When you visit Izmir in Turkey, you will instantly notice something different. The city centre and larger province with the same name, which fronts the Aegean Sea, promotes unique atmospheres unlike everywhere else in Turkey. Izmir has long held a reputation for forward-thinking and portraying modern Turkey, and even though other places in Turkey have now caught up, the city and province still stand out. Such is the lure in recent years; some Istanbul residents who want slower paces of urban life have moved from Istanbul to Izmir. Visiting Izmir throws up various things to do and places to go, but before stepping on that plane, some history will enhance your visit.
Visit Izmir in Turkey
1: Brief History of the Ancient City
From the 3rd century AD to current times, Izmir has always been a prominent trading port, although the first signs of settlement date from 8500 BC. Izmir was an important trading port and contributed towards the old silk road as part of the Greek empire. The trading success continued after joining the Ottoman empire in 1422. Unfortunately, the demise came about after World War One. Allies took all Ottoman land after their defeat. In 1919, the Greek army took back control of Smyrna, but someone set fires after battles during the Turkish War of Independence, and three-quarters of the city burnt down. Many residents fled for their lives. In 1930, the newly formed Turkish government, renamed the city Izmir.
2: Visiting Izmir City Centre
In years to follow, Izmir became Turkey's third-largest city centre and regained prominent status. When exploring this Turkish city, visitors can see old and new standing side by side to present a uniform appearance and reputation. From tasting local food and getting to know about local culture to large nightclubs and top-notch shopping districts, Izmir has it all. Some facts to know include...
- Izmir airport is Turkey’s fourth busiest airport
- Izmir's city nickname is Aegean pearl
- There are 11 official districts within the Turkish city area of Izmir.
- The famous Greek poet Homer lived in Izmir
- Izmir was one of the Seven Churches of Revelation, as mentioned in the Bible's New Testament.
- Alexander the Great funded the rebuilding of the city agora marketplace
- European Levantines shaped much of Izmir's history in the 18th and 19th centuries, and their mansions still stand in the Bornova and Buca city suburbs.
- Havra street and surrounding areas in Izmir city are known for Synagogues and the significant Jewish presence of past and present.
- Izmir Culture Park is the most famous in Turkey. Annually holding tourism education and business fairs, people from around Turkey buy tickets to Izmir culture park, which connects to an amusement park.
3: Food and Drink in Izmir Turkey
Naturally, as a large city, expect the best food and nightlife choices. Traditional Izmir food includes the Izmir kofte and the Kumru sandwich, made from Turkish sausage, cheese and tomatoes. For breakfast, try the Boyoz pastry. For fish and seafood, try the Kordon area of the Alsancak city district, known for its seafood restaurants. Otherwise, head to Alsancak, Karsiyakka and Konak areas for vibrant nightlife.
During summer, beach clubs in surrounding coastal resorts turn into large party venues. These days, Konak pier is the place to shop and find fantastic eateries, especially during summer. However, the pier does have historical significance to Izmir. Konak pier dates 150 years ago when one building served as the customs house. Although little remains, the modern Konak pier is worth visiting.
4: Izmir Attractions of Historical Importance
Although there aren't as many historical buildings as in Istanbul, find traces of the ancient world in the following landmarks.
Konak Square and the Clock Tower: Many visitors have their photos taken next to the 25 metres, and 19th century Konak square clock tower gifted by German Emperor Wilhelm II. Konak square also features the small 18th-century Yali Mosque, noted for its single dome and minaret. Art lovers should visit the Modern Art Museum and to explore the larger Izmir area; the central bus station is nearby.
Shopping in Kemeralti old Bazaar: Initially covering one long street, the 17th-century Kemeralti Bazaar now covers many cobbled streets and is an ideal place to shop for souvenirs. As home to a church and eight synagogues, wandering the streets evokes traces of bygone days. Kemeralti Bazaar is like Istanbul's s Grand Bazaar, with many shops but on more minor scales. Shop for antiques or jewellery, and finish with tasting local Turkish coffee and tea.
Visit Izmir Castle: Kadifekale open-air museum, which translates into Velvet castle, is worth visiting for fantastic views over Izmir Bay. Standing on a steep hill, the castle is not within walking distance of the centre and can be a struggle in summer, so catch a taxi. Receiving much renovation work, Saint Polycarp, the 2nd-century bishop, was martyred here. The open-air archaeological sites to see include the byzantine underground cisterns, gate, watchtower, and castle walls
Ancient Agora Ruins: The 4th-century agora archaeological site owes fame to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor. In the Roman era, the Agora was a market street for vendors to sell their products. Photographers and history lovers will enjoy the Agora thanks to its ancient architecture and sun positioning.
Fascinating Museums: Touring the museums of Izmir is an excellent way to understand the past. Visit Izmir Archaeological Museum and the Ethnography Museum in the same gardens. Detailing life for Izmir locals from the Seljuk periods onwards, the first and ground floor of the Ethnography Museum holds artefacts, photos and descriptions of daily communities. Lastly, the Ataturk Museum portrays is dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern Turkey.
Hisar Mosque: In the downtown area of Izmir centre, the 16th century Hisar mosque portrays incredible architecture from that period. Anyone can go inside the Hisar mosque but avoid prayer times, and women should cover their heads, shoulders, and upper legs. If you sign up for tours with local guides, they enhance your visit to all the above sites.
5: Visiting Ephesus Archaeological Site in Izmir Turkey
Many people head to Izmir with the specific aim of visiting Ephesus ancient city. However, Ephesus is on the outskirts of the Izmir region. If that is your sole aim, book hotel accommodation in Kusadasi or Selcuk since they sit within 30 minutes’ drive. Otherwise, to explore the whole of Izmir, you can head to Ephesus on day trips from Izmir with a tour guide.
Ephesus is one big open-air museum that defies belief. As a former Greek City, Ephesus nearly rivalled Rome in importance. The open-air museum is home to excavated and restored landmarks like the famous library of Celsius, Roman terrace houses, and a grand amphitheatre. Such is its historical importance; Ephesus is one of Turkey's top visited attractions and a UNESCO world heritage site.
After visiting, head into the Selcuk hills to visit Mother Mary's house. Many believe the virgin Mary spent her last days in the important city of Ephesus and then retreated into the hills, where she ascended. These days, pilgrims from around the world take journeys to the house of the Virgin Mary. The Saint John Basilica in Selcuk will also be of interest to Christians.
Visit More Izmir Attractions Further Afield
Wildlife Park: We think any visit to Izmir should include the Wildlife Park. Don't think of this as a zoo habitat, though, because the park houses animals in their natural habitat. They are given lots of space, and signs around the wildlife park help visitors to learn more about the animals. This is great place for kids and adults to explore Izmir.
Visit Pergamon: Parchment paper was invented here, and they formed the first mental asylum. Also a Church of Revelation, the ancient ruins stand out for the steep theatre nestled into the hillside. When exploring Izmir, find these ruins in the Bergama area. A fun fact to know is that the Bible referred to Pergamon's ancient city as the seat of Satan.
Balcova Cable Car: Always go up high for the best views and outdoor activities. Tickets are cheap, and the journey of 810 metres takes you 400 metres high. Observation terraces, picnic tables, and binoculars are at the top. For locals, the cable car is a top attraction in Izmir.
Famous Districts of the Izmir Province
Alacati and Cesme: Ah, now we arrive at Turkey's windsurfing capital. Alacati has always been a favoured destination for wealthy Turks who purchased holiday homes or retired there. But since independent travel took over, the small town has attracted many fans with its whitewashed houses, cobbled streets and traditional but upscale ambience. More about Alacati. Meanwhile, sitting next to Alacati, Cesme is another firm favourite of summer destinations for Turks. The coastal resort earns much fame for its beaches.
Visit Foca: Sitting 70 kilometres from the city centre, many Turks own summer homes in Foca, despite the town staying off the mainstream travel grid. Separating into new and old Foca, the fantastic coastline view, ancient castle, and historical houses are sites to see.
Other Cities in Turkey
Vibrant Istanbul: Although it might sound cliched, if you haven't visited Istanbul, put the city on your bucket list. This city was from where the Ottoman and Byzantine empires ruled. They left behind landmark buildings that are Turkey's top visited attraction, hosting roughly 15 million visitors every year. As well as seeing the UNESCO Sultanahmet district, other places to visit include Taksim, the new city part, and the Princes Islands.
Historical Bursa: For decades, Bursa remained off the grid for mainstream group travel. However, when UNESCO added the city centre to Ottoman landmarks, Bursa achieved instant fame. As well as touring the city centre, see Mount Uludag, which is one of Turkey's top skiing spots during winter.
Trendy Antalya: Lastly, heading over to Mediterranean Turkey, Antalya is much like Izmir in being forward-thinking and a leader in trends. As Turkey's most famous beach holiday district and the second most popular place for foreigners buying property in Turkey, Antalya earns much fame. After you visit Izmir in Turkey, Antalya province is an excellent place to travel.
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