Izmir is one of the most westernized cities in Turkey. Izmir's metropolitan area extends along the outlying waters of the Gulf of Izmir and inland to the north across the delta of the Gediz River, to the east along an alluvial plain created by several small streams and to a slightly more rugged terrain in the south.
Izmir has almost 4,000 years of recorded urban history and possibly 8,500 years as an advanced human settlement.
Set in an advantageous location at the head of a gulf in a deep indentation midway along the western Anatolian coast, the city has been one of the principal mercantile cities of the Mediterranean Sea for much of its history.
Situated at the west of Anatolian Peninsula, at the side of Aegean Sea, the province has an area of 12,012 km² with an approximate population of four million people. As one of the oldest port cities of the world, Izmir has always been recognized as an important meeting point for people with different cultures, languages and religions.
The modern name Izmir is the Turkish rendering of the original Greek name Smyrna. In medieval times, Westerners used forms like Smire, Zmirra, Esmira, Ismira, which was rendered as Izmir into Turkish.
In ancient Anatolia, the name of a locality called Ti-smurna is mentioned in some of the Level II tablets from the Assyrian colony in Kültepe (first half of the 2nd millennium BC).
The region of Izmir was situated on the southern fringes of the Yortan culture in Anatolia's prehistory, knowledge of which is almost entirely drawn from its cemeteries.
In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, it was in the western end of the extension of the still largely obscure Arzawa Kingdom, an offshoot and usually a dependency of the Hittites, who themselves spread their direct rule as far as the coast during their Great Kingdom. That the realm of the 13th century BC local Luwian ruler, who is depicted in the Kemalpasha Karabel rock carving at a distance of only 50 km from Izmir, was called the Kingdom of Myra may also leave grounds for association with the city's name.
The city is one of the oldest settlements of the Mediterranean basin. Findings from the excavations carried out in the Yeşilova Höyük near Izmir show three levels, two of which are prehistoric. Level 2 bears trace of early to mid-Chalcolithic, and Level 3 of Neolithic settlements
These two levels would have been inhabited by the indigenous peoples of the area, approximately between 7th millennium BC to 4th millennium BC. As the seashore receded with time, the site was later used as a cemetery. Several graves containing artifacts dating roughly from 3000 BC, and contemporary with the first city of Troy, were found.
By 1500 BC, the region had fallen under the influence of the Central Anatolian Hittite Empire; several localities near Izmir are mentioned in their records. The first settlement to have commanded the Gulf of Izmir as a whole is recorded, as being founded on top of Mount Yamanlar, to the northeast of the inner gulf. In coherence with the silt adduced by the streams which join the sea along the coastline, the settlement to form later the core of Old Smyrna was founded on the slopes of the same mountain, on a hill (then a small peninsula connected to the mainland by a small isthmus) in the present-day quarter of Bayrakli.
In the 13th century BC, the invasions from the Balkans (the so-called sea people) destroyed Troy VII, and Central and Western Anatolia as a whole fell into what is called the period of Anatolian and Greek Dark Ages of the Bronze Age collapse.
Old Smyrna. The term is used to describe the Archaic Period city located at Tepekule, Bayraklı, to make a distinction with the city of Smyrna rebuilt later on the slopes of Mount Pagos (present-day Kadifekale). The Greek settlement in Old Smyrna is attested by the presence of pottery dating from about 1000 BC onwards. The most ancient ruins preserved to our times date back to 725–700 BC. According to Herodotus the city was founded by Aeolians and later seized by Ionians. The oldest house discovered in Bayraklı has been dated to 925 and 900 BC. The walls of this well-preserved house consisting of one small room typical of the Iron Age, were made of sun-dried bricks and the roof of the house was made of reeds. The oldest model of a multiple-roomed house of this period was found in Old Smyrna. Known to be the oldest house having so many rooms under its roof, it was built in the second half of the 7th century BC. The house has two floors and five rooms with a courtyard. Around that time, people started to build thick, protective ramparts made of sun-dried bricks around the city. Smyrna was built on the Hippodamian system, in which streets run north-south and east-west and intersect at right angles, in a pattern familiar in the Near East but the earliest example in a western city. The houses all faced south. The most ancient paved streets in the Ionian civilization have also been discovered in ancient Smyrna. Homer is said to have been born in Smyrna in the 7th or 8th century BC.
Starting from the 7th century BC Smyrna achieved the identity of a city-state. About a thousand people lived inside the city walls, with others living in nearby villages, where fields, olive trees, vineyards, and the workshops of potters and stonecutters were located. People made their living from agriculture and fishing. The most important sanctuary of Old Smyrna was the Temple of Athena, which dates back to 640–580 BC and is partially restored today. By this point, Smyrna was no longer a small town, but an urban centre taking an active part in the Mediterranean trade. The city eventually became one of the twelve Ionian cities and was well on its way to becoming a foremost cultural and commercial centre in the Mediterranean basin of that period, reaching its peak between 650–545 BC.
The army of Lydia's ruling Mermnad dynasty conquered the city sometime around 610–600 BC attracted by its port position.
An invasion by the Persian Empire ended “Old Smyrna” history. The Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great attacked the coastal cities of the Aegean after conquering the capital of Lydia. As a result, Old Smyrna was destroyed in 545 BC.
Alexander the Great re-founded the city at a new location beyond the Meles River around 340 BC. Alexander had defeated the Persians in several battles and finally the Emperor Darius III himself at Issus in 333 BC. Old Smyrna on a small hill by the sea was not large enough; therefore Alexander chose the slopes of Mount Pagos (Kadifekale) for the foundation of the new city.
Later, Smyrna had become a part of the Pergamum Kingdome and remained as such until 133 BC, when Eumenes III, the last king of the Attalid dynasty of Pergamum, was about to die without an heir and bequeathed his kingdom to Roman Empire which included Smyrna as well. Thus, the city came under the Roman rule as a civil diocese in the Province of Asia.
Towards the end of the 1st century AD Smyrna appeared as one of the Seven Churches of Asia addressed in the Book of Revelation, with its Christian congregation undergoing persecution from the city's Jews (Revelation 2:9). Apostle John had nothing negative to say about the church of Smyrna but he did predict that the persecution would continue and urged them, Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). The persecution of Christians continued into the 2nd century, as documented by the martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, in AD 155.
The devastating earthquake of 178 AD razed the town to the ground. Emperor Marcus Aurelius contributed greatly to the rebuilding and the city was re-founded again with the state agora and many of the works of architecture.
The Turks first captured Izmir, along with some of the Aegean Islands, in 1076 under the Seljuk commander Caka Bey (known as Tzachas among the Byzantines) who used Izmir for naval operations. After his death the city was re-captured by Byzantine Empire, to be later captured by the Knights of St. John during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 but the Nicaean Empire would claim the position of the city layer.
In the early 14th century Smyrna was captured by the Turks again and as Tzachas had done two centuries before, used the city as a base for naval raids.
Starting from 1344 the city was ruled by two opposing forces – crusaders, sent by Pope Clement VI holding the lower castle and the Turks holding upper castle, a sixty-year period of uneasy cohabitation between this two powers.
The following years the city was successively captured first by Ottomans then, by Tamerlane, until in 1426 the city passed fully under Ottoman control.
Beginning with the 16th century Izmir had an important place in the world trade. There was an increase in the consulates of foreign countries especially due to the capitulations that the Ottoman government provided for Europe. It is known that these consulates participated in the trade activities and each anchored their ships in the bay.
A castle was built on the narrowest point of the bay to check the ships entering and leaving the Izmir Gulf. New constructions were built in the second half of the century to help developing of the city’s trade. Among these constructions, the most important examples are the customs building in the 19th century, the sectors of packing, insurance, stock and banking.
In the years of the struggle of Liberation, Izmir underwent great wreckage with huge destructions and fires. With the driving away of the Greek army by the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on September 9th 1922, Izmir started to become a modern city of the young Turkish Republic and developed this character more every day.
Today, Izmir is the port of a wide hinterland spreading from Canakkale to Fethiye. In addition to being an important foreign trade city of Turkey with its free zones, industrial zones and maritime transportation opportunities, Izmir also has significant qualified labour force and developed infrastructure. It is also a prominent tourism centre with its environment, historical assets, cultural heritage and natural beauties. Quality of the industrial goods produced in Izmir is at a level of meeting international standards. Agriculture-based industries are also considerably developed. Main products produced in the region are cotton, grape, fig, dried fruits, vegetables, spices, alcohol drinks, animal feed and tobacco.
Izmir has the Aegean type Mediterranean climate in which summers are generally hot and arid and winters are temperate. You met with a fresh and open weather when you reach İzmir. Temperature averages are at 27.5C during summer months and between 12C - 14C during winter months.
Highlights of Izmir
Clock Tower. This tower at Konak Square is Izmir's landmark today. It was built by architect Raymond Charles Pere in 1901 to commemorate 25th anniversary of enthronement of Ottoman sultan Abdulhamit I. Architect Pere was born in 1854 in Izmir in a French Levantine family, keeping with the tradition among Levantines of the time to educate their children in Europe. After being trained as an Architect in Europe he came back to Izmir and married a 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 consists 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 is an ancient market place first built in the 4th century BC to the north of Pagos (Kadifekale) where Smyrna was moved after Bayrakli. Like all other Agora places of the ancient world, it was a centre all commercial, political and religious activities for the local people. It was surrounded by the state buildings on a rectangular plan with a large central courtyard and a covered “stoa” around it. Not once the agora had been destroyed in devastating earthquakes but rebuilt each time; the latest restoration performed on order of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius when a major earthquake had hit the city in 178 AD. Northern and western “stoas” have been excavated as deep as their basements, and a large 165 x 28 m basilica was 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 on both ends. The excavation works are still ongoing at the agora for the basilica and a part of the eastern “stoa”.
Tepekule (Old Smyrna). The first settlement of the ancient Smyrna dates back to 3000 BC. In the course of excavation in Bayrakli district, several 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 harbour. At around 205 meters high the hill of Bayrakli has some ruins identified as the tomb of king Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus, dated to 7th century BC. Phrygians and Lydians had their influence on Smyrna between 8th -7th centuries BC. Homer was born in Smyrna at around 8th century BC. In the 6th century Persians captured the city, which was then conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Old Smyrna lived its heydays until 4th century BC when its harbour was silted by Meles river and floods, which induced the rulers to change its location and move it to Pagos mountain.
Kadifekale (Pagos). 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, stands at the location between Kadifekale and inner harbour of Izmir. A legend says that while Alexander the Great was hunting at the woods of Pagos hill he fell 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 referred his dream to Apollonian oracle priest and they commented him to build his city on the hillside of Pagos, and Lysimachus made that dream real in 302 BC.
In reality the reason of the foundation of the city at this spot was the military and commercial need to develop the area on the land and sea. The city fell under the Roman control in 133 BC thus Roman and Byzantine influence can be tracked in the Acropolis wall ruins of Kadifekale. There was also a defence wall running 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 aqueducts, stadium, theatre and agora can be seen around Pagos hill. The theatre 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 used as construction material. After 18th century people started to settle here 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.
Aqueducts. The Roman aqueducts were built on the Meles (Kemer) river to bring fresh water to the city. They are from late Roman period and double arches were built by bricks and stones stick together with Roman mortar. Same aqueducts were restored and used also by Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. Today only few sections left from a long aqueduct which can be seen at Sirinyer (old Kizilcullu) district driving from the airport to the city centre.
Main Historical Sites & Destinations Around Izmir & Kusadasi
♦ The Archaeological Museum of Izmir exhibits an impressive collection of pre-Roman and Roman artefacts recovered from area
excavations, including Bergama, Iasos, Bayrakli and Izmir's Agora… more
♦ Ephesus Open Air Museum - contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated… more
♦ Ephesus Archaeological Museum was reopened in November 2014 after extensive renovations. It houses finds from the nearby
Ephesus excavation site… more
♦ Basilica of St. John was built in the 6th century AD, under emperor Justinian I, over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb. It was
modelled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople… more
♦ Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 137 m x 69 m with 127 marble pillars each 18 m high. The temple earned the city the title Servant of the Goddess… more
♦ The House of Virgin Mary. Located on the top of Nightingale mountain, the House of the Virgin Mary
Turkish: Meryemana), is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, and is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims… more
♦ Village of Sirince. Once known as Kirkince, the village was built by the Greeks around 800 years ago and since the population
exchange in 1924 has since been inhabited by Muslims from Thessalonica. Indeed its habitants gave this name on purpose as they did
not want to be bothered by foreigners not to share the beauty of their village.… more
♦ The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…?
Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea... more
♦ Didyma - Priene - Miletus - the three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins... more
♦ Pamukkale & Ancient Hierapolis. Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west
Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced
basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)... more
♦ Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops... more