Just a fraction of the city ‘s palm trees remain, and the bay-win¬dowed wooden houses which once lined the side street s, their balconies a mass of basil, gera¬niums and carnations, have gone too. The pews and choir stalls in the churches are empty, and the synagogues in disrepair. The city is surround¬ed by the shanty cottages of rural migrants, and concrete holds the city in its grip.
Perhaps I could be accused of nostalgia, but this process of change is impossible to ignore completely. On the other hand, Izmir still has the same lively atmosphere. Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir is a major industrial and commercial centre, as well as the most convenient starting point for visiting Turkey’s Aegean coast and many spectacular ancient ruins. Ephesus, Pergamum,Phokaia, Sardis, Laodicia, Aphrodisias, Pamukkale,Didyma, Miletos, Priene and’ other great cities of the past are within easy reach, as are Ayvalık, Çeşme, Kuşadası, Gümüldür, Didim, Bodrum, Marmaris and other popular Aegean holiday resorts.
Izmir, the ancient Smyrna, was the final stop on the Royal Road and the Aegean branch of the Silk Road. Si/k from Bursa, angora wool from Ankara, and other merchan¬dise of all kinds from Syria and Iran converged here before being shipped to export markets. So the city had many hans, the vast stone buildings, set around courtyards where merchants stored their goods and conducted business.
İzmir is a also focal point of Turkey’s culinary tradi¬tion, where the meat and dairy foods of Asia com¬bined with the olive oil and vegetable dishes of the Mediterranean. Gerdan tatlısı (a dessert made of neck of lamb), köfte, papaz yahnisi (stew flavoured with vinegar), musakka and a vast variety of other dishes are typical of the region.
Over the millennia, Izmir has seen the rise and fall of many peoples: the Amazons, Lelagians, Hittites, Eolians, Ionians, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines and Seljuks all came and went in turn. The Amazons are believed by some to have founded the city, the name Smyrna deriving from the Amazon Queen Myrina who ruled here. Others credit the Lydian King Tantalus with the honor.
Izmir was the principal centre of the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian mother goddess, and recent research suggests that the name Smyrna comes from the Anatolian Luwi language, which exerted a strong influence on local Aegean tongues. The Luwi word meaning “Iand of the holy mother” became Smirni or Zmirni under the Ionians.
Izmir was founded in the 4th millennia BC, around the same time as Troy I. Excavations are ongoing at the city’s original site on Tepekule hill, the shanty town district known today as Bayraklı. Towards the end of the 6th century BC Izmir was razed by the Lydian King Alyattes, and the fleeing pop¬ulation made their homes in villages nearby. Several centuries later the city was rebuilt on its present site by Alexander the Great, who conquered Anatolia in 333 BC. It is related that Alexander went hunting one day at Kadifekale (Pagos), Izmir’s highest hill, and afterwards fell asleep. He dreamt that a group of Smyrnians asked him to move Izmir to Kadifekale, and upon awaking consulted the oracle at Claros about the matter. The oracle endorsed the plan and Alexander ordered his general to rebuild the city at Kadifekale.
The new city grew rapidly in size and splendor. As well as its library, medical school, acropolis, agora, stadium, theatre and temples, Izmir was famous for its orators. Many centuries passed, and in the 13th century the Turks captured the city from the Byzantines. When important privileges were granted o Genoese sea traders under the treaty of 1261, many Genoese settlers arrived.
The second half of the 19th century we saw Izmir more cosmopolitan than it had been in the past. Foreign trade flourished, bringing numerous foreign companies whose Italian, French, British, Venetian and Dutch temployees settled in the city, creating a Levantine community typical of the east¬ern Mediterranean seaboard.
Ottoman Greeks, Armenians and Jews also had their own large communities in Izmir, and Catholic, Gregorian and Orthodox churches, synagogues and mosques still stand side by side. Although not linked by close ties, the various communities shared a com¬mon culture in many respects. Every household, for instance, regaled its visitors with fruit preserves, water and Turkish coffee. The cosmopolitan Levantine society of Izmir enjoyed a lively cultural life in the 19th century, with frequent visits by well known theatre companies and musicians from Europe.
In the aftermath of the First World War, Izmir was occupied by Greece, the occupation lasting from 15 May 1919 to 9 September 1922. As the Turkish army regained the city, however, a fire which had broken out in the turmoil blazed through a large part of Izmir. The site of the fire later became a Culture Park, where the International Izmir Fair is held annually through Iate August into early September.
The remains of the ancient castle at Kadifekale, the agora and the Archaeological Museum are the best known of Izmir’s sights. Kadifekale castle might be surrounded by houses, yet it has lost none of its splendor, and looking down over Izmir you can imagine Alexander the Great asleep under the tree here.
The remains of the agora were uncovered by archae¬ologists in 1927. Only thirteen of the columns remain standing, since like other ancient buildings in the city, it suffered severe damage in earthquakes over the centuries. So for the full and fascinating story of Izmir’s ancient past. you should visit the Archaeological Museum, newly housed in a modern building at Varyant. Also just outside the city, the aqueducts of Kızılçullu and Yeşildere bear witness to Izmir’s Roman period.
But these are by no means the only sights Izmir has to offer. There is the Ethnographic Museum, housed in the former plague hospital built in 1831 and later used as an orphanage for Christian children. Mosques of particular inter¬est are Hisar Mosque (1598), Şadırvanaltı Mosque (1636) with its shops underpinning the structure, Başdurak Mosque (1652), Kestanepazarı Mosque (1663) and Yalı Mosque. (1734). The largest of the hans in the city, Kızlarağası Han, which is currently being restored, dates from 1745. The Church of Saint Polycarp at Kadifekale, one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, is dedicated to the bishop of Smyrna who was burned to death in AD 166 during the Christian persecutions of Marcus Aurelius.
The Clock Tower is regarded - somewhat inap¬propriately - as the symbol of Izmir. The tower was built in 1901 to commemorate Abdülhamit lI’s 25th jubilee, and the clock was the gift of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The monument in Passport Square depicting Atatürk with his right hand extended towards the Aegean, dates from 1932 and was the work of Pietro Canonica. The city also has several pleasant neo-classical build¬ings, such as the Izmir State Theatre, National Library, Government Building, the Girls High School, and Mithatpaşa Technical School.
The colorful cultural mosaic which characterized pre-war Izmir has virtually disappeared today. However, services are still held, if only once a month, at the churches of the Dome, Santa Maria, Rosany, St. john, the Domincans, Mary Magdelena, St. Polycarp, St. Antoine and St. Helene. The Jewish Hospital and the Beth Israel Synagogue still serve the city’s Jewish community.
The famous Elevator (Asansör) which saves inhabi¬tants a climb up one of the city’s steep hills is in the same district where Onassis lived until 1922, and on the street named after Dario Moreno, the famous French singer, who was born here.
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