Highlights of Izmir
The clock tower at Konak Square is Izmir's landmark today. It was built by architect Raymond Charles Pere in 1901 to commemorate 25th year of enthronement of Ottoman sultan Abdulhamit I. Architect Pere was born in 1854 in Izmir from a French Levantine family, keeping with the tradition among Levantines of the time to educate their children in Europe. After his education as an Architect in Europe he came back to Izmir and married with the daughter of another Levantine family and spent his entire life at this beautiful Aegean city until his death in 1929. The clock mechanism was a gift from German Kaiser Wilhelm II and never broken since over 100 years. The clock tower is 25 meters tall and consist of four levels on an octagonal plan. The north African style column capitals and the filling in of the horseshoe arches show the architectural character of the tower. There are fountains on four sides of the tower.
Agora, ancient market place, was first built in the 4th century BC to the north of Pagos (Kadifekale) where Smyrna was moved after Bayrakli. Like all other Agoras of the ancient world, it was a meeting place for all commercial, political, and religious activities for the local people. It was surrounded mostly by state buildings on a rectangular plan with a large central courtyard and a covered stoa around it. The agora was destroyed several times by strong earthquakes and it was rebuilt after each one of them, final restoration was done by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius when a major earthquake hit the city in 178 AD. Northern and western stoas have been excavated including their basements, and a large 165 x 28 m basilica has been found on the northern stoa. One of the main streets of Smyrna city was cutting through the agora dividing it in two equal parts, and there were entrance gates at both ends. The excavation works are still ongoing at the agora for the basilica and a part of the eastern stoa.
First settlement of ancient Smyrna dates back to 3000 BC. During the excavations in Bayrakli district, these settlements were discovered at Tepekule area in the north-eastern part of Izmir. In the Ionic dialect the city was called Smurne, and in the Attica as Smyrna, but it's also believed that this word could be a local Anatolian dialect. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, the name was coming from an Amazonian queen. This small peninsula of Tepekule had a grid plan and a small harbor considering the Hellenes were mainly involved with the sea. At around 205 meters high hill of Bayrakli there are some ruins belonging to the tomb of king Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus, from 7th century BC. Phrygians and Lydians had their influence on Smyrna between 8th-7th centuries BC. The famous writer and poet Homer was born in Smyrna at around 8th century BC. In the 6th century Persians captured the city, which was freed by Alexander The Great in the 4th century BC. Old Smyrna lived its heydays until 4th century BC when its harbor was silted up because of Meles river and floods, therefore it was moved to the location of Pagos mountain.
The city on the Pagos hills overlooking the gulf which was founded in the 4th century BC by Lysimachos, one of the generals of Alexander The Great, today stands at the location between Kadifekale and inner harbor of Izmir. According to a legend, while Alexander The Great was hunting at the woods of Pagos hill he fall asleep under a tree at the Nemesis holly area. In his dream he saw two Nemesis telling him to found a new city at this location and that its citizens would have a very prosperous and happy life. After waking up, Alexander refers his dream to Apollonian oracle priest and they comment him to built his city on the hillside of Pagos, than Lysimachos makes this dream real in 302 BC. But besides the legends, it's more reasonable today to believe that the real reason of the foundation of the city at this spot would probably because of the military and commercial needs of the era developing on the land and sea. The city went under Roman control in 133 BC thus Roman and Byzantine influences can be seen on the Acropolis wall ruins of Kadifekale. There was also a defense wall starting from the Acropolis and extending to the direction of Basmane district (old Sardis road), and another one to the direction of Esrefpasa district (old Ephesus road). Remains of aquaducts, stadium, theater and agora can be seen around Pagos hill. The theater on the northern slope overlooking the gulf offered great views and had a capacity of 16 thousand seats.
The castle which we see today along with its five towers and southern walls, was restored several times by Byzantines, Seljuks, and finally Ottomans. Kadifekale was abandoned until 18th century and many stones from ancient buildings were used as construction material. After 18th century people started to settle again and in the last 50 years invaded by irregular housing. The castle at 186 meters above sea level is one of the highest points of the city which offers a bird-eye view of Izmir.
These Roman aquaducts were built on the Meles (Kemer) river to bring fresh water to the city. They're from late Roman period and double arches were built by bricks and stones stick together with Roman mortar. Same aquaducts were restored and used also by Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. Today only few sections left from a long aquaduct which can be seen at Sirinyer (old Kizilcullu) district driving from the airport to the city center.
This typical Ottoman building in Kemeralti neighborhood was built by Kizlaragasi Haci Besir Aga in the 18th century as a caravanserai. The Bedesten (Inn) is a square-shaped and two-level building, the large courtyard used to have a small pool (Sadirvan in Turkish) in the middle which doesn't exist today. Upper floor had rooms for merchants to overnight after leaving their camels and stuff downstairs in the courtyard. Around the courtyard there were shops and rooms where servants of the tradesman used to sleep. Kizlaragasi Han, being also close to the port, was an important trades point in Izmir until the developing of transportation technologies and opening of new trade routes, at certain times it even served as a local stock exchange. After 19th century the Inn was mainly used for storage of the goods instead of caravans' stop.
Kizlaragasi Han was restored in 1993 as a tourist spot, despite it's off-tourist route, and converted into a handicrafts sales center. There is a small cafeteria in the open-air courtyard where you can relax and have a Turkish tea or coffee.
This mosque is one of the oldest monuments of the city built by Aydinoglu Yakup Bey towards the end of 16th century, officially between 1592-1598. It has a central dome supported by eight pillars and smaller domes around it. The open courtyard (late-comers courtyard or Son Cemaat in Turkish) is surrounded by a gallery of seven domes. There are also two small fountains used for the ablutions before the prayers. It has one minaret with a single balcony (Serefe). The mosque was restored several times during 19th and 20th centuries thus influence of European decorative elements can be seen especially on column capitals, window frames, outer walls and on Mihrab and Mimbar. The mosque stands in the Kemeralti market area.
The historical Kemeralti neighborhood in Konak district is the best known local shopping market in Izmir. Originally it was built around 17th century right behind the harbor and expanded in the following centuries as the port was silted in. Original shops were made of wood or bricks, some covered with domes. The name Kemeralti (under arches) comes from the fact that there were streets covered with arches with all the shops underneath. Besides small shops, there were many inns as well. Starting from 20th century it became a shopping area of mainly middle class people as it offered very reasonable prices.
Today, besides vaulted and domed shops of the past, here you can find modern business centers, stores, movie theaters, and cafeterias. All kinds of traditional Turkish handicrafts, ceramic ware, wooden objects, clothing, leather and kilims are sold in the markets, including food and fish for your daily shopping. Kemeralti consists one of the most frequented neighborhoods of the city today, especially by local people.
On Anafartalar Street in Kemeralti, there is an old marble fountain called Donertas Sebili, built in 1814 by Osmanzade Seyyid Ęsmail Rahmi Efendi. The name derives from a turning marble column in its corner. The fountain has a square plan and a brick-tiled dome roof. There are two windows and a small door which was giving access to its cistern.
At the entrance of Kemeralti from Konak, one can see Mayors' Building (Hukumet Konagi) which was built between 1868-1872. This building occupies an important role in the history of the city; when Turkish Army entered in Izmir during the War of Liberation, the Turkish Flag was raised on its balcony on September 9th, 1922, marking the liberation day of Izmir. The building was restored after suffering a big fire many years ago.
Havra is an important street of historical Kemeralti neighborhood. Local people come here to get their fresh vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. The street gets its name from many Jewish synagogues (Havra in Turkish) built here. There are nine Synagogues on this street but only four are operative today, Talmud Torah is the oldest of nine in this street.
Beth Israel Synagogue
This synagogue was built in 1905 by Nisim Levi in the Karatas quarter where an important Jewish community lived at the beginning of the 20th Century. The decoration went on for many years because of economical problems until 1950's. At the entrance of the synagogue, on the upper-right corner, there is the opening date of 5668 according to the Jewish calendar, and on the upper-left corner there is Shaday (God) name inscripted. The interiors of the synagogue are beautiful, wood works are very impressive, and there are marble slabs with the names of the donors. Lower floor is reserved for men and has a capacity of up to 600 people, and upper floor is reserved for ladies. Surprisingly, the Hakodesh (holy cabinet for Sefer Torah) is not to the east but to the south of the synagogue.
Beth Israel is one of the two most frequented synagogues used today for important ceremonies, other one is a new synagogue located in Alsancak district where the main Jewish Community of the city now lives. Many other synagogues are rarely used.
The first Anglican church in Izmir was built around 1625 by British Levantines of Smyrna. A second church was built in 1843 for the use of British living in Smyrna and named for St. John the Evangelist, completed in 1899 with a capacity of around 150 seats. It has beautiful wood carvings, stained glass windows and an impressive organ. A Vicarage built next to the church is now used as the British Consulate of Izmir. The church is located across Alsancak train station.
Another Anglican church in Izmir is the church of St. Mary Magdalene which was built around 1858 by British Levantines again, at Bournabat (today's Bornova). St. Mary Magdalene is located within the grounds of Ege University in Bornova. This church is closed except special occasions or scheduled services.
Saint Polycarp Church
This is the oldest Christian church in Izmir which was built in 1625 long after the permission of Sultan Suleyman of the Ottoman Empire and by the wish of King of France Louis 13th. It was dedicated to St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred by Romans in 155 AD at the age of 86, in the stadium near Kadifekale. The church was badly damaged during earthquakes and fires in the 17th century, and was restored each time. Inside the church, next to the altar, there is a self-portrait of Raymond Pere, Levantine architect of the Clock Tower in Konak district.
The historical Asansor built in 1907 on Mithatpasa Street, and Dario Moreno street running to the Asansor, are interesting places to visit in Izmir. Before its construction, a stairway with 155 steps was used to climb to the Halil Rifat Pasa district 50 meters above. This elevator tower has joined the two districts with the aid of two elevators. Besides its breathtaking panorama of the city on the Aegean Sea especially at sunset or at night, a restaurant today is serving to its customers.
Near the Asansor, there are Usakizade Latife Hanim House and Beth Israel Synagogue worth a visit. The House witnessed the wedding of Ataturk and Latife Hanim in 1923, and today is used as a school and museum.
Alsancak district, called Punto in old times, is one of the centers of Izmir and an elegant and exquisite residential area. The neighborhood is stretching from the waterfront, called Kordon which is lined up with nice bars and fine restaurants, to the inland. Along the waterfront it has a nice pedestrian promenade where one can enjoy fine shops and fine dining without the traffic noise, looking at the Aegean.
In the old times, Alsancak was a favorite place of Levantines, Greeks and Armenians. Many buildings and churches with their authentic architectures remaining from these years can be seen in the backstreets. Today, some of these buildings have been renovated and used as entertainment or cultural places. Ataturk Museum, Museum of History and Arts, Selcuk Yasar Museum of Arts, Railroads Museum, Museum of Arts and Sculpture, Museum of Commercial History, Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Museum of Metropolitan History and Archive can be found in this district.
Alsancak train station was built in 1858 in a colonial architecture style. Trains to Aydin, Denizli and Buca departs from here. There is also a busy port in Alsancak district where commercial and cruise ships dock. There are regular ferry connections between Alsancak and Karsiyaka districts.
Karsiyaka district stands to the north shore of the Izmir Gulf and is one of the residential centers of the city. The name literally means "Opposite Shore" in Turkish, as location-wise it is. The residents of this fine district are so proud of living here that they even consider themselves as living in another town; they don't say that they live in Izmir, but in Karsiyaka.
The district has many old houses and mansions with large gardens, but lately many new apartments have been build along the waterfront. St. Helen Church at Karsiyaka is the very first Catholic Church here, having a former name of Cordelia. It was built around 1904.
At the shoulders of the city there is Yamanlar Peak, highest hill of the city with a crater lake. Birds Paradise Natural Reserve (Kus Cenneti) is next to Karsiyaka, where there are over 200 bird species including many domestic, summer immigrant, winter immigrant, and transit species pulling for a stop here.
Izmir Wildlife Park
Izmir Wildlife Park is opened in 2008 by the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality at Sasali area, near Karsiyaka district. The park contains many species in a large artificial natural habitat where visitors can observe wild life and animals. The Park covers a huge area (425 acres) where visitors are required to walk; use of vehicles are not allowed in the park area.
There are lions, pumas, tigers, elephants, monkeys, giraffes, zebras, camels, deers, wild goats, gazelles, wolves, bears, crocodiles, birds of pray, parrots and so many others in their appropriate zones. New species and animals will be brought in during the coming years. There are also children playgrounds, cafeterias, watch towers, education halls and several lavatories to facilitate the visit of people.
Izmir Wildlife Park accepts visitors everyday of the week including weekends and religious holidays between 09:00 - 18:00. There is a symbolic entrance fee to the Park, in order to attract more people for making them more aware and interested in the conservation of nature life. Pets are not permitted in the Wildlife Park.