Izmir - Konak

Izmir, with its population of almost 3 million, is Turkey's third-largest city and its major port on the Aegean. İzmir's predecessor, the ancient Smyrna was mostly destroyed during the Turkish War of Independence in 1922 when a large fired razed most of the city. Today Izmir is a modern city with broad boulevards and glass-fronted office blocks.

History of Izmir

Izmir's original name Smyrna comes from the goddess Myrina, a deity worshipped before the Aeolians built their first settlement in the 10th century BCE. The most famous ancient citizen of Smyrna was Homer, the founder of Western literature. Izmir's history of war and destruction began early when the Aeolians were conquered by the Ionians who at their turn were overcome by the Lydians. In the 4th century BCE, Alexander the Great built a new city, after the destruction caused by the Lydians around 600 BCE. Roman rule brought peace and prosperity, but in 178 CE Smyrna was again destroyed by an earthquake.

Under the Byzantines, Smyrna became one of the busiest ports of the empire. The decline of Byzantine power allowed armies of Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Genoese, and crusaders to march in and out of the city. In 1402 Smyrna was again destroyed, this time by Tamerlane. In 1415, Smyrna came under Ottoman rule. In 1535 Süleyman the Magnificent (Kanonu Sultan Süleyman) signed a commercial treaty with France and Izmir became a sophisticated commercial centre. Any worthwhile merchant was expected to speak Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, and Turkish. Additional knowledge of Armenian, Ladino and Russian was appreciated. The large Christian population, mainly Greek, led the Turks to refer to the city as Gavur İzmiri.e. infidel Izmir. In the 19th and early 20th century, Izmir's hashish and opium bars were the birthplaces of the Greek folk music known as Rembetika.

Presently, the Turks refer to Izmir as Güzel İzmir, i.e. Beautiful Izmir. The city is also known in a more poetic phrasing as Pearl of the Aegean. Many of Izmir's inhabitants became famous during their lifetime. To name a few, there is the Greek poet Homer, the French politician Edouard Balladur, the Greek writer and Nobel prize winner Giorgos Seferis, the Greek Tycoon Aristoteles Onassis, the French-Turkish levant singer Davi Arugete better known as Dario Moreno, and many more.

Sights & Photos of Izmir

Basmane & Kültürpark

The Basmane neighbourhood is in the vicinity of the centrally locatedBasmane railway station which dates from the second half of the 19th century. Until the Great Fire of Izmir in 1922, at the end of the Greek-Turkish war, this was Smyrna's Armenian quarter. At present, the Basmane area is best known for its popular hotels.

After the 1922 great fire, 40 hectares of the burnt Greek and Armenian districts were turned into a vast park, the Kültürpark. The entrance to the Kültür Parkı is opposite Dokuz Eylül Meydanı (9 September Square). On September 9, 1922, the Turkish Republican army took Izmir from the Greeks. Since then this date is now a big holiday in Turkey.

The Kültürpark is famous for its green fields filled with hundreds of types of trees and plants from all around the world and it contains an amusement park, a zoo, gardens, and restaurants. It's a nice and quiet place to have a walk, away from the noise and pollution of the traffic crowded boulevards. In the park, there is also, the İsmet İnönü Art Centre with a capacity of 760 spectators, and the Atatürk Open-Air Theatre with a capacity of 3,000 spectators. In addition, the Kültürpark is the site for Turkey's largest open-air exhibition centre where every year the Izmir International Fair (İzmir Enternasyonal Fuarı), Turkey's oldest tradeshow takes place.

Kemeraltı Bazaar & Fevzi Paşa Bulvarı

Izmir's Kemeralti bazaar is, after Istanbul's Covered Bazaar, the second largest of Turkey and is large enough to include several city districts. The Kemeraltı Bazaar is located south of the busy Fevzi Paşa Bulvarı that connects the Basmane railway station to the waterfront at Konak Meydanı.

In contrast to other Turkish bazaars, the Kemeralti bazaar has little of architectural interest to offer and certainly is not as exotic as many other bazaars. However, this is largely compensated by the bazaar's lively atmosphere, with its maze of crowded narrow streets and colourful scenery. It is a great place to spend a couple of hours wandering around and do some shopping. The lively atmosphere also recalls the times before the Greek-Turkish war when Izmir was a fascinating multi-ethnic community, a mixture made of the best of Greek, Turkish, Levantine, Armenian, and Jewish cultures.

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Konak Meydanı & Karşıyaka District

Konak Meydanı (Konak Square) forms the heart of the city and is named after the Ottoman government mansion hükümet konağı. It is a wide pedestrianized plaza at Izmir's waterfront. Somewhat lost in the modernity stands Izmir's symbol the ornate Saat Kulesi or Clock Tower. This 25 m high marble tower was designed by the Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Péré. This late-Ottoman monument was built in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdül Hamid II's accession to the throne. The clock itself was a gift of Wilhelm II, the German Emperor. The Saat Kulesi is the symbol of Izmir and is depicted on the city's flag. Next to the Clock Tower stands the pretty Yalı Camii sometimes also referred to as Konak Camii which dates from 1748 (some sources claim 1774). The facade of this small octagonal mosque is covered in beautiful Kütahya tiles.

Another monument on Konak Square is called the First Bullet. This monument was built to the memory of the journalist Hasan Tahsin who fired the first bullet at the Greek occupation forces during the War of Liberation.

On the far side of the bay of Izmir, opposite Konak square lies Karşıyaka (meaning opposite shore), a quiet suburb where the air is fresh and cool. Ferries to Karşıyaka leave from the waterfront at Konak's Pier. The boat ride to Karşıyaka takes about 20 minutes.

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Travel Information & Travel Tips

The Basmane area in the vicinity of the railway station is centrally located and offers several budget- and mid-range hotels. I personally prefer Hotel Baylan Basmane.

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