*The featured pic: Agora of Symrna (photo by Carole Raddato)
With a population of 4.3 million, İzmir (Smyrna in ancient Greek language) is the third largest city in Turkey. Known for being the most liberal and Europeanized Turkish province, İzmir can be seen as the “California of Turkey”.
İzmir is located on the west coast of Turkey. Considered the pearl of the Aegean lands, İzmir shows numerous similarities with Greece in terms of lifestyle, people’s mindsets, city planning, food and urban atmosphere. It is a town with a vivid and colorful personality and one of Turkey’s national prides.
When İzmir is spoken of, only one thing comes to the minds of the foreigners: The Ancient City of Ephesus. Aside from this famous historical landmark, almost every single well-known tourist attraction in this city is located in the suburban towns that are a little far from downtown. As a result, most of the local and foreign visitors depart İzmir without stopping by the downtown of this metropolitan, where there are also a lot to see. As opposed to writing down the world-renowned tourist hubs İzmir, in this article, I want to share the lesser-known spots at the heart of İzmir that you should not miss.
Let’s dive into what İzmir offers to its visitors!
This historical clock tower was built at the center of the Konak Square, an iconic spot of the city. In the year of 1900, Kamil Pasha, who was the governor of the western Turkish province of Aydın, had a meeting with the influential people of İzmir. Subsequently, they agreed to build a clock tower to commemorate the 25th year of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II’s ascention to the throne.
The architectural plan of the tower was designed by Raymond Charles Péré, Levantine French architect. İzmir Clock Tower is the main symbol of the city. Parts of the tower were collapsed twice in history due to two severe earthquakes in 1928 and 1974, but they were re-built afterwards. Also, it is rumored that the clock on top of the tower was gifted by the German emperor, Wilhelm II.
Today, Konak Square and the clock tower is one of the busiest areas in the city. Here, you can take photos of the tower and the other historical buildings surrounding the square. Moreover, you can feed the pigeons who are the current inhabitant of the square.
Founded in 1941, the museum was coined in the name of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the nation.
The museum was opened in a very historically prominent building, built in 1880, which was used as a military quarter by the Turkish Army during the War of Independence, and later on for a short time Atatürk used this building as his İzmir residence.
In this museum, you can see the personal belongings and objects of Atatürk displayed. Besides, you can visit the rooms that Atatürk used as an office, bedroom, guest room, room for his assistant, library, bathroom, reception room and dining room.
Entrance to the museum is free. You can visit this place from 10am to 5pm in summers (1 April-1 October) and from 8.30am to 5.30pm in winters (1 October-1 April). The museum is closed on weekends.
Kordon Promenade is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. This long and wide shoreline extends between the Republic Square (Cumhuriyet Meydanı) and the district of Alsancak, the northern part of the city. Abounding with cafes, pubs, restaurants, museums and art galleries, Kordon is a very popular spot among the locals who occasionally flock to the promenade to rest on the grass areas, take walks and meet friends.
Throughout Kordon, there are many bike renting spots put by the municipality of İzmir, where you can easily rent a bike with your credit card. It is a must-do thing to bike along Kordon and enjoy the cool breeze blowing off from the sea.
Did you know that Alexander Gustave Eiffel, who designed the world-renowned Eiffel Tower, also designed a pier in İzmir?
Konak Pier, located at the heart of the city, was constructed in 1890 and for 131 years this spot has been one of the symbolic gems of İzmir. Initially, this pier was designed to serve as a customs office. However, in the later decades, it became a fish market and then it was turned into a mall. Today, at the end of the Pier, you can have breakfast at Pier Rıhtım Brasserie, grab a drink at Yüzde Yüz Café or go for a high-end fish meal at Adabeyi Balık Restaurant, all of which are located right near the sea.
Before we take a closer look, first let’s see what an “agora” is. Agora is a public open space used for assemblies and markets that were used in the ancient Greek and Roman era.
Also known as the Agora of İzmir, the Agora of Symrna is located in İzmir’s central district of Konak. This ancient site was presumably built in the 4th century BC by the ancient Greeks. In the 2nd century AD, after a severe earthquake decimated this structure, it was rebuilt by the orders of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
In 2020, the agora was included to UNESCO’s Tentative List World Heritage Sites as a part of “The Historical Port of İzmir.”
The spots in the agora that you should see are the Faustina Gate, the ancient street, the Basilica, the West Stoa, Corinthian Colonnade, Ottoman Muslim cemetery, and the house of Sabbatai Zevi ( a 17th-century Sephardic rabbi who was a local to İzmir).
Entrance to the site is 18₺. You can visit this place from 8.30am to 7pm in summers (1 April-1 October) and from 10am to 6pm in winters (1 October-1 April). The museum is closed on weekends.
This elevator was built in 1907 for the purpose of providing efficient transportation between the historic neighborhoods of Karataş and Halil Rıfat Pasha, which were connected through 155-step-long stairs. Construction of the elevator was funded by Nesim Levi Bayraklıoğlu, a local businessman of Jewish origin. Today, it is one of the most reclaimed historical attractions of the city.
Once you are on top of the elevator, you can see one of the most picturesque view of the coastal district of Karataş.
Basmane is perhaps the most culturally diverse quarter of İzmir, where you can find the remaining marks of the Jewish, Greek, Armenian and Turkish residents who had once inhabited the city.
The name Basmane comes from the Turkish word of “basımhane” which means printing house in English. This quarter got its name after a printing house was founded in the area in the 18th century by an Armenian businessman. Before 1922, prior to the salvation of İzmir by the Turkish Army, Basmane was a chiefly resided by the Turks as well as the Greek, Jewish and Armenian minorities. However today, not much is left bearing the marks of the old folks of the vicinity.
Every corner of Basmane abounds with history. Old houses with beautifully designed façades, narrow cobblestone streets, mosques, churches and synagogues are some of the characteristics of the area.
But, what to see in Basmane? The most notable spots to visit in this neighborhood are the Saint Voukolos Greek Orthodox Church, Kortejos (the old housing communities that were primarily inhabited by the Sephardi Jews who came to the Ottoman Empire from Spain in the 15th century), Basmane Train Station, İzmir Press Museum, İzmir Women’s Museum, Radio and Democracy Museum and the Dönertaş Fountain.