Things to Do in Izmir
Before there was Izmir, there was Smyrna, an ancient Roman city on the Aegean coast of Anatolia (now Turkey). Evidence of this fact in modern-day Izmir is most apparent upon visiting the ancient Agora Open Air Museum (also known as Izmir Agora or Smyrna Agora). Agora was the name for a “public gathering place or market” in ancient Greek city-states.
The Agora of Smyrna is one of the best preserved ancient agoras in the world today, in large part due to the excellent Agora Open Air Museum on site. Built by Alexander the Great and later rebuilt following an earthquake, the still-standing columns, archways and structures offer a glimpse into what a Roman bazaar must have looked like.
But there’s more than just the remains of an ancient city here; on the edge of the ancient agora lie the remains of a Muslim cemetery, with many gravestones dotting the perimeter. Walk through Colonnades of Corinthian columns and among statues of ancient Greek gods and goddesses to ponder the past.
The Bergama Asklepion (Pergamon Asclepeion), an ancient medical center honoring the Greek god of healing Asklepios, has existed since the 4th century BC when it was built in the ancient city of Pergamon (now Bergama). Built around a spring with waters that were believed to be sacred, the columns and walls still standing today once surrounded rooms for psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, baths, mud treatments and dream interpretation.
The Roman period brought the Asklepion its most notable patients, including emperors Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian. The influential physician Galen, who wrote about 500 works on medicine, practiced here in 2 AD.
Enter the structure as health seekers once did through the Sacred Way, a path that connects to the Akropol. In the first courtyard there is an altar featuring a serpent, the emblem of modern medicine, and other structures include a small theater, a library and the circular domed Temple of Asklepios.
Pergamon (Pergamum) is an ancient city dating as far back as the 5th century BC. Credited with the invention of parchment, this once great seat of learning and culture had a library with over 20,000 volumes and a medical center - the remains of which can still be seen today.
Listed in the Bible as one of the Seven Churches of Asia, Pergamon flourished until the 14th century when, under Ottoman rule, it was abandoned and left to decay. Today, much of the remains of this once magnificent city lie underneath the modern-day city of Bergama but, thanks to Pergamon’s hilltop position, the remains of its most important buildings are still visible.
The Acropolis of Pergamon is clearly visible from anywhere in Bergama and closer inspection will reveal two partially reconstructed temples (Temple of Trajan and the Temple of Athena), ancient aqueducts and the incredible hillside theater, which is said to contain the steepest theater seating in the world.
Pre-Roman ancient ruins are just a day trip from Kusadasi in the ruined city of Sardis, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia from the 7th to 6th centuries BC.
For a time Sardis (Sart, today) was renowned throughout classical antiquity as the richest city on the planet, known for its legendary supply of gold washed down from the Tumulus Mountains. The term ‘rich as Croesus’ refers to that gold and the last Lydian ruler, King Croesus, who is thought to have invented gold coins.
In fact, settlement here dates back to Paleolithic times, but most of that history lies underground, destroyed by millennia of earthquake activity. Nowadays, the site is famous for its impressive Roman ruins, built hundreds of years after the city’s initial burst of fame, in around the 2nd century AD.
On a visit to the site you’ll see a grand double-story framework of columns and architraves outlining the extent of the Roman-era gymnasium. The baths here date from the 3rd century AD, and shops once lined the nearby street of marble stone. Fine capitals carved with acanthus leaves and classical curlicues have survived, along with mosaic tiled floors and statues.
You’ll also see the Synagogue with its marble court and mosaics, the acropolis and the celebrated Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Don’t miss the example of the Romans’ communal toilets, with a shared row of seating suspended over a latrine. The town’s arena was destroyed by an earthquake nearly 2,000 years ago, and there are more recent ruins dating from the Byzantine period.
Izmir Clock Tower ( İzmir Saat Kulesi) is a historic clock tower in Konak Square in the center of Izmir, Turkey. The Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Père designed the Izmir Clock Tower. It was built in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne. The sultan actually celebrated his 25th anniversary by having more than 100 clock towers built in public squares throughout the Ottoman Empire. The clock on the Izmir Clock Tower was a gift from German Emperor Wilhelm II.
The tower is 82 feet high and decorated in an Ottoman style. Four fountains with three water taps each are set around the base of the tower in a circular pattern, and the columns are inspired by Moorish designs. The clock tower has become the symbol of Izmir, and it appeared on the back of Turkish 500 lira banknotes from 1983 to 1989.
The Izmir Archaeology Museum (İzmir Arkeoloji Müzesi) is located next to the Ethnography Museum, not far from the city’s Konak Square. It was first opened to the public in 1927, but found its place in its current location in 1984. Many of the museum’s rich and varied artifacts derive from the Bronze Age, or from the Greek and Roman periods.
This vast archaeological museum features various exhibition halls arranged across different floors, including laboratories, libraries, and conference halls, covering an area of some 5000 square meters.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 1500 artifacts on display here, with items from the ancient city of Smyrna, as well as from a number of other ancient sites in the area, including Ephesus, Pergamon, Miletus, Aphrodisias, and Iasos.
Kadifekale, also known as the Velvet Castle, presides over the town from its vantage point on top of a hill of the same name.Built by General Lysimachos, a successor of Alexander the Great, Kadifekale appears to have acted as both a castle and a fort, giving clear views over much of the city and across to the Gulf of Izmir.
Restoration work is underway, but travelers can see the castle gate, Roman cisterns, watch tower and some castle walls upon visiting. The views from the castle ramparts are not to be missed.
Built in 1625, St. Polycarp Church is the oldest Christian house of worship in Izmir. Dedicated to St. Polycarp, who had been converted by John the Apostle and martyred by the Romans, the barrelled-shaped church features colorful murals, remarkably restored by a Frenchman who infamously inserted his likeness.
Konak Square (Konak Meydanı) is in the center of Izmir, marked by its iconic clock tower that serves as a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike.
Since being built in 1901, the Izmir Clock Tower has become a symbol of the city. It stands in front of the Izmir governor’s official residence (konak) from which the governor oversees the province. Between the tower and the konak sits a small mosque, surrounded by the city hall and bus station. The eastern end of the square, when facing the water, is marked by Konak Pier, from where visitors can hop a ferry for a view of the coast and Izmir from the water.
Walking around Konak Square, the sights and sounds of nearby bustling cafes, restaurants and shops are hard to miss. The palm trees and waterfront give the area a distinctly Mediterranean feel, and from the center of the square, the shops and religious sites of Kermeralti Grand Bazaar are just a few steps away.
Situated within the four-story former St Roche Hospital, the Izmir Ethnography Museum (İzmir Etnografya Müzesi) houses some fascinating artifacts relating to the Seljuk period of Turkish history, exploring everything from camel wrestling and weaponry to jewelry and embroidery. The site makes for an interesting visit with photographs and dioramas to browse, plus various examples of local arts, crafts, clothing and customs from the period, demonstrating the way of life in Izmir and its surroundings.
Notable displays include a collection of illustrated manuscripts and a number of folkloric artifacts, including a collection of Bergama and Gordes carpets.
More Things to Do in Izmir
Running from east of Izmir to Turkey’s western Anatolian Plateau, the Boz Mountains (Bozdag) are one of the country’s most beautiful mountain ranges. Centered on the mountain town of Bozdag and capped with snow from December to March, the mountains are a year-round paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
As one of Turkey’s largest ports, Izmir Cruise Port welcomes international cruise liners from around the world. As well as boasting a prime location on the Aegean Coast, Izmir also serves as the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Ephesus and Pergamon.
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