Izmir - The Pearl of Aegean

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The history of Smyrna

Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey, is described as the pearl of the Aegean. It is a major port and commercial centre set dramatically around a huge bay and backed by mountains to the south.

Izmir, with its ancient name of Smyrna, was established on a hill called Tepekule which is on the north-east of the bay now called the Gulf of Izmir. The magnificent and indeed rich history of Izmir and its first inhabitants goes back long before 3000 BC but excavations so far only date back to that time. From the evidence of excavations, the first settlements dated from the Ancient Bronze Age and were founded at the top of the hill about 3-5 metres above sea level. The settlements established on the Aegean coast were developed under the rich influence of the Trojan civilization.

Hittites settled in Anatolia in around 1800-1200 BC and their writings help us to understand the history of that time. The famous author Homer wrote about the Hittites in the Iliad.

Around 1000 BC, the Aiolos and the Ionians came from Greece and settled in Smyrna and its surroundings, now known as Bergama (Pergamon),Manisa (Magnesia), Urla (Klazomenai), Kemalpasa (Nimphaion), Çesme-Ildırı (Erythrai), Sigacik (Teos), Selcuk (Ephesus).

Smyrna gradually became richer up to the 7th century, thanks to trade with neighbours, especially Lydia. The good relationship between them lasted many years untill Lydia was conquered by the Persians.

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Anatolia and brought the Persian sovereignty to an end. The Hellenistic period began and the new inhabitants of the region settled around Kadifekale (Pagos Mount).

The city was ruled by the Roman Empire from 27 BC until 324 AD. The Agora, Acropolis, Theatre and Stadium all contained evidence of the Romans from this period. The roads from Kadifekale to Ephesus and Sardis were built by the Romans, who made the city an important trade centre and harbour of Asia at that time.

At the beginning of the 16th century Izmir was an important seaport for world trade. In order to check the ships entering and leaving the Gulf of Izmir, a castle was built on the narrowest point of the bay. During its struggle for liberation, Izmir suffered mass destruction and huge fires.

In 1922, the Greek army was driven out by the great Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Izmir started to become a modern city of the young Turkish Republic.

Izmir - our trip to a pleasant centre

A very big town with the welcoming atmosphere of a village. We stayed out of town in a suburb called Buca in the apartment of our Turkish friend?s mother. Everybody was very friendly and we experienced the genuine Turkish way of life, with mealtimes especially being a real family occasion. On the Saturday evening we were even treated to the sights and sounds of a traditional Turkish wedding from across the street.

In 324 AD, the Byzantine Empire took the city and added it to their territories. During the classic Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras Ephesus was a very important cultural and religious centre.

Izmir became a part of the Turkish Seljuk kingdom when it was seized by Kutalmisoglu Suleyman Sah, in 1076. During this period, the governor of the city, the famous sea admiral Caka Bey, conquered the islands of Urla, Foca, Sakiz (Chios), Samos and Istanköy (Cos).

In 1320 the city and its surroundings were added to the Turkish lands by the Turkish sailor Umur Bey.

In 1426, Izmir and its surroundings was completely absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman period many Turkish architectural constructions were built, such as the Hisar Mosque, the Sadirvan Mosque, the Hatuniye Mosque, the Konak Yali Mosque, the Kemeralti Mosque, the Kestane Bazaar Mosque, the Izmir Clock Tower, Bedesten (a special trade construction), the Kizlaragasi, the Mirkelamoglu and the Cakaloglu Inns. These are outstanding examples of the Turkish culture and have adorned Izmir for centuries.

After a typical Turkish breakfast (cheese, fruit, olives, bread and, of course, cay) we drove through the busy suburbs down to the centre of town, where we were treated to a guided tour, courtesy of our friends.

A place not to miss is the Kemeralti shopping area, with its vast array of stalls and shops up and down numerous alleyways. What we thought was a good idea was all the wedding shops being grouped together in one area. Close by, a particularly interesting building housed an antique collector?s paradise.

The whole city centre is a collection of beautiful buildings, monuments and statues.
It is well worth taking one of several ferries just to experience the city from a different perspective.

In contrast to the city centre is the Crowne Plaza hotel and shopping centre. If you need a towel that is the place to go. We were amazed at the huge variety on offer for very reasonable prices.

Close by, it was back to the traditional with a visit to the Patlican Café.

The following day saw us heading out of town for some sightseeing further a-field.
Passing through the town of Selchuk, our first stop was the historic hillside village of Sirince, well known for its wine making. Rumoured to have been called 'Esphesus on the Hill', the village was actually originally a Greek settlement, only being populated by Turkish families after the liberation of Izmir in 1924. It still retains its Greek roots in its architecture and names of cafes and pensions e.g. Zeus.

Retracing our steps through the spectacular scenery, we passed the ancient site of Ephesus (save that for another day). A tip if you do intend to visit Ephesus is to read up a little beforehand to make your visit even more interesting.

Turning left shortly after passing the airfield look out for the storks in their nest!

We are now heading for the holiday centre of Kusadasi. Make sure you don't miss the first spectacular glimpse of the sea on your right before the downhill drive past Adaland Aqua Park into the town centre.

Contrast the harbour area with its fishing boats moored alongside gulet-type trip boats to Ladies' Beach, where there were only inches to spare between the oil?covered bodies in the hot summer sun.

If you want to experience more peaceful surroundings, travel out of town to the horse-riding centre of Degirmen. Here you can wander for an hour or two, see the animals, ride a horse or stop for something to eat. Try the cheese and parsley gozleme, delicious! Don't leave without walking across the rope bridge over the water filled with ducks.

Approximately 3 hours from Izmir and about 15 kilometres out of Denizli is the stunning geological site which is Pamukale, meaning cotton castle. Known as The White Paradise, this is a 'must see' area. A spectacular 100-metres-high limestone formation. Wander through the constantly flowing waters, known for their healing properties. The town itself is also well worth a visit.

World Unity on the Aegean Blue 23rd UNIVERSIADE 2005,IZMIR

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