Where to Visit in Izmir
Izmir, also spelled Izmir, is a metropolitan city in the western extremity of Anatolia, capital of the province of the same name. It is the third most populous city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara and the second largest urban agglomeration on the Aegean Sea after Athens.
As of the last estimation, on 31 December 2019, the city of İzmir had a population of 2,965,900, while İzmir Province had a total population of 4,367,251. Its built-up (or metro) area was home to 3,209,179 inhabitants extending on 9 out of 11 urban districts (all but Urla and Guzelbahce not yet agglomerated) plus Menemen and Menderes largely conurbated. It extends along the outlying waters of the Gulf of İzmir and inland to the north across the Gediz River Delta; to the east along an alluvial plain created by several small streams; and to slightly more rugged terrain in the south.
Izmir has more than 3,000 years of recorded urban history, and up to 8,500 years of history as a human settlement since the Neolithic period. In classical antiquity the city was known as Smyrna – a name which remained in use in English and various other languages until around 1930, when government efforts led the original Greek name to be gradually phased out internationally in favor of its Turkish counterpart İzmir. Lying on an advantageous location at the head of a gulf running down in a deep indentation, midway along the western Anatolian coast, İzmir has been one of the principal mercantile cities of the Mediterranean Sea for much of its history. It hosted the Mediterranean Games in 1971 and the World University Games (Universiade) in 2005. The city participated in Climathon in 2019.
Izmir has over 3000 years of recorded urban history and up to 8500 years of history as a human settlement since the Neolithic period. 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 ports of the Mediterranean Sea for much of its history. When the Ottomans took over İzmir in the 15th century, they did not inherit compelling historical memories, unlike the other key points of the Ottoman trade network, namely Constantinople (Istanbul), Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo.
The emergence of İzmir as a major international port by the 17th century was largely a result of the attraction it exercised over foreigners and the city’s European orientation. Politically, İzmir is considered a stronghold of Kemalism and the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Izmir’s port is Turkey’s primary port for exports in terms of the freight handled and its free zone, a Turkish-U.S. joint-venture established in 1990, is the leader among the twenty in Turkey. The workforce, and particularly its rising class of young professionals, is concentrated either in the city or in its immediate vicinity (such as in Manisa and Turgutlu), and as either larger companies or SMEs, affirm their names with an increasingly wider global scale and intensity.
İzmir hosted the Mediterranean Games in 1971 and the World University Games (Universiade) in 2005. In March 2008, İzmir submitted its bid to the BIE for hosting the Universal Expo 2015, but it was won by Milan, Italy.
The period after the 1960s and the 1970s saw another blow to the fabric of İzmir, when local administrations tended to neglect İzmir’s traditional values and landmarks. For many inhabitants, this was as serious as the 1922 fire. Some administrators were not always in tune with the central government in Ankara and regularly fell short of government subsidies, and the city absorbed huge waves of immigration from inland Anatolia, causing a population explosion. Today, it is not surprising that many inhabitants of İzmir (similar to residents of other prominent Turkish cities) look back with nostalgia to a cozier, more manageable city, which came to an end in the last few decades.
The Floor Ownership Law of 1965 (Kat Mülkiyeti Kanunu), allowing and encouraging arrangements between house or land proprietors and building contractors by which each would share the benefits of renting out eight-floor apartment blocks built to replace former single-family houses, proved especially disastrous for the urban landscape.
Modern İzmir is growing in several directions at the same time. The north-western corridor extending to Aliağa brings together both mass housing projects, including villa-type projects and intensive industrial area, including an oil refinery. In the southern corridor towards Gaziemir yet another important growth trend is observed, contributed to by the Aegean Free Zone, light industry, the airport and mass housing projects. The presence of the Tahtalı Dam, built to provide drinking water, and its protected zone did not check urban spread here, which has offshoots in cooperatives outside the metropolitan area as far south as the Ayrancılar–Torbalı axis.
To the east and the north-east, urban development ends near the natural barriers constituted respectively by the Belkahve (Mount Nif) and Sabuncubeli (Mount Yamanlar-Mount Sipylus) passes. But the settlements both above Bornova, inside the metropolitan zone, and around Kemalpaşa and Ulucak, outside the metropolitan zone, see mass housing and secondary residences development.
More recently, the metropolitan area displays growth, especially along the western corridor, encouraged by the Çeşme motorway and extending to districts outside the city of İzmir proper, such as Seferihisar and Urla. The population of the city is predominantly Muslim, but it was predominantly non-Muslim up to the earlier quarter of the 20th century.
İzmir is also home to Turkey’s second largest Jewish community after Istanbul, numbering about 2,500. The community is still concentrated in their traditional quarter of Karataş. Smyrniot Jews like Sabbatai Zevi and Darío Moreno were among famous figures in the city’s Jewish community. Others include the Pallache family with three grand rabbis: Haim, Abraham, and Nissim.
The Catholic Levantines of İzmir, who are mostly of Genoese and to a lesser degree of French and Venetian descent, live mainly in the districts of Bornova and Buca. One of the most prominent present-day figures of the community is Caroline Giraud Koç, wife of the renowned Turkish industrialist Mustafa Koç, whose company, Koç Holding, is one of the largest family-owned industrial conglomerates in the world.
İzmir once had a large Greek and Armenian community, but after the great fire of 1922 and the end of the Greco-Turkish War, many of the Christians remaining in the city fled or were transferred to Greece under the terms of the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
İzmir has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate, which is characterized by prolonged, hot, dry summers, and mild to cool, rainy winters. İzmir’s average yearly precipitation is quite ample, at 730.5 mm (28.76 in); however, the vast majority of the city’s rainfall occurs from November through March, and there is usually very little to no rainfall from June through August, with frequent summer droughts. The city received its greatest rainfall, 145.3 mm (5.72 in), on September 29, 2006, while the highest wind speed of 127.1 km/h (79.0 mph) was recorded on March 29, 1970.
Maximum temperatures during the winter months are mostly between 10 and 16 °C (50 and 61 °F). Although it is rare, snow can fall in İzmir from December to February, which usually stays for a few hours rather than a whole day or more. The record 32 cm (13 in) of snow depth was recorded on January 31, 1945. Frost does occasionally occur at night almost every winter. During summer, the air temperature can climb as high as 40 °C (104 °F) from June to September; however, the high temperatures are usually between 30 and 36 °C (86 and 97 °F).
Standing on Mount Yamanlar, the tomb of Tantalus was excavated by Charles Texier in 1835 and is an example of the historic traces in the region prior to the Hellenistic Age, along with those found in nearby Kemalpaşa and Mount Sipylus. The Agora of Smyrna is well preserved, and is arranged into the Agora Open Air Museum of İzmir, although important parts buried under modern buildings wait to be brought to light. Serious consideration is also being given to uncovering the ancient theatre of Smyrna where St. Polycarp was martyred, buried under an urban zone on the slopes of Kadifekale. It was distinguishable until the 19th century, as evident by the sketches done at the time. At top of the same hill stands an ancient castle, one of İzmir’s landmarks. One of the more pronounced elements of İzmir’s harbor is the Clock Tower, a marble tower in the middle of the Konak district, standing 25 m (82 ft) in height. It was designed by Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Père in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ascension of Abdülhamid II to the Ottoman throne in 1876. The tower features four fountains placed around the base in a circular pattern, and the columns are inspired by North African themes.
The Kemeraltı bazaar zone set up by the Ottomans, combined with the Agora, rests near the slopes of Kadifekale. İzmir has had three castles historically – Kadifekale (Pagos), the portuary Ok Kalesi (Neon Kastron, St. Peter), and Sancakkale, which remained vital to İzmir’s security for centuries. Sancakkale is situated in the present-day İnciraltı quarter between the Balçova and Narlıdere districts, on the southern shore of the Gulf of İzmir. It is at a key point where the strait allows entry into the innermost tip of the Gulf at its narrowest, and due to shallow waters through a large part of this strait, ships have sailed close to the castle.
There are nine synagogues in İzmir, concentrated either in the traditional Jewish quarter of Karataş or in Havra Sokak (Synagogue street) in Kemeraltı, and they all bear the signature of the 19th century when they were built or re-constructed in depth on the basis of former buildings. The Atatürk Mask (Turkish: Atatürk Maskı) is a large concrete relief of the head of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, located to the south of Kadifekale the historical castle of İzmir.
The İzmir Bird Paradise (İzmir Kuş Cenneti) in Çiğli, a bird sanctuary near Karşıyaka, has 205 recorded species of birds, including 63 species that are resident year-round, 54 species of summer migratory birds, 43 species of winter migratory birds, and 30 transient species. 56 species of birds have bred in the park. The sanctuary, which covers 80 square kilometres, was registered as “the protected area for water birds and for their breeding” by the Turkish Ministry of Forestry in 1982. A large open-air zoo was established in the same district of Çiğli in 2008 under the name Sasalı Park of Natural Life.
İzmir’s cuisine has largely been affected by its multicultural history, hence the large variety of food originating from the Aegean and Mediterranean regions. Population movement from Eastern and South East Anatolia regions has enriched the local cuisine. Another factor is the large and fertile area of land surrounding the region which grows a rich selection of vegetables. There is considerable culinary usage of green leaf vegetables and wild plants amongst the residents, especially those with insular heritage, such as the immigrants from Crete. Some of the common dishes found here are the tarhana soup (made from dried yoghurt and tomatoes), “İzmir” köfte, sulu köfte, keşkek (boiled wheat with meat), zerde (sweetened rice with saffron) and mücver (made from zucchine and eggs). A Sephardic contribution to the Turkish cuisine, boyoz and lokma are pastries associated with İzmir. Kumru is a special kind of sandwich that is associated particularly with the Çeşme district and features cheese and tomato in its basics, with sucuk also added sometimes.