İzmir,the pearl of the Aegean,awaits visitors

Müge Özbağ

İZMİR - Turkish Daily News

“The southwest coast of Anatolia has the most beautiful sky, the mildest climate in the world and the most incommensurable sainthoods.” said Herodotus, one of the most important historians of the ancient world. Of this there is no doubt. Ephesus, Troy, Assos, Pergamon and Miletus: the Aegean region was the centre of the most important cities of the ancient world.

The miles long esplanade, “Kordon”, with its date palms, its houses built in the Mediterranean colonial style and winding narrow streets throughout the old town are all part of the picturesque coastal city rightly named by its residents “Pearl of the Aegean”.Müge ÖzbağThe myths and heroic songs of old reflect the ancient history of the city. The city's influence on the most important centers of the ancient world is still perceptible because of the different cultures that have left their mark on the city: the Persians, Romans, Byzantians, Ottomans, Greeks and the Jews have all influenced the history of the city.It is assumed that the city is named after the Amazon queen Tsmirna. Her statue was once located on the 160 meter high hill named Pagos at the entrance gate of “Kadifekale”, which means “velvet castle”. The Turks called the statue Saba Melikesi Kaydafa. Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba came from Yemen and founded the city on the hill. Here you can enjoy the tranquility and magnificent views of the city and bay. On entering the bazaar of Kemeraltı, established in the 17th century and located beneath the castle, tranquility is no more. Customers in the bazaar are mainly locals, unlike in other bazaars such as the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul. In the labyrinth made up of tiny alleyways and crowds of people, blacksmiths, saddle makers and spice traders can still be found plying their trade. Ambling through the alleyways of the bazaar one can also discover the ruins of the Agora, the ancient centre of the city.

Motivated by its candidacy for the EXPO 2015, the third-largest city in Turkey has begun an overall renovation. “We restored the ancient buildings located in the Bazaar of Kemeraltı, which is one of the main symbols of the city. The Kadifekale, the Agora and the Bazaar are all connected to each other by an Archaeological-Park”, notes the mayor of İzmir, Aziz Kocaoğlu.In Asansör, the former Jewish quarter, a huge red brick tower built behind the houses and narrow streets, attracts widespread attention. This tower, also called Asansör, contains two separate elevators. The tower, built in 1907 by Jewish businessman Nesim Levi Bayrakoğlu, provided the residents of the traditional Jewish quarter on the Halil Rıfat Paşa Hill with a more convenient route to their homes. Thanks to the Asansör, the residents were saved the twice-daily hike up and down the 155 steps that separated them from their homes. As is the case from the citadel of Kadifekale, there is a breathtaking view over the entire city of İzmir from the tower. The Dario-Moreno-Alley, named after the famous Turkish-Jewish singer and film star who was born in İzmir, leads to the entrance of the Asansör. “I have crossed many seas, and searched for similar, but found none as beautiful as you” are the lyrics of one of his famous songs called, “My Beloved İzmir”. After his death in 1968 his home was converted into a museum.“The region around İzmir is an example of how different cultures and religions can live together in peace. Today, as a result, it is not only our democratic culture that is strengthened, but modern city planning as well”, says Aziz Kocaoğlu. During the Ottoman Empire the city was also known as “Gavur İzmir”, which means “non-believing İzmir”. In the year 1918 there were 155.000 orthodox Greeks, 44.000 Turks, 21.000 Jews, 10.000 Armenians and 50.000 foreigners including British, French, German and Italians all residing in İzmir. Although the make up of the population has changed, the peaceful coexistence amongst the different cultures is an entrenched core value of this modern and cosmopolitan city. That is probably why the most liberal minded youth of Turkey is to be found here. Another proverb goes, “İzmir girls are the most beautiful in Turkey.” Besides beautiful girls, İzmir's other well known symbol is its clock tower, the Saat Kulesi. The post Ottoman-Moorish style clock tower, a gift from German Emperor Wilhem II, was built in honor of the grand vizier, Kücük Sait Paşa and Sultan Abdülhamid II. The clock tower is used as a meeting point for young and old alike. People often say how happy they are to live in İzmir. The optimism and energy of the people can be felt throughout the city. This lust for life is especially evident in the Alsancak entertainment quarter. Here modern life and age-old traditions live side by side. Behind the many modern buildings and shop fronts you cannot help but notice the small, beautifully restored houses, which today serve as cafes. Here you can relax after an exhausting shopping expedition or just meet friends for a chat.

Before leaving İzmir however, if nothing else make sure to enjoy at sunset a casual stroll or nostalgic ride with a horse and trap along the “Kordon” esplanade. An unforgettable experience…

Inform,Saturday, May 24, 2008