outstanding natural beauty are also abundant in İzmir. Urla and Karaburun with their pristine coves; lldiri, which is situated in a bay surrounded by several small islands; Çeşme, which is the most important holiday resort of İzmir matching its healing thermal springs with the exquisite entertainment venues; Foça, which was declared a protected zone of historical site as well as its natural beauty, and Alaçatı as one of the best windsurfing areas of the world are the prominent places among others.

Shopping, Food and Drink Venues

The historical market, Kemeralti, still maintains its main function and it is the most prominent shopping area of İzmir. The items produced by traditional handicrafts such as glazed tiles and ceramics, carpets, kilims, and woodworking items can be purchased there, and the tastes of the Aegean cuisine can be enjoyed.

Konak Pier, which is a converted late 19th century customs building, contains boutiques selling various international brands, restaurants, and cinemas where any visit becomes an enjoyable experience. Another renovated historical structure utilized as a shopping centre is the Kızlarağası Caravanserai, dating 18th century. The shops sell a variety of authentic local products. Another centre where the busy social life of İzmir concentrates is the Kordonboyu, the promenade along the shore of Alsancak neighbourhood, where bars, restaurants, and various boutiques line the pavement.

İzmir has a very rich culinary culture fusing the Aegean and Anatolian cuisines. The vegetable dishes prepared in olive oil are the staples of Aegean and Mediterranean cuisines. Seafood has a special position in the cuisine as in many other seaside cities. İzmir Köfte, a dish of spicy meat balls served in a tomato sauce, is one of the renowned tastes of İzmir. Lokma dessert is also another speciality of İzmir. Another speciality of İzmir which has developed in the recent past is Kumru sandwich containing spicy sausages, salamis, and hard cheese which is quite handy to consume while on foot, and its vendors are everywhere.

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